"They shoot horses, don't they?" I was panting heavily. My daughters looked bewildered. Obviously, my reference to the 1969 movie — wherein Jane Fonda nearly dances herself to death during a marathon — utterly escaped them.
My frustration was over my inability to perform to the 2010 family Christmas gift: Xbox 360's Dance Central. After I'd watched my 26-year-old daughter leap to the center of the carpet and get down in entirely impressive and unfamiliar ways, it had been my turn.
Michael Jackson's moonwalk. I'd given it my all but came away — even after hours of rehearsal — with a pitiful performance and paralyzing shin splints.
I scrolled the soundtrack list in confusion: Clearly, I wouldn't be able simply to sway and make little circles with my hands to the Supremes, twirl to the Temptations or twist à la Chubby Checker. Who is Beenie Man? Pitbull? I knew better than to even try something titled "Drop It Like It's Hot." And no one, not even my husband, would want to live with the memory of Mom attempting "Rump Shaker."
I gasped to a few bars of Lady Gaga, gave "Teach Me How to Jerk" a stab — erroneously thinking that Audio Push (whoever they may be) was referring to the jerk dance that I used to do — but ultimately, for our family competition, chose the Commodores' "Brick House," since, at the very least, I recognized it.
Kate had already locked in a stellar score on Level 3 following the lead of some gangsta ripping out "Funky Town." "This is a fabulous workout!" she yelled. An exercise aficionado, she loves nothing more than discovering another way to sweat. Her older sister Clary flailed dramatically to "Poker Face" and finished with a respectable total. Their father flat-out refused and left the room, reappearing only when Kate cried, "Daddy! Come see: Mom's bustin' a move!"
I was bustin' something all right. When had I lost track of hip, except in conversations about replacement surgery? As hard as I worked, and as much as every muscle in my body trembled, my numbers came in too low to even advance to the next level.
But wait! Hadn't I been the one who, at 17, dragged a date to the Hollywood studio where "Shebang" (our local version of Dick Clark's "American Bandstand") was filmed? And, much to the horror of said date, weren't we featured on the platform performing the frug for the TV audience? Pictures of me in high school showed me in my uniform: a sweatshirt that read "Live to dance and dance to live."
I might be flirting with 60, but 16 still beats strong in this aging heart. So why not on the dance floor?
Fortified by a large cup of coffee, I demanded a rematch. This time I knew what to expect. I anticipated every move of the avatar, stayed focused, got my rhythm — and graduated to the second level. And I finished after three rounds not the winner but not that far behind. Exhausted and sucking in breaths like a strangling bass, I concurred with my husband: If I was going to match Gaga's heart rate, I needed to step up my exercise routine, and pronto. But how to look like I was born this way?
Kate just called to tell me that Xbox 360 has unveiled the Experience. "It's all Michael Jackson!" she shrieked into the phone. "I'm so giving it to you for Mother's Day!"
Perfect. If I can work my way through the shin-splint stage, I can improve my fitness level with "Thriller" moves.
Miller, who lives in Huson, Mont., is the author of more than 300 essays and stories that have appeared in such publications as Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times and Missoula Living. Her column "High on the Wild" appears in the Pines Literary Journal, and her column "Peaks and Valleys" appears in Montana Woman Magazine. She has contributed to National Public Radio's "On Point."
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