Inside the Body Positive Dance Fitness studio off Brighton Avenue in Portland, two silver disco balls cast a shimmering light across the floors. Tonight’s instructor, Meredith, secures her headset, smiles and welcomes a group of dancers wearing athleisure: leggings, shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, sweatbands. I’m here for an hour-long dance class called SHiNE, a workout rooted in hip hop, jazz and ballet.

This new studio held its grand opening celebration in mid-January, inviting the public to try classes for free.

Although I’ve tried basic gym plans before, I’d never been energized enough to follow through with any specific program. I’ve wondered how people enjoy working out so much and I’ve long been mystified by loyalty to certain regimens. There are hardcore CrossFitters with chalky hands and bulky biceps. There are Pelotonners with toned calves and an affinity for overly exuberant instructions. There are pickleballers with competitive edges and perfect backswings.

All these communities can feel a bit intimidating to an outsider, even if it’s not intentional. They tend to have their own language, rules, codes of conduct. The more you show up, the more comfortable you become. But that requires vulnerability and finding the right fit.

I’m not the kind of person who enjoys pumping iron at a gym. I have zero interest in bodybuilding competitions or pedaling to nowhere on a bike (I tried a cycling class and let’s just say I had a hitch in my giddy-up for three days after). I bought a cheap elliptical during the pandemic; it’s now collecting dust in the basement.

But here I am at a dance class and you know what? I’m not good at it. It’s challenging. I’m sweating.


And it’s wicked fun.

I realize how much I’ve missed dancing. It’s not something adults are encouraged to do often. Maybe at a wedding or a concert a few times a year. Maybe at a bar. But now that I’m in my mid-30s I’m past the stage where staying out until one in the morning among the company of drunk strangers is appealing.

I danced ballet for several years when I was a little girl. I wore tights and leotards and tutus. I performed in auditoriums and even at the Maine Mall. But I gave up ballet for two reasons. The first reason was that my teacher discontinued her classes, and I was too afraid to go to a new studio. The second reason was that I also played competitive sports and was embarrassed by my artistic side.

These two reasons are mostly what has held me back from trying new things throughout my life – fear of the unknown and perceived judgment of others.

Overcoming internal challenges like these can be easier said than done. But here I am, in my stretchy leggings and baggy shirt, waving my arms, shaking my hips. The music is modern. Some routines are more intense, with lots of squats and jumping jacks. Some are slower and emphasize footwork and artistry. I mess up again and again.

No one cares. Everyone is focused on their own moves and enjoying the moment. There are people of all body sizes and abilities. The choreography is playful and, at times, even sexy.

The disco balls continue spinning. I twirl around and around. I’m burning calories and I’m too distracted to notice. Who cares about calories when you’re having so much fun?

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