Salsa Tuesdays (With a Side of Spandex)

Left cheek, right cheek, left cheek, right cheek... the story of me, Latin dance, T-Pain's Booty Wurk, and about as much awkward Caucasian dancing as you can stand


Latin dance in ill-fitting spandex became my recipe for fitness success sometime during 2011. I’d first discovered salsa in Finland in 2001 as an exchange student there. My host family had encouraged me to try free classes at a local sports club; the options were floorball, Nordic walking, pesäpallo (the Finns dorkier version of baseball), and Latin dancing. Though the vision of me—a nearly six-foot-tall American in a sea of short blonde boys—attempting to play a ball game only three nations recognize as professional sport was tempting, I passed on pesäpallo and opted for dance. Which is how I found myself a few months later on stage with three middle-aged Finnish women in front of a room of elementary school students, shaking my money maker to Shakira. I can only assume the memory haunts those children to this day.

And yet, my love of Latin dance has remained strong, much to the chagrin of ECO Fitness members. The poor people. Every Tuesday at 6 p.m., an unknowing treadmill runner steps off his equipment to get a sip of water only to spot me—a cross between Carol Burnett and a Yeti—sweating profusely while seizing to T-Pain’s "Booty Wurk." The horror is made even worse by the fact that I’m nearsighted. Not wanting to fog up my glasses nor occlude my classmates' line of vision, I stand blind in the back row. When the song goes “Left cheek, right cheek, left cheek, right cheek,” well, I’m always a cheek behind.

But I persevere. And never more is my dance enthusiasm greater than during “Proud Mary.” How my zumba instructor came to include this Motown classic in her soundtrack of bump n’ grind early-2000s hits is beyond me, but I dare not question her judgment. When Tina says big wheels keep on turning, I take it literally. O there’s pony stepping, there’s hair tossing, there’s hip popping, there’s awkward caucasian-ing. And it’s ugly and it’s sweaty and it’s frightening. And you can stop dialing 9-1-1 right now. Cause it ain’t no medical emergency. It’s euphoria in motion and this Proud Mary’ll keep on burning one calorie at a time, until those spandex pants fit right.