I've always assumed that Zumba would not be my thing. See, I consider myself mildly allergic to girly-sounding fitness pursuits, and a "dance fitness party" falls squarely into that category. But after my zillionth acquaintance professed her undying love for the class—and after I learned that a woman named Suki teaches one just two blocks away from my home every Sunday afternoon—I caved and decided to give it a try.
I'll admit, I walked in expecting to see a gaggle of old ladies in their white tennies and matching track suits, waiting to shimmy a little to some peppy tunes. And yes, there were some folks from the older crowd there. But there was also an über-urban young woman dressed like she was headed to a hip-hop club, a couple of serious-athlete looking types in their 20s, and a whole bunch of women in their 30s and 40s whose bodies ranged from slim to decidedly plump. There was even a guy.
And the instructor? Suki turned out to be a tough, super-toned whip of a gal, dressed all in black and sporting an intense expression. She did not look girly. At all.
The music started. It was an eclectic mix of Bollywood, Middle Eastern, Brazilian, and other types. Many songs had a hip-hop feel. There was a dash of salsa, a bit of merengue. And the moves? They were high-intensity, with lots of jumping and twisting and, yes, dancing. The steps morphed to mirror the changing flavors of the music. So much for girly—by the end of the first song, I was beginning to sweat and my heart was pumping.
The sequences were relatively easy to follow, but of course I messed up a good bit, going left when I should've gone right, twirling clockwise instead of counterclockwise, stepping instead of kicking. It didn't help that I'd worn running shoes with a sticky tread, which made twisting difficult; I had to stay on my toes and add a little hop to avoid wrenching my knees.
Suki didn't say a word.
In fact, once class started, the only time Suki said anything was between songs. Turns out that one of the tenets of Zumba is that instructors do not give verbal cues. Instead, they use hand motions to indicate direction—when you're about to turn, when it's time to speed up. Sounds like a recipe for confusion, right?
Wrong. I can't tell you how freeing this was, not having an instructor barking directions and then looking around to see who was (or wasn't) following them. Suki had assured me when I first arrived that I shouldn't worry about getting everything right, and that I should just have fun. Most instructors say that. But she actually meant it. And amazingly, that's what happened.
Nobody noticed or cared when I goofed. Everyone was basically following the steps, but they added their own flourishes—a sway, a shoulder roll, a hip bump—so it was easy to think of my mistakes as merely style choices.
It was hands-down the most comfortable I've ever felt in a first class—and I've had a lot of first classes.
The hour flew by, and at the end everyone—everyone, including me—was drenched in sweat, laughing, and clapping as if, indeed, we'd just been to an awesome dance party.
Sometimes I love being proved wrong.