Let me just go ahead and put this on out there: I can't dance.

I mean, if you put on, say, Stevie Wonder's As, Earth Wind & Fire's September, maybe some Jay-Z or a little old school hip hop, I can drop it like it's on fire. But when it comes to organized routines choreographed dances that require coordinated movement, especially with others I'm about as graceful as an elephant in a Conga line. It's. Not. Pretty.

So when my sister-in-law/BFF Angelou invited me to a local African dance class, you can imagine how quick I was to run through my mental calendar to come up with a gang of reasons why I just didn't have any time over the next year to make it there. But Ang is really persuasive. And she offered to drive. And give me a glass of Reisling when class was over.

Well, have drink? Will travel.

Our instructor, Sauda, promised to be gentle. And she was. While the drummers beat an incredible rhythm, she led us through a series of warm-ups and then slowly introduced us to a series of age-old traditional West African dances a bit of Manjani, a little Lamba, some Kuku. I'll tell you this much: exercise gurus Billy Blanks, Donna Richardson, and Richard Simmons ain't got nuthin' on Sauda, you hear me? Every pound of the drum required a different movement from a different body part every inch of me was bending and stretching and bowing and gyrating and kicking and leaping in ways I never thought possible. I had quite the time trying to keep up, too; when Sauda said go left, I went right by the time I got to the bend, everyone else was soaring through the air.

It was ugly, I tell you.

But then the cool down came, and Sauda slowed down and the drummers, Sekou and Jerome, hit a smoothed-out beat, and suddenly, I could breathe again (kinda). And then Sauda instructed each of us to open our arms wide and slowly wrap them around ourselves while we swayed to the drums. This, she said, is a hug from me to you, from you to me, from we to we positive energy filled with love and light. And then, mid-hug, she encouraged us to pat ourselves on the back, because if no one else does, at least you can, she added. That hug, those pats, are always available to you. Use them to help yourself remember just how valuable and beautiful and wonderful you are.

And right there, in that moment, with my own arms holding me tight, in a room-full of fellow dancers, each of them supportive, interesting, smart, fun, committed moms and wives, I knew that no matter how wack my dance skills, that class was where I wanted needed to be. Each of us need it like we need air. I was getting in some (much-needed!) exercise and learning the beauty of a continent's cultural expression, and, most importantly, getting in much-deserved me-time the incredibly freeing feeling that comes when no one is asking you to do stuff, or focus on them, or put aside your needs to lead the team. That time when it's all about y-o-u and y-o-u alone.

I've been taking that class for almost a year, now Tuesdays and Fridays are my dance nights, and everybody in the house is on notice that it's just not a good idea to try to book Mommy's schedule between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. when I'm supposed to be in class. Oh, you can try. But you might just get your little feelings hurt.

Let me make it to class, though make it to my hug and it's virtually guaranteed that I'll spread the love.


Note: Is that me in the picture? Nope. I’m nowhere near as graceful or beautiful when I dance. That stunning photo was taken by an incredible photographer, Victor Holt, whom I discovered while searching for a picture to illustrate this post.

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  1. I love African Dance! It totally wakes up muscles you never knew you had. Karl and I are taking capoeira, brazilian martial arts dance…needless to say we are stiff and sore after 1 class monday. Are we going back tonight? You betcha!

  2. I so feel you on this. I started doing salsa a couple years ago and my lack of coordination brought me to tears many a time. But at the same time, I felt so good doing something that brought me back into my body, taught me to “submit” to a lead every once in a while (you know we can be independent sometimes when we don’t have to be…and it don’t look good on the dancefloor!), and got me doing something healthy and loving for myself. I haven’t danced in almost a year, but this inspired me to really make it a point to get back to it!

  3. Groove on Mama! You know the Africa woman’s national anthem:

    “When African woman go dance she go dance the fire dance…she go say I be lady-o!”
    (Fela Kuti).

    Go on and light that fire up ‘coz you know it’s all about you Mama, everything else comes after.

    “Lady na Master!”

  4. Denene,

    This sounds like some much fun! Girl, I can drop it like it’s hot in my living room, but when I’m out somewhere, I feel as though everyone is looking at me (I’m so shy). You should see me getting my Beyonce on, (too funny)

  5. MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner

    Okay, VCSMama: next up for me: Salsa and belly dancing!

    Lucky: I don’t know about capoeira… I can just see me trying to stick my leg in the air and put my hands on the floor and falling flat on my face–LOL!!! It’s a beautiful dance to watch, though–that’s for sure.

    Hana? I’m going to put Fela on right now–how beautiful!!!

    And Latonya? Girl? Beyonce ain’t got NUTHIN’ on us, doggonit!!!!

  6. get your y-o-u hug any way you can! the only dancing i do is in my kitchen, in the middle of the night, when i’m closing pages of my magazine. but i’ma start hugging myself afterward!

  7. I love to see African Dance. It gets even more interesting when You look at African Dance in other parts of Africa. For instance, South African Dance is very beautiful and energetic. I can’t think of the names of traditional South African Dance, but check it out on youtube. Look up Lesole’s Dance project.

  8. Oh how I miss dancing! I danced for 17 years, ballroom, Latin, Afro-cuban Jazz, African, you name it! It is totally freeing and I found an appreciation for my body in what I could be and do that was far greater than focusing on simply what I looked like! Enjoy your time, make the most of it!

