So, about six weeks ago, I started taking a Zumba class through the local park district. I was looking forward to taking some sort of active, work-out class but since they weren’t offering my old standby, kickboxing, I figured this would be the next best thing: The cardio/physical benefits of kickboxing combined with dancing! Who doesn’t love to dance?!
Little did I know just how extensive and detailed these routines actually are. In my sweet, unassuming world, I’m imaging a class comprised of mainly kickboxing and step aerobic moves with a few hip shakes, twirls and claps thrown in. Oh, how could I have known what I was getting myself into…
I’ll preface this by saying that before Zumba, I’d always fancied myself as a fairly good dancer. My friends and I have always loved going out on a lively weekend night, having some drinks and shaking what our mamas gave us on the dance floor underneath the swirling, blinking lights and beat of our favorite songs. I hold my own when out with friends or Girlfriend at a club but it’s been quite a while (read: 10 years) since I’ve done an actual choreographed dance routine, which – Surprise! – are what the Zumba routines basically are.
The last time I was forced to do a choreographed routine was around 5 or 6 years old, when my mother stuck me in a tap dancing class. I felt I was doing just fine hawking $5 boxes of cookies for Girl Scouts and making up and acting out extensive plays in the backyard for my always-attentive audience of stuffed animals, but evidently I was not really living up to my 6-year old capabilities until tap shoes and sequined skirts were involved also. It lasted a year.
I’ve had this love/hate relationship with the instructor – She is fairly high up in the “zumba world” and has a tendency to throw us all off (by “us”, I mean the class – Myself and about 6 soccer moms) by randomly adding in an extra move here or there while taking us through our routines. She’s maybe five feet tall and about 90 pounds soaking wet, not to mention she’s probably done these routines hundreds of times, so she’ll be at the front, going through the routine and making it look quite easy while the rest of us jerk our arms this way, kick a leg that way, and all the while wonder why we don’t look like her in the mirror while we’re doing this.
So despite the fact that I could fit two of her in a pair of my own pants and she has a tendency to suddenly turn and add a little booty bounce or shoulder shimmy in the middle of a routine and throw the rest of us off for the rest of the song, around the third week, I felt like I was finally getting it. I knew the routines enough where I felt comfortable and, lo and behold, even started adding my own little shakes and shimmies here and there! I was doing it, I really was! I was no longer V-stepping to the back while everyone salsa-ed to the right, and dammit, my butt was even starting to look kind of good during warm-up lunges!
…And then the fourth week happened. ALL. THE. ROUTINES. WERE. NEW! I glared at her for the entire hour while we started from scratch with new songs, new routines and, as usual, her little added moves as she grinned at herself in the mirror while half of us tried to imitate it, thinking it was part of the routine, and the other half stopped and tripped over our own feet. The only saving grace I had was that I wasn’t the only one that was totally thrown off 90% of the time – My 6 mini-van-driving, soccer-mom compatriots and I were all as equally unsexy as I imagine Janet Reno or Danny DeVito to be naked. The woman next to me was purely frantic, shuffling this way and then jumping that way all the while twirling her outstretched arms in big circles over her head.
As we desperately tried to keep up with the unfamiliar steps, any pretense of pride and/or trying to look halfway decent thrown so far out the window it was probably halfway to Mars by then, she started barking at us over the music. “Faster!”, “Come on!”, “You can do it!” and “Quick, shake your shoulders forward! Now roll them back…Roll those hips…Okay, now to the left! Right! Back!” I had just about had enough and was seriously considering a sudden headache to get me out of the next twenty minutes when IT happened:
Ricky Martin – Livin’ La Vida Loca. It was the next song on our playlist and something in the music reached in and squeezed. I was not going down without a fight! I would learn these moves and put that damn Ricky Martin to shame! Oh, I was going to shake it like it’d never been shook before…
…And I did. And soon as he started calling out that familiar chorus, “Upside, inside out, she’s livin’ la vida loca – She’ll push and pull you down, livin’ la vida loca…” it was like I became the girl in the song that he was singing so passionately about. I’d already forgotten that Ricky Martin is actually gay, that I had the rhythm of an 85-year old with a walker or that I just couldn’t seem to get my feet and arms to agree on the moves simultaneously – I was suddenly the girl in the song, I was mysterious, I was sexy, I was livin’ la vida loca! …Or at least, that’s how it all went in my head. I don’t know for sure – I was too busy with my own little hip thrusts and booty bounces to care how silly I looked anymore and I even noticed the other women in the room getting into it a little more, letting go, laughing and throwing pretense to the wind as we all shook our bodies to the music.
I’ve been back every week since. The instructor is still under the false impression that she has a class of Latin dance pros beneath the neatly-coiffed hair, brand-new Reebok sneakers and freshly-ironed yoga pants, she still has an irritating way of changing the routine and music on us with no warning and we all still struggle with the moves once in a while, but we have a blast doing it. We try our best, giggling at ourselves in the mirror and behind the instructor’s back, but we have fun. And yes – My butt is looking better and better after each class.