The first time I encountered Zumba® was through an infomercial in which skinny young people moved effortlessly to peppy Latin music. Not my thing, I decided.
A few weeks later, I learned that one of my friends took Zumba classes at the local Y, and another friend taught the classes. This class was at 9 a.m. on Monday mornings, before I am properly caffeinated. I was dubious. However, there was dancing involved, and I do love a good beat. Plus, my friend was sure I would like it. I was curious.
Whenever the subject came up, I’d say things like, “But I was never really a dancer, what if I can’t learn the steps?” Or, “Really? Nine in the morning?” My friend would shrug and say with a smile, “I think you’ll like it.” Eventually, I went, even though I’ve never been much of a joiner, even though I was never a dancer in a formal sense, even though I’m not nearly as fit as my friend, even though I would really miss my Diet Coke.
And now, several months later—oh, Zumba. How I love thee. Let me count the ways…
- Zumba, I love you because you make me feel young. Yes, young in that I’m-twenty-on-a-dance-floor kind of way, but also younger. Sometimes, when I am in a room full of women and we are all stomping our feet just as fast as we can to a fabulous song (hip-hop or pop or Latin or African), I catch a friend’s eye in the mirror and we both smile. And in our smiling and our stomping, we are suddenly ten years old. Ten. Just happy to be alive young, happy to be looking at your friend’s smiling face while you move your glorious legs young, so dang young we take hope and success for granted and nothing, not even our sense of purpose, has been lost for even a second. Oh, thank you, thank you Zumba, for this gift of youth.
- Zumba, I love you because you have made me a new kind of friend. This friend is someone whose first name I know—and there are many of her, many new names. I know this friend for the space of an hour or two once or twice a week, and outside of this space I know nothing about her. This friend might be very different from the friends I make elsewhere—a Zumba relationship is a little like a late-night-on-the-town relationship, or a Facebook friend you don’t know that well—an acquaintance with whom all things coalesce for a brief time, dissolving whatever unknown differences you might have. This Zumba friend of mine yells things like “HEY!” and “PUMP IT!” as we sweat it up on the sober morning dance floor. This friend is a mom, or not. This friend is of any race, any size, any age, any religion. This friend is another woman, finding time in her life to move, and remember, and celebrate.
- Zumba, I love you because you release me. From fear, from doubt, from muscles too long confined in a chair. You release me from my cynicism, my disbelief, my lethargy. You remind me that so much is possible if we just get ourselves started.
- Zumba, you rock! Wanna know why? Because last Tuesday night my Zumba instructor had her newborn baby in a car seat in the back of the room, happy as a little clam and cute as a speckled pup, looking all around the room with her big newborn eyes and sucking on a pacifier. This baby was so happy because her mama practiced Zumba the whole time she was growing, so she just knew this was a fine place to be. I love you Zumba, for being kind to women and children, for teaching us to take care of ourselves while we take care of our babies, for teaching us that becoming mothers does not mean losing what we love to do and be.
- Zumba, let’s face it. You’re helping me get fit. Which is exactly what all those TV people promised: “Burn a thousand calories! Join the dance craze that helps you lose weight while having fun!” I hate slogans, so it pains me to admit that these do indeed have the (albeit overly cheery) ring of authenticity. Yes, Zumba will make you sweat. If you are like me and your abdominal muscles have been rather silent for the last ten or twenty years, they will start to speak up. They might be a little cranky at first, but give them time. Eventually, they’ll be saying things like, “Damn, girl…did you know we could do that? Oh, yeah, you did.” Nothing beats a sassy abdominal muscle for confidence.
- Zumba, thanks for helping me master the hula-hoop. Zumba gets you to move every muscle you’ve got, including and especially your hips. Zumba moves all those hipbone-connected-to-the thighbone muscles that are killing you from sitting at the computer or doing laundry or hauling a toddler across town on your hip or all of the above and more. And the more you move your hips, the better and freer you feel. And if, like me, you always felt like a bit of a goof when you were trying to hula-hoop, with the hoop spinning on its own momentum until slowly it slid down your waist to land with a sad little swirl at your feet, try it again. Be ten, and try the hula hoop after you’ve done Zumba for a couple of months. You’ll probably set your own record.
- Zumba, I love you because you remind us of who we used to be. If a woman was a cheerleader, she remembers her cheerleading days with a smile and a fist pump. If a woman liked herself some hip hop in a club, her feet and her hips slide right into the groove. If a woman was young before cheerleaders and hip hop were all the rage, you can see her thinking about some Beach Blanket Bingo, doing the monkey. And all of these women—be they twenty-six or sixty-six or somewhere in between— are glad to know that somewhere in them, their former selves still reside, able to be called upon, able to respond.
- Zumba, I love you for helping me to let go. I’m no good at it, the letting go. I might seem like I’m good at it, if you meet me at a party, but in fact I’m the worst. I want to know how things are going to be, and if I’ll be happy with how they’re going to be, and what I can do to make things be just the way they should be so that the planets align and the angels sing and all is right with the world. But of course that’s just plain silly, because so much of what is deeply important can easily slip through my fingers, turn on a dime, and fall prey to any other cliche the world cooks up. I have learned this lesson in painful ways—Zumba helps me learn it in a joyful way. In the memory of my muscles, the way they make the next move before my brain has a chance to wonder and doubt, there is a fabulous letting go, akin to inspiration. Without it, I would be lost, convincing myself I was found.
Ok, enough already. It’s getting embarrassing, me waxing all poetic about an exercise class.
My list is maybe less round than it should be—a nice list is usually five or ten items, so that people can say things like, “What are your top five reasons…” Or “Here’s my top ten …”, but Zumba won’t mind if I depart from convention. She’ll just ask me—and anyone else within earshot—when we can get this party started.