  9. Denene ~ that’s so wonderful that you went out of your comfort zone and tried something that ended up being so fun and good for you. I’m the “chicken” who can’t dance and can’t imagine ever taking a dance to learn how. I think maybe you’ve inspired me to try it!

  10. I’ve been threatening to take a class on Thursday and Sunday in my neighborhood for a about a year. I feel encouraged get out there and make it happen. I’m gonna take my girls with me.

    Did you get better at dance or do I need to submit the paperwork that revokes your black license. The board is meeting next week, and if I hurry I can take you before them. I don’t want to do it, but it’s part of my Black civic duty…LOL!

  11. Perfectly said. This resonates so deeply, the need for y-o-u time for woman, and especially moms, is universal, I think. I feel this way with yoga sometimes. Although I am not learning the culture of a continent, I am learning another cultures route to spirituality and listening to someone talk about our body and soul connection to all living things while stretching and using my body. Lovely. But, sometimes, I think I just like it because it’s so quiet. Lol!

  12. I love African dance, although I have yet to take a class. The whole movement of it all is so passionate and freeing, what’s not to love =). I’m sure that you do your thing in class, you just don’t wanna tell us, haha.

  13. MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner

    JRS: Hey–I can still do the Electric Slide and (some parts of) The ChaCha slide… and I can STILL snake it out, do the Cabbage Patch, and, if you catch me on a good day, I can Harlem Shake AND Bankhead Bounce with the best of ’em. Isn’t that evidence enough for me to avoid The Board? ROFL!!!

    Ms. Bar B: I’m much better than I used to be, but really, I’m not ready to pull out any moves in front of serious dancers… LOL!

  14. Pink & Green Mama

    Can I come?! I want to go to dance class and winetastings too!

  15. Pink & Green Mama

    Can I come?! I want to go to dance class and winetastings too!

  16. Pink & Green Mama

    Can I come?! I want to go to dance class and winetastings too!

  17. I love to dance too. I’m a former Ailey and DTH student and lately have been craving a class so badly. African was always a fav. Live music for a dance class always makes it more fabulous.

  18. Well said, I felt like I was dancing too!

  19. Renée aka Mekhismom

    Oh to have an older child or a babysitter. I wish I could join you for dance class. It seems my schedule (or rather Al’s schedule) never coincides with the classes. Lord knows I could use the exercise. It is great to hear that you are getting that much needed you time in such a lovely way.

  20. I was cracking-up while reading your post! I’m the same way with group dancing. I can’t even do thr electric slide. But on my own…watch out! I’ve always wanted to do ballroom dancing (salsa) and capoeira.

  21. I am hugging myself right now:O) Dance is freedom, so I say, shake what your mama gave you and don’t worry about who’s watching!

  22. I took an African dance class in college and I LOVED it!! It was one of my favorite classes ever–not to mention I was never in such great shape! I would love to take one again…

    Thank you for stopping by my blog yesterday!!

  23. Mama Dee,
    I don't know what to say…Girl you make my work sound sooo incredibly beautiful!!! Give Thanks for your energy. As I say when "Sauda Science" starts to emerge in class…I am merely reflecting the energy of the students in the room. I thoroughly enjoy you and Ang…and everyone else in the class. We are sending and receiving vibrations around the room and the result IS love. I look forward to class just as much as my students. I am excited to extend myself for those brief moments and I happily welcome/await the results of our meeting each time. I used to fret and overprepare for class. Now it's totally vibrational(words don't express it fully). Ya'll be inspiring a sistah to do some spirit dancin'.

    Blog-Folks….Don't believe the hype…Miss Dee is fly with it! It has been a year and I don't recall her not being in step…such a together sistah, she make you forget that!! I love you for what you do and Mimi really loves you (your family!) too.


    Oh, I AM awaiting the return of Hana & Execumama(thanks for coming for Dee's Birthday).

  24. Oh yeah you are all welcome to experience the HUG&PAT of the universe…Tuesdays & Fridays 7:30-8:30pm Tucker Recreation Center, Tucker,GA….for non-locals, at 8:25 on Tues&Fri…open your arms to the universe and pull in all that is for you and you alone, pull in peace, love, prosperity, light & all that is good in the universe….think on it for a moment…then bring that energy into your wholeself in a big HUG!!! For those who have had a particularly hard day…take this HUG from ME to YOU….and pat yourself on the back for if you don't who else will?…so we MUST! Remember we always have access to these and we can always share them unconditionally!!!

  25. MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner

    In case you all didn’t catch that, UdaMae is my SUPER FLY African dance instructor, and her beautiful daughter, Mimi, is a ray of light in our class–and especially in my heart.

    For my ATL folks: Sauda gives classes in Tucker; Just over $50 gets you six hour-long classes; $90-something gets you 12 hour-long classes. Worth EVERY penny. If you’re interested, hit me on the email (on my blogger profile page) and I’ll get you in touch.


  26. Christie-A Work In Progress

    This was cute! I miss dancing! I used to be a dancer/choreographer in my youth and before we had kids, hubby and I used to Salsa the night away. Ahhhh those were the days!

  27. mama's got moxie

    oh, that sounds fabulous! i could definitely use a little bending, stretching and gyrating in my life. haha… i just can’t seem to get my butt up and go!

  28. Girrrrl, you crack me up!

    Have drink? Will travel. LMAO

    It’s amazing what an hour can do for a busy woman’s spirit, right?

  29. Pseudonymous High School Teacher

    I’d love to see video. sounds amazing.

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