When I tell other UVa-Wise students I do Zumba classes at the gym on campus, I’m generally met with two responses. Some people are enthusiastic and intrigued, but the most common reaction is laughter.
I can tell the person is thinking of a stereotypical housewife in Spandex bouncing a few beats behind a blaring pop song, completely uncool and unattractive. Frankly, that image of Zumba is offensive. Thinking Zumba is for women with midlife crises and two left feet is a cruel judgement that insults the participants and dismisses the experience. It’s a disservice not only to me but to each inspiring person I’ve met who’s involved. It makes me angry. Keep your preconceived notions out of my dance fitness class, because let me tell you about the actual people who go to Zumba and what it’s really like.
You have to be brave to do Zumba. I remember the first class I attended. It was the fall semester of my freshman year. Even though I’d taken formal dance classes for nine years, I found myself panting for air and frantically jazz-squaring along to the fast paced music. My feet didn’t know what to do and my arms churned around me as if I was an erratic helicopter. I was exhilarated and terrified at the same time. You have to literally step out of your comfort zone, moving in a way you may have never thought possible for your body. You have to let go of self-consciousness, choosing to focus on dancing instead of yourself. You have to muster the courage to look silly, to make mistakes while you learn and awkwardly shuffle until you know what you’re doing. Without bravery, you’d never try it or you’d stop attending classes or you won’t have any fun.
And let me tell you, Zumba is fun and helps you relax. I feel unleashed from normality and humdrum daily routines. All the energy that was drained away by homework and life’s demands suddenly returns. While I dance, I forget the stressful assignments and papers because I’m living in the moment. If I’m having a rough day, it’s suddenly the last thing on my mind. It clears my head so after this cathartic hour I can refocus and approach tasks in a new way.
At Zumba, you find your role models. The instructor is a wiry woman with boundless energy who knows how to shake it better than I do while being approximately 20 years my senior. I adore her. Her personality is optimistic and her enthusiasm infectious. She can teach for an hour with as much vigor at the end as the beginning. She is who I want to become: strong, capable and knowledgeable.
Zumba connects you to a diverse group of people you would have never met otherwise. Right now, I’m cat-sitting a Siamese named Samuel L. Catson for a woman I met through Zumba while she works in California with AmeriCorps. Last class there was a little girl who beat cancer attending with her relative. Professors go to Zumba. Students from other countries go to Zumba. There are all body types represented and you don’t have to look perfect to do a healthy workout. It’s a place for everyone to dance together without judgement, because we’ve all been the newbie who doesn’t know the steps. It’s completely alright to march in place or do a lower intensity version of a move. And while classes are generally comprised of women, all genders are welcome to join.
So I encourage you to go with me to Zumba on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 6pm and Saturday mornings at 9am. It’s free for students and employees of UVa-Wise and included in the gym membership to the Winston Ely Health & Wellness Center. For more information, check out the UVa-Wise Wellness page on Facebook or talk to a gym employee. I look forward to meeting you!