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What Katie did next: In which I learn to do the moonwalk...

IF the sports car is the symbol of the mid-life crisis, what, I wonder, is the symbol of the quarter-life crisis? A skateboard, maybe?

Or just not owning a car, perhaps? It could be said that you are in the quarter-life crisis if you are still getting lifts to work from your mother -- and still shouting "bags the front seat" when she beeps the horn.

The 'quarter-life crisis', for the uninitiated, is a term coined by psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. He was interested in the identity crises that humans encounter in their journey.

According to Erikson, the quarter-life crisis occurs between the ages of 25 and 35, as adulthood looms and the 'real world' becomes unavoidable.

Even so, it's difficult to discern the actual hallmarks of this crisis when the 20s and 30s are like one long road journey: Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

In comparison to the mid-life crisis, the quarter-life crisis is more about what you haven't acquired than what you have acquired (such as a leather jacket, a hair transplant and a Michael Buble album).

It's more conceptual than concrete. You only really know you are there when you feel like a little boat cast adrift in an ocean of unknowing.

Or when you feel like you are in life's waiting room, in the antechamber between youth and adulthood.



Teenagers

Or when, at 29, you discover you are the oldest person -- by far -- at a Michael Jackson dance class. Welcome, dear readers, to my weekend.

I can now understand why I couldn't convince any of my friends to come to the class with me. But at the time it seemed like such an easy sell. Who wouldn't want to learn the moves of the master of dance? It was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned. And yet even the promise of them being able to moonwalk by Christmas wasn't appealing.

The only person who expressed any interest in coming along was my mother. Although I didn't actually ask her -- she was listening into my phone call. "It's really hard," warned the 14-year-old girl who joined me on the bench outside the studio. I wanted to tell her that nothing could be harder than being the only woman in a dance class full of teenagers, but I just performed a false shudder and waited for the teacher to arrive.

There were four of us. My classmates ranged in age from 14 to 16. They formed a line, toes already tapping to the music. I attempted a little hip sway to show that I was, you know, down with it.

I formed a second line behind the teenagers. A line for one. I felt like a lurching, lurking creep; like an anachronism in my own life. But somehow this was better than joining their line.

From my vantage point I was able to eye up their runners. They were all wearing cool runners. The girl had snazzy silver toecaps on hers. I looked down at mine.

Why did I wear the white Asics? The type middle-aged women wear to slimming clubs. Why did I even buy these runners? I own cool runners. I own lots of cool things. I AM cool, I assured myself.

Rather poetically, the vest I was wearing said 'Kool' on it. Yes, cool with a 'k', in fluorescent yellow lettering. Word!

Just as we were starting the warm-up, the door swung open and a middle-aged woman wearing a pair of white Asics runners led a line of children into the room. Ah now. I am not learning to dance with four-year-olds, I told myself.

"They just want to watch some Michael Jackson dancing," she assured the teacher. The children lay prostrate on the floor, faces cupped in their hands. It dawned on me that she probably would have been concerned if she saw a man of my age in this line-up...

I was now beyond peak embarrassment, comfortably numb, in my oversized body.



Vigorous

I decided to just follow the teacher and not look at anyone else. We were learning the drill sequence from the This Is It tour. It's rather vigorous but I followed his lead intensely, even pointing my fingers in the air when he counted us in with a "five, six, seven, eight".

I got myself into a bit of a tangle when it came to performing the routine without his lead. Free-form was my only way out. It's the way Michael would have wanted it.

The teacher soon stopped the music to deliver a pep talk. Michael Jackson dancing is actually very easy, he told us. I nodded in agreement, beads of sweat coursing down my brow, heart threatening to leap straight out of my chest. It's actually more about acting, he continued.

It's about looking strong, powerful and aggressive. We needed to believe that we were soldiers. I can do that, I thought. For the next sequence, I put less energy into the timing of the routine and more energy into looking badass.

This produced an involuntary body reaction. Like a child whose tongue lolls when he gets lost in his colouring in, I started pursing my lips and emitting a noise that sounded worryingly like 'pow'.

But before I became too self-conscious about it, the door swung open with a late arrival. Thankfully it wasn't my mother... Mercifully it was a woman. Who I think might have been even older than me!

She apologised for being late and joined my line. I shook my head, pointed my thumb behind me and said, "not so fast, grandma."

Only joking! But I won't lie -- I derived a perverse pleasure from benchmarking her as the oldest person in the class. I might even treat myself to a pair of those silver-toed trainers...

Life is all about perspective. If two more adults come next week, then the balance will be shifted. If three more adults come next week, then those teenagers and their annoying nimble bodies will have to start worrying about being too young for the class.

"I hope I see you next week," said the teacher as I was leaving. I looked over at the older woman and gave her a look which I hope she understood as 'I hope I see you here next week'. I also hope she recognises me in my cool new runners.


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