I tried Grammarly's check grammar free of charge because using bad grammar is like trying to write with a broken pencil—your point is lost.
“Vacca is the worst,” Billy Not-His-Real Name scoffed in a less-than-subtle stage whisper to his fellow wrestlers.
I was Vacca, an insecure junior trying to up my social stock by trying out for the cheerleading squad. Billy was rotten, mean, and equally insecure, but he was also right: I was dreadful. I had no business attempting on-beat, synchronized moves in my basement, let alone in a public forum. I pretended not to hear Billy’s cruel remark and continued flailing my arms and executing jerky kicks across the gym floor. I bombed the tryouts in epic fashion, and returned to the newspaper room and the art studio at the opposite end of the campus.
My high school self didn’t know what I’d later learn as a teacher in a classical school: every discipline has its own “grammar” or essential principles upon which the whole body of thought operates. The “grammar” of math, for instance, is likely plus and minus signs or the order of operations (I can’t speak authoritatively on numbers, though), and the grammar of my art classroom consisted of the elements of art (line, texture, etc.) and the color wheel. The idea of knowledge as grammar-driven --and this is my own twist—leads to the inescapable conclusion that a working knowledge of all languages is simply not realistic.
Which brings us to last week. Groupon and a 6-year struggle with flab led me to a bootcamp program across town. It took all of 3 minutes for me to discover that the structure of the program was based on many of the same moves I’d fumbled through on the gym floor in 11th grade. Accentuating my inherent gawkiness was the fact that I was a demographic minority on the floor. Most of the women were African-American and wired with an inborn fluency in the grammar of movement.
Because this was a workout facility rather than a high school gym, I had a constant visual of myself in the wall of mirrors. A sea of mocha-toned skin moved in unison while my gangly frame bounced to an inaudible inner rhythm. I was having a good time, and more interested in fitness than popularity, a mature attitude that was challenged just days later.
I’d been struggling to find a class that fit my crazy, triple university schedule, when I notice that there was a late evening Zumba class listed, kind of off to the side on the gym schedule. I’d heard of Zumba but have never experienced it. Showed up ready to give it the good old college try.
The gym was aglow with disco lights in stunning range of hues. Lean, muscular dancers covered almost every square foot of the gym floor. The instructor, a petite waif of a thing seemed surprised to see me. She patiently explained that the Zumba party night wasn’t a part of the bootcamp program, but since I was there and dressed to work out I was welcome to join them.
I found a small patch of room waaay in the back of the room—at the doorway to the locker area, to be specific. A deep bass beat rocked the room and the instructor began executing dance moves I’ve not often seen outside a screen. The group mimicked her moves in mass as the gym rocked with the lyric “I Can Be a Freak,” which I took as a signal that my off-beat twitching in the closet was perfectly acceptable.
The tunes flowed one into another and the lyrics became more ambiguous. At one point, we seemed to be keeping time to a query on the whereabouts of Beyoncé, which morphed into a refrain concerned with a grey goose dripping in the bathroom.
The moves were less ambiguous. A several minute segment featured a fair amount of that twerking we’ve all heard so much about in the wake of that Miley Cyrus flap. The crowd then began grinding in unison before breaking into a jubilant round of jumping such as is common on the summer music festival circuit.
I couldn’t see the mirrors, such was the crowd, but I did not need the feedback to know I was, hands down, THE WORST dancer on the floor. But you know what? Synchronized movement isn’t my first language. Just like I tell my Eastern European students in my Basic English class, considering the second language factor, the work was rather impressive. So let's be a little easier on ourselves, readers. We're all language learners in something. My foreign tongue just happens to be coordination. What's yours?
Grammarly.com asked me to try their digital editing service free of charge. I gave it a test drive with the above post, which, in it’s current incarnation earns a score of 75/100. In my classroom that’s solidly a “C.” The reasons for my lackluster score revolve primarily around context issues: the digital editor is unfamiliar with twerking, preferring I use tweaking. Also out of favor is my exaggerated waaay…even though I set the editor to “creative” mode, as opposed to “academic,” “technical,” etc.) Other of my deductions are mystifying: evidently my use of the word “specific” was too “vague,” and although I really appreciated the editor pointing out overused words, it’s really inconsistent. (it’s concerned, for instance, of over use of “rather”—which I can only find once—but ignored my frequent use of “grammar”). The service DID save me the embarrassment of using “crow” instead of “crowd,” something that MS Word missed, and reminded me that Zumba is capitalized. Since my use is a freebie, I’m delighted to be saved the embarrassment, but I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to pay the listed sticker price for the information. In all, the whole experience seems akin to using the virtual trainers on the wii Fit program—kind of fun and novel, but a bit low on results.