Odes to the Women in my Zumba Class

“So I’ve been doing this thing lately where I write odes to things I think I’m supposed to feel ashamed of, which is largely how shame works. We think we’re supposed to feel it, we’re told we’re supposed to feel it about the way that we live and act and walk and speak and dress and are, and then we feel it because someone else told us to. It’s not an organic feeling, really. So I’ve been writing odes to things like that to counteract that feeling.” -Olivia Gatwood

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these women travel from far and wide to be here

in this sweaty, over-air-conditioned room on the second floor of the gym

at 8:30am, or 9:45, or 11, or 5:45, or 8pm

these women are various

these women embody all forms

these women of all ages

these women in their spandex and sports bras

these women both smile and sigh

these women fit classes in between work and picking up the kids

these women kick ass

these women are powerful

these women find strength in each other

and this room is warm with more than our dripping sweat

this room is filled with sideways smiles and tentative eye contact

we all dance alone, but we all dance together

all moving at the same time to the same rhythm

these women modify the steps to suit their abilities

and my arm reaches as though it can touch the ceiling

and i look ahead and see everyone else doing the same thing

and we dance to music that frees us

booming beats that make us feel sexy

moves that almost shake our hips for us

the instructor gives us permission with her boundless enthusiasm

so we all embrace it

in this almost all-women environment by accident,

a place of acceptance and welcome

for women of every kind

and we all tap into our sexualities and dance for no one but ourselves

no male gaze peaking or prying or present here

and these women watch each other in the mirror-wall

but we all smile

there are no sideways appraisals or sneers

there is only love and sweat

and these women, they are dancing

and we are all dancing

we are all dancing



and I’m tired of feeling ashamed of the way I move,

tired of self-conscious glances in mirrors

and missteps because I’m too focused on getting the moves just right,

tired of half-assing it because I don’t want to be seen trying too hard and looking awkward,

tired of not getting as much out of life as I want to

because I’m conforming to imposed societal standards,

tired of allowing other people to make me feel ashamed for the things I love to do,

tired of letting shame prevent me from having fun, from letting loose, from feeling free

tired of not feeling free

so instead I dance

i shake my hips back and forth

i run my hands down my body slowly

i look myself in the eye in the mirror

i wave my arms above my head

i turn around and around

i jump with no reservations

and I smile so wide

it’s blinding



outside this room,

this small sanctuary,

there are the weights

and the machines

and the wall-to-wall mirrors that reflect more than i asked for,

that make me feel like fish in a tank

magnified gazes,

this hyper-masculine environment

dominated by massive arms and hulking thighs

so much teenage testosterone

appraising glances and “appreciative” whistles

i never feel comfortable here

never feel comfortable trying to use any of the equipment

partly because of my small womanhood in comparison

and partly because of my inexperience, my unfamiliarity,

but how else to become familiar than to take the first step?

to try something and fail?

but i also realize that maybe i’m more comfortable in the closed-in room

dancing with women who know me

without really knowing me



to the instructor with the strong long island accent,

to the mother who squeezes in a class between work and picking her kid up from school,

to the woman who looks about eighty making a valiant effort to keep up with a smile on her face,

to the woman in front of me with absolutely no rhythm but an impenetrable smile,

waving her arms so frantically she almost knocks me in the face

to the woman who looks at me across the room and winks,

to the woman who points to herself in the mirror with a gaze so full of confidence and self-love

i almost want to look away so i don’t interrupt the intimacy,

to the woman with the bubblegum hair

to the woman with calves of steel

to the two women whispering at the back of the class

to the woman in the “world’s best mom” t-shirt

to the woman who walks in late from a shift at the local fast food joint,

to the woman who shyly peaks in the doorway, unsure whether she wants to enter,

to the woman who leaves early to run to the grocery store before making dinner,

to the women who refuse to be ashamed about anything,

to the women with cellulite and rolls

to the women with pit stains

to the women who are too exhausted to continue,

to the women who stop for water,

to the women who stumble,

to the women who fall,

to the women who get back up

every time

Author: Sienna Brancato

Sienna is a proud Italian American who grew up on Long Island (she has been told she has a bit of an accent). She is a sophomore at Georgetown studying English, Italian, and Government. Her passions include feminism, reading, spoken word poetry, and awkward dancing. Her favorite TV shows include The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Last Week Tonight. In her free time, you can catch her listening to the Civil Wars while eating an entire pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream and wearing fuzzy pajamas.