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Last week, I developed a serious crush on Taylor Swift. I had never paid much attention to her before her new song, “Shake It Off” came out. I do remember that I laughed until tears streamed down my face over a clip where somebody inserted a goat bleating into the chorus of her song “Trouble,” and I know people make fun of her mercilessly for various other reasons, some of which she comments on in the new song, but all that only adds to the list of reasons I admire her so much today.

So for anyone who hasn’t already heard “Shake It Off” or seen the video, catch up already! It is pure fun:

Wasn’t that great? Tell me you’re not in love! I’ve seen articles criticizing this song for being too perfect a pop song, for abandoning her country roots in favor of more mainstream fame, for including twerking…This NYT article does a pretty good job dispelling a lot of the reactionary negativity and showing the video to be what it is: FUN and SILLY. I don’t claim to be an expert on pop music or pop anything – the extent of my knowledge of mainstream music is mostly limited to the songs we dance to in class. But I know a good song when I hear it. The beat is definitely “sick,” if I’m getting the jargon right, it’s perfect for Zumba. I know, because even before I subtly hinted to our Zumba instructor that it would be a great addition to our repertoire, I had already made up several amazing choreographies for my toddler’s entertainment.

What I find particularly interesting and appealing about “Shake It Off” is the fact that, unlike a very large majority of dance songs we hear on the radio these days, it contains a positive message, for women in particular. As much as I love to shake it, even with ear plugs to avoid eardrum explosion in class, I can’t help listening to the sometimes merely inane, but more often downright ridiculous and/or insulting lyrics of the songs, mostly sung by men. But let’s save the ranting for another post. Today, I’m here to celebrate, not eviscerate.

“Shake It Off” is easily relatable for anyone who has ever felt out of place anywhere at any point in their entire life – that’s pretty much everybody. Okay, so nobody has recently scolded me because I “stay out too late” or because I “go on too many dates” these days. I’m married with a nineteen-month old and I have to go to bed early to survive. I can’t identify with everything in the song, but the take home message, for me, is that the most important thing we can do is keep moving in a positive direction however we want, whenever we want, wherever we want, and with no regard whatsoever for the players, haters, breakers or fakers who might discourage us (even when we ourselves are the haters.) After giving us a quick tutorial of a complicated step in a new song, one of our Zumba instructors always reassures us, “don’t worry, do what you want, just shake it!” That is the literal message here. But we can extrapolate it to our hopes, dreams, careers, and personal ambitions as well.

I liked “Shake It Off” the first time I heard it, but the video is what really made me swoon. It is supremely refreshing to see a gorgeous, charismatic, talented young woman fall all over herself with such astonishing awkwardness for all the world to see. I don’t know my left from my right (no matter what I do!), I am uncoordinated,  and prone to clumsiness and injury, so I am forced to modify a lot of moves. What I get from the video is that you don’t have to be overly coordinated, graceful or rhythmic to have a fabulous time dancin’, shakin’ and being you in your most open, honest, possibly vulnerable self. I am not exaggerating when I say that I scarcely have the coordination to stand upright much of the time. Grace and rhythm are out of the question. I stand in the second row (if I were not so tall, I’d stand in the front row) and stare intently at the instructor to be sure I can see and imitate every move to improve my chances of getting it right. Sure, the pros looks great up on stage or on screen, but I think it is pretty great to look in the wall length mirrors in the studio to see so many happy people dancing together, doing (mostly) the same thing at the same time.

I want to be as unapologetically uncool as Taylor Swift! She makes klutzy almost enviable because she’s having fun anyway. In the video, she doesn’t make the cut with any of the niches she tries: cheerleading, modern dance, futuristic space dance, ballet, twerking, breakdancing or some cool looking finger gymnastics. In the end though, she finds her own niche, where she is right at home with people who appreciate her for who she is. That’s how I see Zumba as an institution: more than a business or a dance-fitness phenomenon, I see it as a place where all kinds of people (mostly women) come together to have fun and shake off all the rest. I think Taylor Swift would fit right in with us, too.

Just as any good dance routine has a memorable big finish, Taylor Swift’s charming fail of a bow as a ballerina rounds out a truly enjoyable performance. I’ll be looking forward to the encore.

 

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