If you’ve read any of my posts or talked to me in the last 8 months, you probably know about my recent love affair with Zumba. I’ve become a total junkie, trying new instructors and gyms. I’ve become a total groupie, buying branded clothes and shoes. I’m dancing around the kitchen while I’m doing dishes and have a Zumba step in my living room. Who is this person?
I have always absolutely DETESTED group fitness classes – I’m talking hate with a hardcore passion. Yoga was doable for some reason – but with anything else I was so self-conscious that I wouldn’t even consider participating. Jeanie and I joined the gym together last year after lots of poking and prodding on her end and having to drag me by my feet with nails dug into the carpet. We decided that working out together would help us stick to a routine – the ol’ Buddy System. We started going a couple times a week, hopping on ellipticals followed by a weight training circuit each visit. Then came The Question.
“Would you want to try any of the classes they have here one night?” Jeanie asked innocently, gliding along on the machine next to me. I glared sideways at her, and felt the blood rushing to my face. After a quick “I’ll think about it,” we continued puffing away on the elliptical for another 30 miserable minutes and gratefully dismounted immediately after our “You Made It” beeps sounded. We stood in front of the class studio doors panting and chugging water, reviewing the schedule for the rest of the week. Zumba and Body Pump were the two classes that piqued Jeanie’s interest. “Zumba? No, no, NO. Absolutely not,” I protested. “I’ll try the weights but I am not advertising my Awkward Teenager Syndrome (ATS) trying to dance with a group of people in front of mirrors. Pick another one.”
I have pretty much no rhythm. I have about two dance moves in my repertoire, and they are both safe, classic wallflower sways or hip swings of some sort. My best friend in high school taught me the bare minimum that my brain and body could comprehend the week before my freshman homecoming dance. I’ll never forget it – Faith Evan’s Love Like This was the song, and getting me to actually move my hips was the goal. I was frozen like a deer in the headlights. “PICK your FEET up just a LITTLE,” she coached as she spun and shimmied and wiggled around her room. After multiple sessions, she got the hips moving – but that’s where it ended, and it’s gotten me through life thus far. Until Jeanie had to go and upset my little world of only needing two dance moves.
Jeanie grinned at me mischievously. If there is one thing this chick knows how to do, it is to bend me to her will. “We should try a couple different classes. Each one we decide to try we’ll do a minimum of three times. We’ll give ourselves time to get a little comfortable with each type of class. If we still hate it after three classes, you never have to go back again – and you won’t have to go on the elliptical!” She is also a master of the eyebrow wiggle, which punctuated this proposition. Through gritted teeth, I muttered “fine,” and we finished off our workout.
The Gateway Drug
As the day of our first Zumba class approached Jeanie tried to get me pumped for it, “ARE YOU READY?! :D :D :D :D” came the messages to my phone.
We got to class and huddled in the back corner of the room. In bounced our instructor wearing fun, bright purple pants. “HI, EVERYBODY!” she exclaimed. I meekly squeaked something inaudible from my corner as the rest of the class returned her greeting with enthusiasm. “If anyone is new in my class, welcome! Just try your best to follow along and you’ll pick it up in no time. I don’t even care what you’re doing back there – don’t worry if you can’t get a step, just try! Just keep moving!” the instructor encouraged us. I glared at Jeanie again. “I hate you,” I mouthed only half-kidding. Down went the fluorescent lights and on came the party lights. Music UP. Hands UP, warm-up march, GO.
You have literally never seen a sorrier sight in your life. I’m turning in the wrong direction every time. Arms and legs are flailing as my brain is processing each move at a five second delay and trying to keep up. I’m panting and gasping, sweating like a 500 pound man – and then – it was over. I looked over at Jeanie as the music slowed and we went into the cool down. We had done it! Even though I felt miserably uncoordinated, I was on a total high – way better than anything I’d experienced in college.
I kept going back for more, week after week. I felt myself getting stronger, smoother in my movements. Muscle memory and actually listening to the beat helped me anticipate what was coming up next. I was just moving through routines instead of staring intently at my instructor’s feet hoping I’d understand what I was supposed to do next. I found myself correcting and (sorta) perfecting movements, rather than just trying to get through them. My instructor noticed us returning each class and was excited that we were sticking with her. I mustered up the courage to introduce myself and ask her name so I could stop referring to her as the “Purple Energizer Bunny” (she actually prefers to go by “Kristin”). Other classmates who were regulars welcomed us into their inner circle, and we made new friends. I was slowly inching toward the front of classes now, confident in the music, moves and myself. A whole new world was opening up!
Eight months later, I’m still with it – and have even more people to keep me accountable on my attendance (or hand out rations of shit for skipping a class). Then I did something I thought I would NEVER, EVER, NAY-VER do: some Zumba demon had taken hold of me and needed (not wanted, but NEEDED) to bust a move to Lil’ John’s Turn Down for What. Stop judging me. I suggested it to my instructor and she said she had gotten requests for it, but just hadn’t had the time to come up with another routine on top of the many new dances being worked into our class. My little brain started wondering what moves I’d learned would fit in well with the beat. I started chair-dancing in my cubicle at work and in the car during my commute. I listened to that ridiculous song over and over again until it was permanently embedded in my being. After mustering up the courage to confess to Kristin that I’d been working on something, I was met with so much enthusiasm and encouragement that I knew I couldn’t turn back. Another Zumba friend, Stacie, had been considering getting certified and came up with her own routine that Kristin let her lead in class over the past two months. Now she had another groupie wanting to improve and work toward a goal. She was becoming a Zumba Momma and was not letting her babies hide in her shadow anymore. “Get it ready and we’ll go over it before class Friday,” she wrote to me at the beginning of that week.
Heart palpitations commence. What the hell had I gotten myself into? I spent the rest of the week working hard on my routine, not wanting to let Kristin down. I was eating, sleeping, breathing Zumba trying to put something worthy of showing her together. When the day came, it wasn’t right. I was nervous and not 100% confident in the routine. Not only did my nerves show but it was too leg-heavy, very unbalanced. Even though Kristin’s feedback was kind and supportive, I was beating myself up inside and left class feeling defeated. I studied other routines to the same song every chance I got. Some I liked, some I didn’t. After reworking for another 2 weeks, I felt I had put something together that was pretty solid.
I got a Facebook message from Kristin yesterday asking the same question Jeanie had asked eight months earlier: “ARE YOU READY?! :D :D :D :D”
I panicked. It was a Wednesday instead of a Friday – which meant no time before class to show Kristin the new version before I was in the spotlight. I went home and had my own private Zumba class for an entire hour and changed stuff literally as I was walking out the door for class. I played the song on repeat in the car and continued my car-dancing. Before I knew it, I was in front of the class and the music blared through the speakers in front of me: hello, auto-pilot. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone for the first minute (which is MUCH longer than it sounds in this situation). When I finally looked into the mirror at the people behind me, I got excited. There were newbies in the back corner where I was eight months ago trying to keep up. I realized no one could anticipate what was coming next because they hadn’t seen my routine before, and I started giving instructor cues like I had seen Kristin do so many times before. I started having fun. When it was over, I got applause and whoops from my classmates – and I had a stupid grin on my face from ear to ear.
If I wasn’t hooked before, I certainly am now. Guess whose ATS is fading away – and who’s on the playlist for the next two months?
Featured Image: WireImage/Getty Images
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