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Fit in my 40s: can I dance myself fit? First I’ll have to do the angry penguin | Zoe Williams

Photograph of foot and hand in leggings
Clothes by My Gym Wardrobe. Photograph: Kellie French for the Guardian

“It’s a walk, for four steps. It can be a sexy walk, it can be a bit gangster. Doesn’t matter, so long as it’s your walk.” I am late for Ianthe Mellors’ At Your Beat dance fitness class, because I have never knowingly been on time for exercise of any kind, and normally that doesn’t matter: it’s just warming up and listening to someone talk about their knee injury. But today I am critically disadvantaged. I’ve missed the bit where you learn to kick with one foot and land on the other. I’ve also checked my walk repertoire: I have nothing sexy, gangster, or conveying attitude of any sort. I have a stomp, and I have an amble. One other guy, mercifully, is in a similar position; we have already eyebrow-bonded over our lack of a sexy walk.

We’re still in the overture to Dua Lipa’s New Rules; we haven’t even started dancing. Mellors talks us through the steps. Some kicking, some arm-flinging, a lot of balled fists as if furious, and traversing of the floor with a chest-puffing motion as if flapping wings. The others are already looking pretty good, but I am focusing too hard to be intimidated, and also I still have that guy: the one who can’t do it, either. Thank God for him.

On we go: hit an imaginary enemy with one hand, kick an invisible foe ahead, two decisive sideways steps, four salsa moves. It’s like kickboxing and Zumba, rocket science and running, simultaneously. Funny windmilling motion with the arms, dive to the floor, bounce shoulders up and down thrice (but not like a person stuck down a hole), slide one leg beneath body like a kid from Fame, arrive back at standing position. Whatever headroom I had for the choreography, I’ve reached the max; now try it with the music.

“Talkin’ in my sleep at night, makin’ myself crazy / (Out of my mind, out of my mind) / Wrote it down and read it out, hopin’ it would save me / (Too many times, too many times).” Eight bars; what is that, 20 seconds? I thought that was easily enough steps for the whole song, if not an hour. But we’re not even at the chorus.

“OK, now this move won’t feel natural, but imagine you’re an angry penguin,” Mellors says. When has a penguin ever been angry? No time for that now. We’re nearly at the third rule: “Three, don’t be his friend / You know you’re gonna wake up in his bed in the morning.” Quick sleep mime, then spin round and “lift your leg and your arse cheek, like you’re getting on a horse” to the climax of, “And if you’re under him, you ain’t gettin’ over him.”

The difference between what I think my dancing looks like and what it actually looks like has never been starker. It is outrageously fun, practise-in-secret-at-home fun, fiendishly complicated, as energetic as an aerobics lesson and biochemically energising. I feel like a blob of magnesium dropped into a bowl of water.

What I learned

There is no such thing as malcoordinated, there are just people who need more practice than others

This article titled "Fit in my 40s: can I dance myself fit? First I’ll have to do the angry penguin" was written by Zoe Williams, for The Guardian on Saturday 10 February 2018 07.00am

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