This bright idea turned out to be the baddest of the bad

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* Editor’s note: Debra is on vacation. This column originally ran in April 2002

You have your bad ideas and then you have your bad ideas. Of all the bad ideas I’ve had in my life, this one was surely one of the top-10 baddest of all time. Blame it on that stage in life fondly referred to as “midlife crisis.”

Marked by a tendency to leap into questionable activities designed to reinforce one’s denial about one’s actual age, you can easily spot someone who’s hip-deep in midlife crisis. The classic signs are the purchase of a red convertible, a tummy tuck or an appointment with a divorce attorney, as well as wild excursions into activities that one has no business undertaking, like skydiving or fire-walking in Burma.

Well, my car isn’t red and my tummy is still where Mother Nature so unkindly left it after two children, but my various forays into activities that fall under the heading of “questionable” assure me that my denial systems about aging are quite intact.

Some of the activities were good ideas. Didgeridoo healing — good idea. Taking up Tae Bo — good idea. Going to massage therapy school — good idea.

Aerobic kickboxing — bad idea. No, make that very bad idea. Unless you’re the local chiropractor, who got some extra business undoing the damage I did while trying to keep up with a bunch of twentysomething males beating the hell out of huge, heavy punching bags.

At least I had the common sense to discontinue that activity. But maybe that statement is also steeped in denial, because the real reason my kickboxing future ground to a halt was the jabbing pain in my lower back, not any sort of superior decision-making skills on my part. Two classes and I had to turn in my sparring gloves.

However, it took me a bit longer to accept that another of my “bad idea” activities needed to come to a merciful end, for everyone concerned: belly dancing. Truly, without exaggeration, no human being on the face of the Earth has ever been as bad at any activity as I am at belly dancing.

If only belly dancing caused some sort of physical injury, as kickboxing had, maybe I could have drummed up the “common sense” to stop. Sadly, I survived every lesson unscathed, except for that one time when cut my thumb on my hip bangles and bled all over myself.

Not many people can say they bellydanced until they bled. On the other hand, it’s only befitting that I ended up bleeding, because the only creatures that move the way I did are injured and writhing in pain.

Yet, I continued to go to class each week, hoping that this would be the day my brain finally connected my hips, feet, hands and head into one fluid movement. The moment never arrived. My brain would move my hips or my hands or my head, but all three together? Nope. Not gonna go there.

Our teacher, a breathtakingly graceful dancer named Jenia, said it helps to have “the right kind of body” to be a belly dancer. I’m not sure exactly what that is, but whatever it is, I think she was gently suggesting that I didn’t have it. For starters, the other women in class moved in places that I don’t even have. But I kept trying, hoping that one day it would all click. It only clunked.

Imagine, if you will, a room full of women of all ages and sizes, dressed in exotic outfits, jingling and gyrating around the room in a group celebration of ancient feminine spirit, gracefully floating and gliding as if they were made of fluid instead of flesh and bone.

And then there was me.

My dancing (and I use the term loosely) could only be imitated by an epileptic monkey. In agony. In fact, it’s probably illegal to move like that in public in about 37 states. And if it isn’t, it should be. The only term I’ve ever heard that comes even close to describing my bellydancing comes from a “Seinfeld” episode: a full-body dry heave.

Jenia always tells the new students that it takes about three lessons to get over the “awkward stage.” I guess I misunderstood her on the first day. I thought she said “sessions” (as in six-week), not “lessons.” After taking lessons for nearly two years, I fell short using even that criteria.

But Jenia, bless her heart, never took me aside and kindly suggested that I try an activity more suited to my physical attributes, like mud-wrestling or Swiss yodeling or lumberjacking. It could be anything, really, so long as it required neither grace or rhythm.

On the other hand, maybe she let me stay in her class as sort of the “fashion don’t” of the dance world; a measuring stick of sorts for all the new students who could monitor their progress by observing their own dancing as compared to my spastic gyrations, and take pride in recognizing that the gap in ability widened with each passing week.

Therein, maybe I can tweeze some self-esteem from this mid-life exercise in denial in knowing that every time I showed up for dance class, a whole bunch of women were able to point to me and say “At least I don’t look like that.” Just by my sheer presence, I helped other people feel good about themselves.

Mother always told me to set an example. But I don’t think this is what she had in mind.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

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