In case you’re wondering what Zumba is, it’s exercise disguised as dancing. Or dancing disguised as exercise. Or torture disguised as fun. It’s basically a way to sweat like crazy and cram what feels like days’ worth of exercise into an hour or so. It all began in Columbia, South America, and has swept the U.S. in the past 8 or 9 years.
I had no intention of being dragged into the craze when it hit our area a few years ago. Sadly out of shape, I still could not imagine myself dancing in a room full of people. You see, I’m just not very coordinated. I have a bad sense of timing, and a worse sense of direction. Invariably, if my husband says “look at that car on your right!” I will immediately look to the left. So much so that Hubby now just sighs and says “your other right, honey”. So any kind of structured dancing, even though I dearly love music, is not my strong point.
But my friends were very persistent, and they seemed to be having fun, so eventually I found myself going to classes with them. That was a year ago. I hate it. And I love it. It’s complicated. But I won’t give it up. Let me try to sort it out the primary issues for you.
1a. SWEAT IS BAD – You know that old saying that ladies don’t sweat, they perspire? Well, not doing Zumba they don’t! It’s definitely sweat that rolls off in buckets. Your hair sweats in Zumba. Just this morning, I went to brush my bangs off my face in class, and a shower of water sprayed out in front of me. Surprised, I put my hand to my head and realized my hair was completely soaked with sweat. That much sweat is disgusting. It’s uncomfortable. It’s cold and unhealthy in the winter when you walk outdoors into below zero temperatures. It requires washing of workout clothes, including my expensive athletic bra, after every single class. Sweat is not pleasant.
1b. SWEAT IS GOOD – Sweat is empowering. Sweat tells you you’re really doing something. Sweat tells you that your body is working – hard. Sweat tells you that you’re building muscle and burning fat. That’s a really good feeling. Sweat is powerful. Sweat is good for women.
2a. MIRRORS ARE BAD – Most Zumba classrooms have at least one wall of mirrors. They’re scary. They show EVERYTHING to EVERYONE. You see everything you’re doing wrong – every time I turn right instead of left, the mirror lets me know about it (as does the unsuspecting classmate to my right!). The mirror also shows me how bad I look in workout clothes. Just when I’m feelin’ the music and thinkin’ I’m really jammin’ to the song, I get a glance of myself in the mirror – lumpy, puffy, in pants that are too short, with a blotchy red face, and my mouth gaping open like a flounder, gasping for air. So much for confidence – I look like I’m ready to drop! Mirrors are not helpful.
2b. MIRRORS ARE GOOD – There’s always the practical purpose of mirrors – they allow you to see what the instructor is doing, and they show you whether you are doing a move properly when you compare your moves to hers. But there are other fun things about mirrors. The mirror teaches us to avoid that gasping flounder look as we struggle for air, and to instead purse our lips like we’re just blowing off a little steam. Lips together, mouth more closed than open – “whew”. Trust me – it’s much more attractive than the gasping flounder look. Mirrors can boost your Zumba confidence when you realize that many other people in the room are making even more mistakes than you are! Or when you realize that everyone looks weird in workout clothes. Mirrors show you that most women (and men) in class are really not concerned with how they look – they’re just throwing themselves into the dance moves the best they can. You want to be fearless, like them. Mirrors also show you when you finally get that complicated step right, and you’re smokin’ it, keeping up with every move the instructor is making. Thank goodness for mirrors!
3a. HIPS ARE GOOD – Moving and swinging your hips with the beat of Latin music is very seductive. I’m not talking about being seductive to an audience. It’s seductive to you. I’m talking about the feeling of letting your hips sway to the rhythm of drums and Latin words. Whether it’s a belly dance to a Shakira song; or a samba to the rhythm of an island beat; or an aggressively low hip swing to a naughty Notorious lyric, you feel the power of music. You feel the power of your own body, moving with the music. It’s a beautiful thing for your soul to feel that kind of synchronicity. It makes you appreciate your body, rather than criticize it. Whether you’re full of curves or skinny as a rail, feel the rhythm and MOVE.
3b. HIP IS GOOD – Look closely – this isn’t a bad/good comparison as with the first two topics – it’s just two positive takes on “hip” and Zumba. Moving your physical hips is good. But so is BEING hip! Some of you may have teenagers who keep you in the loop on the current entertainers, but Zumba saved me from a life of being one of those boring old people who say “who’s that?” “never heard of her!” when we watch the MTV Music Awards. I know who Lady Gaga is, I dance to Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas. I can do the “Beyonce bounce”. I groove to Pit Bull, man! In my real life, I listen to country music and oldies, but in Zumba, I am crankin’ it to lyrics I (probably blessedly) don’t always understand. Some are in Hispanic, and some are being ground out in rap. I am in a room with women (and men) smaller and larger than me, older and younger than me, and we are all yelling and cutting loose to a song that I’m pretty sure is talking about posing “like a pornography poster.” Do I have fun being just a little naughty and working out to that infectious hip hop beat? Oh, yeah! Being hip makes young co-workers eyebrows raise when you stride past them humming “Let’s Dance”. Being hip is cool. Being hip keeps you young. Zumba makes you hip.
As with any workout, it can be torturous while you’re doing it. But the afterglow is well worth the effort, and the changes in my body, stamina and confidence keep me going back for one sweaty, torturous, exhausting, exhilarating class after another. Hating it. And loving it.