"Brush your knee," the svelte Tai Chi teacher says.
I glance to see how she's brushing her knee. She stands on one foot and seems to touch her knee with her other knee. Egads!
I try to lift my foot. It weighs like cement and refuses to leave the floor.
Now she's tapping — tap, tap. Around me I hear a dozen other feet — tap tap. Jeez! They're all tapping!
I give it a go but stagger.
"If you can't stand on one foot, Marilyn, hang on to your chair."
I grip my chair. "Tap tap." But it's a solo. I felt ten inches high.
Never mind. I know I'm falling down the strange rabbit hole of Tai Chi. Down down down. I take my stopwatch out of my pocket as I pass a red rooster flapping its wings. Pass a deer waggling its antlers. Pass a tiger on the trail of the deer. Pass two elephants bending elbows.
I reach the bottom and stare at a stiff monkey grabbing peaches, looking right, then left, then gobbling.
We seize a boat and push it, but no one gets in. We're all too busy gazing at the sun and the moon. Then we stop to lift a stone from the bottom of the sea. We dust off against the wind, watch clouds roll round and round. A Great Spirit Bird arises. We raise our arms above our heads, again, again, again.
No one speaks English here. Sometimes I catch a word or two as we concentrate on our Dantians or our Laogongs or our Mingmans. By the time we leave, we're all fluent in Chinese.
"Practice standing on one foot at home," Jan Dixon, our teacher, tells me.
I do. I'm determined to learn. I grab the kitchen counter, stand on one foot and lift the other. I march with slow high steps held long. I extend one leg behind me, repeat, repeat, repeat.
At last one day in class, I brush my knee. Soon I even tap-tap.
But that's not the end of it. Now I must learn to perform the crane, that straight-necked whooping bird who sticks one long leg way up in the air—and holds it!