The Zumba diaries
by Deborah Brautman, LMFT
Getting to the gym, keeping in shape, working out--one way or another --is perpetually on my to do list. Pick up any magazine, or just listen to the morning news ,and you can't avoid hearing about the benefits of exercise. Besides the obvious, -- keeping in shape-- I like how I feel after a sweat session. I think I remember when the term "runner's high" came into vogue— There was a lot of talk about the "endorphin rush.” Doing exercise does put me in a better mood —and sharpen my cognitive skills . Some workouts are better than others. I like to build in variety for good measure. We know that getting enough exercise offers a myriad of benefits ; however, this post is not about the virtues of exercise. I’ll not keep you in suspense any longer:
Here is what I really want to share with you— I would feel guilty keeping this happy surprise to myself: In my quest to find a workout that I didn't sometimes dread, Zumba waltzed into my life. As I intimated earlier, I am somewhat of an exercise enthusiast, though I also find it a chore. However, nothing has ever inspired me in the way that Zumba has. Zumba offers an amazing aerobic workout, but it is so much more than that for me. I used to watch those Zumba infomercials and feel annoyed. I would tell myself that the enthusiasm and look of pure joy on participants' faces was an act. I'm frequently accused of being a skeptic anyway. I could never imagine having that much fun in group fitness. All of the participants just seemed to be so darn happy. Plus they moved effortlessly. That bugged me-- I was just plain- old jealous.
I rarely speak in superlatives , but attending Zumba class has rocked my world! It truly is the epitome of exercise. I would do it even if it wasn't touted as as a 500-calorie burn. Zumba means so much more than that to me. It is my new passion. It has taken me my whole life to discover that dance could be a part of it. I’ve always wanted to dance. I was not one of those little girls who took ballet and tap, nor did I play baseball or soccer. For that matter, as a kid, I was too shy and awkward to participate in any team sport. Even if you are not skilled at something, you may still long to do it. I came of age in the disco era. Watching John Travalota and Oliva Newton John "get physical” and then later Michael Jackson’s “moon walking” only increased my desire to dance. Later when hip-hop was popularized, I tried it ,thinking that it would satisfy my hunger for dance. Unfortunately, the one time I tried it, I hurt my neck and landed myself in physical therapy.
About a year ago, I noticed that my gym was offering Zumba classes. I still really wanted to try to add dance into my life. I procrastinated trying it for a long time. Then one day the stars aligned, and I made it to class -- without any comrades; just me. I was alone in the back of the class with my self- critical thoughts screaming in my head. “ Hey Deb, this is not for you. You’re gonna trip and fall, or at the least you'll look ridiculous!”
So there I was, taming my inner self-critic. I actually stayed and took the entire class. That was a year ago. Ever since, the salsa steps have added spice to my life. Often times , I must admit that I have to struggle to work out at all. Zumba isn’t about perfection. It is about losing yourself in dance. After a while, the steps become familiar, and unlike other dance classes, the specifically- trained teachers, do not stop and make you memorize choreography. The teachers are uniquely trained and make it fun and easy to follow.
Much to my surprise, I no longer struggle with my original self -critical thoughts— I just want to lose myself in Zumba for an hour. The music gets you going, and you can move in your own way at your own level. Zumba dancing blends different styles of dance, so you never feel like you can’t learn a certain step. . Oh and by the way, there might be disco moves too. No one is judging you; everyone is too busy getting a brain work out to care. Your neurotransmitters are dancing too, and that’s how you end up with a “runner’s high,” but you are dancing—you’re not on a treadmill. You are smiling and meeting new people who share your passion for dance and fun.
As I started to get more comfortable attending class, I began to notice what was happening socially. What I am going to describe is something that has touched my heart beyond words.
Here is what happened: I conducted my own (non- empirical )research project. I discovered another rather extraordinary benefit (of Zumba). Midway through the class, participants were smiling, and nodding at one another. As people reached their sweaty hands to pick up their water bottles, there was a bit of chit chat, like “wow, my heart rate is up so high. This is a lot of fun; I didn’t think that I could do it”. It was evident that new acquaintances were blossoming. I also noticed that when my classmates entered the room, they were not nearly as animated as they were later on. When class ended, we all seemed to be bathing in sweat and euphoria. People continued to smile and chat with one another. I heard people coming out of their shells. Unlike the disco era, they were not asking, “Do you come here often? What is your sign?” It was more like:
“I’ve seen you here before. What is your name? I sort of felt silly doing this, but what fun! Are you coming back next week?”
What really ultimately sold me on going to Zumba class is that when you return to class that friendly feeling continues. I've made some true friends with whom I'm sure I will end up taking Zumba Gold in the years to come.
I encourage all of you fitness accomplices (or “would be” dancers) to give it a try. Self -compassion is a must. Just give yourself the opportunity. It's okay to be shy and step out of the old comfort zone. Just show up and let yourself disconnect from all that is on your mind ( and connect to the music and fun)! Listen to the music, feel it, and move at your own pace. Let your mind rest and just move. Each time you go, you will learn something new, and and get an amazing work out. Yes, I want to encourage you to try it. I'm feeling altruistic after taking class. I want to share my love of Zumba with all of you.
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