Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The First Time I . . . Tried Zumba

Zumba: Shatter your self-esteem while you salsa!
I am a fitness class enthusiast. I try to attend a class almost everyday. Kickboxing, strength training, cardio boot camp, booty camp, core classes, step, even pole dancing. I gladly try them all. You could ask me to go to a new cardio class consisting of lugging full buckets of water around a room with the last 20 minutes spent holding a squat, all in complete silence, and I'd probably say, "Sounds good. Buckets provided or do I bring my own?" And that's because I really like fitness classes.


That said, there's always been one (1) fitness class that I just couldn't bring myself to try. And that class was Zumba.

While I'd always very much enjoyed the voyeuristic thrill of watching people do Zumba, I had no interest in trying it myself. Even though everyone always looks like they're having a blast (Zumba's tagline is, in fact, "Ditch the workout, join the party!"), I just never woke up with the urge to tackle, as Zumba Canada puts it, "one exhilarating hour of caloric-burning, heart-racing, muscle-pumping, body-energizing, awe-inspiring movements" all while enjoying "Latin flavor and international zest." I want to wake up, do hardcore cardio until I think I'm going to puke, and then go to work and drink my coffee.

Sans Latin flavor.

Zumba instructors also usually wear extremely brightly colored pants, and for some reason, I don't like this.

So I was pretty comfortable with the fact that Zumba would never be a part of my life. Zumba would be like that weird branch of your family that you meet once at an awkward family reunion and never speak to again or that can of pumpkin pie filling that just sits in your cupboards for six years untouched. You know it's there, you'll probably never interact, and that's just fine.

And then one day EVERYTHING CHANGED. My fellow fitness class enthusiast and co-worker/dear friend Christina and I discovered in horror that our beloved morning cardio class had been replaced indefinitely by a Zumba class.

shock Pictures, Images and Photos

(thank you rocky6655 from Photobucket for making the gif I always hoped would exist)

Our dismay was real. This was quite possibly the worst news that I had ever heard, EVER. One of my first thoughts was, "Who would DO this to us?!" and I was completely serious while thinking that. Christina might have cried. I don't really know because I blacked out for a good five (5) minutes. When I came to, we had a long conversation discussing the pros and cons of us trying Zumba.

Pros: Not having to change our gym morning routine, perhaps rediscovering our sexuality through salsa music and the merengue
Cons: Brightly colored pants, Latin flavor and international zest at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday mornings

In the end, we decided to suck it up and give Zumba a try.

But god dammit we were not going to wear the pants.

"Oh my gosh, weren't you guys nervous? Zumba involves so much muscle-pumping, heart-racing, Latin-inspired dancing!" you might ask.

No. Well, I mean, yes. Trying new things is always a little nerve-wracking. But Christina and I know our way around a dance floor. We often dance for many minutes at a time in our office. On my resume, I have "BORN TO DANCE!" as one of the fun tidbits in the "About Me" section. You know what? I'm just gonna say it we're GOOD dancers. Whenever we dance, people will usually comment upon it.

Comments like:

"Oh wow."

"Well, that's not a very practical move."

"I'm confused about what it is you two do for a living."

"Where do you find such shiny pantyhose?"

"You go girls!" (Thanks, Christina's Mom!)

So no, it wasn't exactly the dancing part we were worried about. It was just that Zumba seemed so . . . intense. So extreme. So full of sassy strutting. So middle-aged homemaker wanting to find her inner sexy Latina goddess.

(photo source)

That's a lot to think about at 8:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning.

Christina and I spent the next week discussing how many shots we should take pre-Zumba class (ultimately deciding on 8 each with a water bottle chaser) and alternatively, both trying to think of elaborate excuses that would get us out of going to Zumba. When Tuesday morning came around, I texted Christina to tell her that no, I didn't care if she hadn't gone to the bathroom in six days, WE WERE GOING TO ZUMBA, BABY!

And off we went.

There were five of us in the class. Christina and I were the youngest of the bunch, with the eldest being a man who looked about 75. Every single participant looked tired. I looked downright haggard. Christina looked angry, but that may have been due to her alleged extreme constipation. It was plain to see that there was a serious lack of international zest going on in that fitness room. As the instructor, a young, toned, tanned, lithe Latina, looked out at our sluggish group, you could tell she knew she had her work cut out for her. Our class might be able to tackle a few awe-inspiring, heart-racing moves, but it wasn't going to come easy.

Our class was going to be a little less this:

And a little more this:

The class started with a simple step-touch, side to side. Easy breezy. Christina and I gave a knowing nod to each other. We got this.

Then the hips started. And then the arms, each rotating in a windmill-like pattern at different speeds. My brow began to furrow. Then the instructor did some kind of move that involved extending her arms in front, bending over, jiggling her butt at a rapid speed, all with flexed abs and a blasé, you ain't seen nothing yet smile. It was kind of nuts. It was something I imagine Beyoncé doing on a daily basis, even when she was pregnant. It was a move that right away I knew I would never master, not even if I practiced for eight hours each day and purchased brightly colored pants. Christina and I stopped in our tracks and just stared.

The time was 8:03 a.m. 

Things went quickly downhill from there. It seemed that my pre-teen years of mediocre tap dancing strangely did not translate to the Zumba floor. Each move would start out okaya basic grapevine. A chasse. A mambo or two. Got it. Bring it on. But then we'd add some "Latin flair"a hip bump. A shake of the rump. A sassy head nod. Whirling, fancy-free arms. My brain simply did not compute.

I felt like I had suddenly morphed into Gerry Fleck, Eugene Levy's character from Best in Show, forced to dance despite being born with two left feet.

