My son, Andrew, wants to know when he will be old enough to get a dog. The answer, scientifically speaking, is “When Mommy thinks you’re old enough to hear her curse when the dog chews through her Ugg slippers.” My daughter, Zoe, wants to know when she can get her ears pierced. The answer to this deep conundrum is, “At double digits, or once you remember consistently to flush the toilet every time you go. Whichever comes first.”
To vote, the magic number is 18. To drink, it’s 21. To start driving, 16.
Everyone wants to reach these markers of maturity, the signposts along the road of life telling them at what age they can begin. But people rarely stop to think about when they should just stop. Like, when exactly is one’s grandma too old to drive? It’s a slippery slope. Where to draw the line? (From experience, the answer in my family is, “When she gets into a major-minor accident in which police are involved although no one is really hurt except her ancient Oldsmobile and an Oak tree in White Plains.”)
Which brings me to the burning question behind today’s article: At what age should a grown wife, mother, and columnist just say no to learning hip-hop in a friend’s basement?
How old is too old?
To give you context for this physical and ethical dilemma, I’d like to first present some evidence from my mother, the 65-year-old tap-dancer.
“Ma,” I asked, calling her cell phone in the middle of the afternoon and interrupting her day with this crucial question, “How old is your tap dance teacher again?”
“Oh…” she thought, “80, 81. Why?”
I explained the topic I was wrestling with.
“Betty is not too old, she just has to wear sunglasses in the studio because the wall is so bright that it hurts her eyes. And she also holds on to that wall for balance.”
“Okay, thanks, Ma.” I was ready to hang up, having gathered enough research.
“And we kind of made our own tap shoes. We had the taps put onto orthopedic oxfords. They have arch support!”
“I’m confused…did you do this for Betty, or for you?”
“For both of us. Susan is the only other member of the class, and she’s still under 65, so she can wear regular tap shoes.”
So, of course, based on my fine genetic dance lineage, I went to the hip-hop class.
My friend Jen, who was hosting this event at her house, sent an email invitation including the date and time. She also mentioned that our instructor, Wadi Jones, is world-renowned.
As if that makes any difference to me. What am I? Hip-hop know-it-all, Jazzy JulieG? Did she think I wouldn’t show up if the teacher were just regular, because I’m such an accomplished hip-hop snob?
No, I went because it sounded like fun.
Right away, I realized I was not dressed correctly. Most of the women donned sneakers and sweatpants. I was in stretchy pants (good for movement) but a wool sweater (very bad for perspiration). My friend Kate, in her skinny jeans and riding boots, made me feel much better about my poor choice of hip-hop gear. Who knew that we were really going to dance? I thought it was kind of a joke, because I think everything is kind of a joke.
But Wadi is no joke. I know that now, because I have seen him spin on his head.
To learn the hip-hop routine (yes, routine) we put down our cups of sauvignon blanc and formed a few lines in front of Wadi, who was on the platform stage in Jen’s basement (yes, stage). He taught us how to pop and slide and glide and pump and walk (yes, walk. It’s just a grapevine). We learned important technical aspects of the ancient art of hip-hopping such as how to point correctly, with thumb facing down instead of up, so as not to appear like a cowboy with a fake gun. We even gave input, so that, when I jokingly said that one lurching-like move reminded me of something out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, Wadi changed the move and called it the Jackson. Eventually, when put to music (LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem), the combination went something like this: “5, 6, 7, 8, and Jackson, and Jackson, and Jackson, and Jackson, and slide, and slide, and walk, walk, walk, walk, stop.”
Every fifteen minutes, I took off more clothing. My socks and sweater now lay in a corner by the couch. I wiped my brow with the hem of my shirt and piled my hair into a bun. People were panting. My back ached.
“It’s time to learn the cat daddy,” Wadi announced.
“Oh, good. I was wondering when you’d do that,” I said.
“It’s like you’re rolling a wheelchair.”
Now the man was speaking my language. I rolled my wheelchair quite successfully.
“Next we’re going to dougie.”
I wanted to know if he knew a move called shvitzing through my tank top. I also wanted to know why my moves had so much bounce, making them less gangsta and more cheerleadah.
After an hour plus of hip-hopping, my brain and body were tired. I couldn’t keep up and I kept forgetting the new part of the routine. But I was having a great time. We all were.
“We should do this again!” Someone exclaimed and a bunch of us nodded our sweaty heads in agreement.
“We should practice and then perform as a flash mob at elementary school pick-up!” One columnist declared. (What? Hysterical idea, no?)
Another woman decided that we might lend ourselves out as the entertainment for the teacher appreciation lunch in the spring. After Wadi left, we stood around chatting about the kinds of things middle-aged women talk about, like doctors’ appointments and vacations. My friend Maya, pregnant with her third child (yes, pregnant and hip-hopping), asked if I could recommend a good local mohel. We had quickly returned to the status quo, but I like to think that we had all been changed in some small way.
I know that by the next day, I had changed. My sciatica was radiating pangs of regret down my backside, and my Achilles tendons were sore (yes, Achilles tendons. Told you I was too bouncy.)
“What did you expect?” My oh-so-supportive husband, Brett, asked at breakfast. “That’s what happens every time you decide to do a back flip off a diving board or perform some gymnastics.” He imitated my voice and continued. “Look, I’m going to do a double round-off!”
“That’s not even a thing,” I said. “It’s a round-off back handspring. And it hurts like hell.”
In my mind, I’m 16. I’m a gymnast and a cheerleader and my eyes work just fine without reading glasses. In my mind, I can move with the best of ‘em. I bet, if you asked Betty, the 81-year-old tap dance instructor, she would say she feels the same way. Because, on the inside, we’re all young. We’re agile and strong and wrinkle free and dancing our asses off.
So, how old is too old?
Don’t ask me.