On Wednesday evening, my Bolder Options mentee, Violet, and I attended a Hip-Hop dance class at the local Lifetime Fitness in St. Louis Park. I had always wanted to try out the class, but had not made my way to one yet because: 1) Of the five areas of physical fitness (speed, endurance, strength, flexibility, and coordination), I definitely need to improve the most with coordination, and it is embarrassing; 2) Related to point #1, I was a few beats and dance moves off at the last fitness dance class I accidentally attended at Lifetime; 3) I just keep getting busy Wednesdays.
Once I had set the date with Violet, I had no more excuses. Even better, she could be my excuse in class for why I was looking like a goof in class. “Well I wouldn’t normally be here, but I am being such a trooper by bringing my mentee here,” I could imagine myself telling the other class participants. “I look ridiculous, but it’s okay because I’m doing it to spend time with Violet.”
We got to the class a few minutes early, only because I thought the class started at 7:00 instead of 7:15. As usual, we stuck out a bit with Violet being the youngest participant, having the darkest skin, and being accompanied by pale-skinned me. We took our place at the back of the room, and, for once, we stayed out of trouble.
The class started with some warm-up dance moves – arms pumping, butt shaking, and hips swinging side to side. Just as I had feared, we then moved quickly into a complicated choreographed dance the class had learned last week. Violet and I tried to follow along as best we could. I was trying too hard to keep up to take the time to look if she was fairing any better than me. But even though I was looking silly, I was having a lot of fun trying to get my body to move to the rhythm. We moved to another song with easier moves, although I became pretty disturbed to be shimmying and shaking my butt to Soldja Boy’s “Superman Dat Hoe.” I tried to ignore my feminist talk in my head, “This is degrading, objectifying, and disgusting. What are you doing? You brought your mentee to come shake her butt to “Superman Dat Hoe”? She already gets enough negative messages about her worth, why are you putting her in a position to receive more?” I was able to continue having fun as long as I turned off the dialogue.
However, pretty soon I found myself doing a move that must be used in strip clubs: I was bent over with my hand on the floor and with my legs straight and butt shaking as I watched my other hand come over my head. My feminist dialogue came on again, loud and proud. Throughout the class I tried to focus on the fun and positive energy of dancing (a little bit) in sync with a roomful of other people. At the same time, I felt angry I was compelled to do some objectifying moves to misogynistic songs.
This is the usual struggle I face with a lot of pop culture. Most of the time, I just try to find alternatives or just my head in the sand. But I can’t ignore mainstream culture when so many people I love and care about do enjoy it. Violet loved the class and wants to go back ASAP, but I’m struggling with what I want to do. I want her to have fun and improve her fitness, but at what cost to my values? Is there a different way we can enjoy hip-hop and dancing without such problematic songs or moves?