How to Be a Dancing Queen on a Budget

The answer to this question is easy:  smear on massive amounts of lipstick, back-comb your wig into voluminous perfection, climb up onto a table, and shake your thing because hips don’t lie, honey!  Oh, wait.  So you just want to learn how to dance like a pro, but don’t have money for expensive dance classes?  You’re telling me that you don’t want to audition for the next season of RuPaul’s Drag Race?  Okay, I was clearly thinking of the wrong kind of “queen.”   Hmm.  The thing is, I’m kind of not the best person to ask about this, because I’m a horrible dancer.  Like, laughably bad.  I’ve been told that I wave my arms around like a monkey, and try to shake my luscious behind like Beyonce, but end up looking more like Olive Oyl in a beginner’s zumba class.  This is a shame, because my brother looks like this when he dances:

Obviously all of the dancin’ genes in our family went to Boy Laven.  How can I keep up with that perpetual motion?  This doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried learning to dance, many, many times.  I’ve taken pretty much every budget dance class I can find, from ballroom to belly dance to Israeli folk dance… and have been the worst student in all of them.  So while I can’t tell you how to get smooth moves, I can tell you what to expect from pretty much every genre of cheapo dance classes at junior colleges, community centers, and old folks homes far and wide.  Here’s the rundown on some of the other amateur dance classes I’ve stumbled through:

1)  Intro to Ballet:  I was by far the worst ballerina, barring (ha) the one male Billy Elliot wannabe in the class.  Then he dropped out.  The instructor frequently singled me out for having bad posture– I was offended because I have mild scoliosis and felt that I should be celebrated for attempting to be a ballet dancer in spite of my disability. Like, there should have been an inspirational Disney movie made about me or something, ya know?  I have a humongous ego, so all of this Quasimodo-bashing really got me down– not to mention the fact that I had spent a lot of money on backless leotards, and not once got to say, “I am the best goddamn dancer at the American Ballet Academy– who the hell are you?  Nobody!”  Well, ballet is a goddamn spirit-breaker, so I ended up ditching too many sessions to even earn a passing grade.  Thankfully, the instructor pity-passed me.

2) World Dance Classes at Berkeley’s Ashkenaz:  What can I say about this special place, other than it is so stereotypically “Berkeley”?  While living in the Bay, my friend Claudia and I went to two FREE dance classes/ world music concerts at Ashkenaz: African, and Brazilian dance.  The scene was rife with Boomers trying to relive their Slouching Towards Bethlehem youths, and it was awesome.  I have never seen so much salt-and-pepper, waist-length frizzy hair in my life.  Or Teva sandals.  So many Teva sandals.  We saw the same local color both times we attended, our favorite of which was a dude in his late fifties who clearly took something before leaving his Craftsman-style bungalow, and skipped around the dancefloor like a little schoolgirl.  Between two-stepping with glee, he would push himself up to the front of the stage, whip out his credit card, and wave it around above his head as if it were a lighter and he was at a Joan Baez concert.  Poor Boomers and their mid-life crises.

3) Sexy Ladies Hip Hop:  Claudia and I have taken a lot of cheap dance classes together, and another favorite was “Sexy Ladies Hip Hop.”  This was the actual name of the class– believe me, we debated for a half hour over whether we should go to “Sexy Ladies,” or its counterpart, “Hot Mamas.”  We decided that Sexy Ladies sounded classier because, well, we would be ladies like Lady Mary Crawley.  Well, we were wrong.  Our lesson was anything but a pinkies-raised episode of Downton Abbey.  It was supposed to be a beginner’s class, but our instructor was too busy gazing at herself in the mirror and proclaiming, “Damn, I need my own music video!” (yep) to notice her students.  She taught us an extremely complicated dance to Beyonce’s “Video Phone” (which involved far too much dropping it like it’s hot for my shakey thighs, might I add), and then made us each perform the dance individually, while she yelled offensive things at us like, “Dance like your electricity’s gonna get turned off, and your baby’s gonna go without food!”  I was both humiliated by, and obsessed with this lady, but I never went back because I had the thigh shakes for like a week after that workout.

4) Swing Dancing with Olds:  My friend Ashley once signed us up for amateur swing dance classes at the community center.  On the day before the first session, I called her and asked her where the classes would be held.  “At the Jocelyn Center,” she responded.  Um, Ashley.  Girl.  You mean, the Jocelyn Senior Center?!  She had accidentally enrolled us in dance classes for old people– that’s why they were so cheap, we got the senior discount!  We weren’t kicked out of the class for our mistake, and we actually became the star pupils of the instructor because, you know, we didn’t have to use walkers or stop mid-class to take our high blood pressure meds.  The only weird part was when we all had to dance with the partners we came with at the end of each class, and the instructor wouldn’t let Ashley and I buddy up for fears that we would look lezzie and give one of the Conservative olds a heart attack that would send him to his grave.  Instead, Ashley and I had to pretend-dance with invisible male partners, making us feel like the spinsters of the class, even though we were about 50 years younger than everyone else.

I can’t tell you how to be a dancing queen on a budget, but I can tell you what you will find in FREE and cheap community dance classes:  weirdos.  Lots and lots of weirdos.  So, if you want to meet some freaks and brush up on your moves while you’re at it, I suggest checking course listings at your local junior colleges and community centers.  Who knows, you might just discover that, damn, you really do deserve your own music video.

Photo credits: Euro Pop Stars, creepin’ on my little brother’s Facebook

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Carrie Laven - Pretty Penniless

Carrie Laven is a natural-born storyteller from California, but she lives in New York now. She likes dogs, nail art, and Mexican food, but mostly she likes scoring sweet deals at thrift stores. She tends to have a flair for the dramatic.

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