By Enakshi Biswas:
My friend Anish had just come back after asking a girl out for a date. He looked like a lawn roller had rolled over him. And he blamed his ‘extra blubber’ for the rejection.
Cut to the chase, on a Sunday, sacrificing a morning’s worth of sleep for the sake of Anish’s future love life, I met him at Andheri station. He made a war punch in the air. We were set to battle the bulge.
“So what exactly is Zumba?” he queried.
I replied, “Dance, done in a hurry.”
Anish groaned and said, “It is Samba, isn’t it? I should have suspected. You think, I want to learn that crazy Afro-Brazilian dance? It’s too jazzy for a good Indian boy.”
I laughed at his allusion to himself as a ‘good Indian boy’ and explained, “Its aerobics style dancing, mostly Latin American steps. You can pick up salsa steps. That’s a great date night idea, you can impress your date with your salsa moves.”
I said, “You wanted something different, right?”
“Try finding the studio first, we have been searching for it for ten minutes now.”
Nobody seemed to know where Hubtown Solaris was, the landmark provided in the address. Till a fruit vendor helped us with directions and said the area we were looking for, was called ‘Telli gali’.
Anish grimaced and said, “Eh? That doesn’t sound very fancy.”
I hissed at him and said, “Don’t be a snob.”
Finally we did find the high-rise apartment. I rang the doorbell. A healthy looking lady in her forties opened the door. I said, “We are here to meet Janice, the Zumba trainer.”
She smiled and opened the door, “Hi, I am Janice.”
We were in for a bigger surprise. This was no studio. This was simply Janice’s apartment where she had moved her furniture around and created some space for our work-out. Before I could let that sink in, Janice told us cheerfully to remove our shoes and take to the floor.
Zumba without shoes? I may not have known about Zumba but whatever little I knew of aerobics, wearing comfortable sports shoes is mandatory to prevent injury to the foot and ankle.
I avoided meeting Anish in the eye, feeling pangs of guilt for having ruined his Sunday morning. From the corner of my eye, I spotted him opening his running shoes, reluctantly I opened mine.
The warm-up was less of a warm-up and more of a slipping match. Anish and I kept slipping, wearing our socks. And Janice could barely move. She reminded me of a marshmallow, a melting marshmallow with all the sweat trickling down her face. There was no air conditioning in her living room and the warm-up had already made her short of breath.
Anish whispered to me, “I thought you said we would be taught Latin American dance steps.” For, at that moment we were wriggling our wrists to the raucous ‘Dekha jo tujhe yaar dil mein baji guitar’.
I think something snapped at me and I exclaimed, “A tapori song?!”
Janice, looking a bit pale, said, “A lot of people prefer Bollywood.”
She said weakly, “It is a fun track but I will change it.”
While she was looking through her music collection, I whispered to Anish, “I have doubts she would have anything in her collection other than Bollywood. Let’s just leave, we won’t pay for this trial class.”
Anish gave a strong look of disapproval. Typical of a girl, my bargaining skills took over and I said, “We’ve spent 15 minutes so far, we will pay her one-fourth the fees.”
Anish shot at me a disgusted look. I said, “What? I am trying to save your money, you ungrateful creature.”
But he looked disgusted nonetheless. And said, “Now, who is being a snob?”
And that’s when the lines, “You know my hips don’t lie” started playing out. I almost choked with mirth.
Anish sniggered. The thought of Janice huffing and puffing her way through a belly dancing track had already got us in splits.
I ragged her and said, “Teach me belly dancing.”
Janice, while looking uncertainly at Anish, asked, “What will he do if I teach you belly dancing?”
The more evasive she sounded, the more I felt the need to give her a hard time.
I had a look of challenge in my eyes. Maybe she got it. Anish stepped aside.
First, she swayed her arms on both her sides and said, “Snake arms. Not easy, but pretend as if your arms are paint brushes and you are painting a wall on each side of you.”
And boy, did she start belly dancing like Shakira herself. Anish looked like he had been struck by lightning. I looked vanquished, my mean girl avatar humbled by this lady who took us by storm or should I say, by belly. She owned the floor that morning. Uninhibited, not conscious of her extra pounds she danced like no one was watching. Her fluid, sinuous movements left us agape. Her belly rolls and belly flutters were so lyrical that when I awkwardly tried to imitate her, I realised how tenaciously she must have practiced to have reached this stage of perfection. As smooth as butter sliding on a frying pan, her hip slides looked graceful. The chest shimmies so ever elegant. The arcs she made with her arms reminded me of carved sculptures of dancing figurines on temples. Her undulating body to the tune of Shakira, was so fascinating to watch as wave after wave travelled down from her chest to her belly.
Shakira’s track melted into another mellifluous Arabic track and then another. We lost track of the tracks. Transfixed, we watched as we let her hips do the story telling. The beautiful loops of 8 she made with her hips were in perfect sync with the music in the background.
With agility, she picked up a big knife from the nearby table, balanced it on her head and gracefully shimmied, complementing it with deft footwork. I had never seen someone with so much body mass be so nimble on their feet when dancing. I realised, vigorous dancing was not her forte but this was.
Next she did, what she later told me was, the pigeon pose – where she sat on her folded legs and arched her body backwards, arching her arms back with the knife held arched back till it almost met her feet. She said that a belly dancer uses a sword as a prop in this particular exhibit.
She ended the dance with a flourish, by striking an effeminate Maya pose. In that Andheri East apartment, we had time travelled to the mystic lands of Egypt and Turkey and come back feeling spiritual. Yes, Janice had turned that erotic dance form into a deeper and a more moving experience for both Anish and me that day.
I, for my part, learnt never to be so judgemental about people. I realised that sometimes we become very superficial and go by the jazz that makes up the exterior. We form our opinions hurriedly and dismiss without getting to know the core. I learnt my lesson that Sunday morning. Never judge a book by its cover.