"I can't dance, I can't dance; I was born with two left feet!"

Each song was a different Latin music genre and brought its own set of challenges/minor indignities. There was one song that seemed entirely devoted to jiggling our behinds/inner thighs as fast as we could while giving sassy shakes of our heads. I was, of course, positioned directly in front of the 75 year old man for the entire duration of this song. And it's not like I'm against butt jigglingon the contrary! I encourage it! But I think it takes a special kind of person who is okay with shaking their butt on command at 8:00 a.m. Maybe I'm just not that type of person. This revelation surprised me.

Beyoncé is obviously that type of person.

But onwards we went! We Zumba'd our way through "Waka Waka." Through "Tempted to Touch." Through the salsa. The merengue. Christina and I massacred them all with our own special combination of club-foot grace and wooden-hip sass. I tried not to look at her because I knew once we started laughing, we wouldn't stop. It didn't seem to help.

But the thing with Zumba is that no matter how awkward you feel, eventually you start to relax a bit. The music is kinda fun. If I called things "saucy," I might use that to describe Zumba tunes. I found myself starting to think things like, "Hmm, maybe I could add a little hip pop here; yeah, that'd be nice," or "My rhythmic butt movements would sure look sweet in a pair of spandex fuchsia pants." I might have even complimented Christina once in a burst of confidence: "Work it, gurl!"

But there is always a price to pay for hubris. Each time a cocksure thought like that would pop into my head, I would promptly catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. And each time, it was the worst feeling in the world.

Christina and I didn't look like this:

We didn't even look like this:

We looked, every time, almost exactly like this:


During the hour long class, I mastered the art of locking eyes with our sexy Zumba instructor at the most awkward of moments. Moments with my face twisted in an enchanting grimace, concentrating on my rumba. Mouthing obscenities. Shooting dirty looks to the 75 year old man who was Zumba-ing better than I was. Staring in horror at each new move demonstrated. For the first half of the class, she would offer me encouraging smiles and "You can do it!" pity thumbs-up. Eventually the smiles faded and the thumbs-up stopped. By the end, I felt we had reached a mutual, unspoken agreement to avoid direct eye contact.

Do I blame her? No. It was self-preservation. Would you actually want to encourage something that looked very similar to this?

No. Don't even pretend you would. You would not.

Our hour with Zumba was a very long hour. Entire work days have flown by faster. Battles have been fought and won in the span of our salsa song. And during that hour, it seemed like everyone in the gym decided it was the perfect day to pause by our class window to take a gander at us "dancing."


Each time I looked out the window a new person was there. The gym manager, standing with a clipboard and nodding attentively. The cleaning lady, taking a break from her tasks. Potential gym-joiners taking a tour of the facilities and staring, mouths agape. Gym-goers I hadn't seen in months. I'm pretty sure an ex-boyfriend was there, delighting in the scene. And I'm even more certain that whenever I go for my next interview, the boss will remark, "Say, didn't I see you in a Zumba class three years ago? You were doing a body roll and crying, correct?" and I will be forced to remove "BORN TO DANCE!" from my resume.

 . . . On second thought, NO. Dancing is in my blood and they CANNOT TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME.

Shakira, Shakira.

Thirty hip bumps later, our hour mercifully came to an end. Christina and I jetted out of there, anxious to reach the solace of our usually non-butt jiggling office. It took awhile before we could discuss what had taken place in that room. We reassured each other, "Nah, you were really starting to get the hang of it by the 10th song," and "I really enjoyed your interpretation of the rumba." And then we just laughed and laughed.

My personal recommendations for improving Zumba? Remove the mirrors. All of them. Turn off the lights. Put black sheets over the windows so no one can see in and watch. Offer optional blindfolds for the participants. Change the class time to 3:00 a.m. to catch the post-bar crowd. I think I'd kill Zumba after prepping with a night of heavy drinking.

Q & A:

Was Zumba the workout for you? 

No. Not at all. Not even a little bit. No.

Do you hate Zumba?

Well . . . I might have hated it a little bit. But I don't want you to think I'm trashing Zumba. I know lots of people who LOVE it, have a blast doing it and are able to lose themselves completely in the music. And that's awesome. Whatever makes you want to workout is the right choice for you. And I will say that Christina and I laughed waaaay more at ourselves during our one hour class than in any other fitness class I can recall. So that is certainly something. Right?

Will we return? 

Probably not. Give me push-ups. Give me jumping jacks. Make me run, do agility drills, burpees, whatever. Just please don't make me salsa dance.

Do you still consider yourself a good, all-around dancer who can comfortably dance in all genres?


Sassy and sexy readers, have YOU ever tried Zumba? What was the most awkward you've ever felt at the gym? Is there a certain physical activity that you refuse to try? Is salsa dancing in front of strangers your personal nightmare, or just mine?  Please share and don't forget to include pictures.


  1. lol actually, many many times! Another solid post Clark. :) Amazing!

    1. I am oh so happy that you delighted in my humiliation, Craiggers! Actually I am. Thank you for reading!

  2. Is zumba really like salsa dancing by yourself? I think i agree with not having the viewing windows, but a dance studio without mirrors trouble. You've got tow watch yourself fail to win right? Maybe they could add fog or steam? I'm sure you would feel like an ace if you went back for a 2nd class. You are one of the top four dancers I know.

    1. Okay, fine, they can keep the mirrors. They were a pretty good source of amusement throughout the class. But adding a fog machine is SUCH a good idea--I would totally be into that. Or if they just made it a tap dancing class. That would be ideal.

      And now you HAVE to tell me--who are your top four (4) dancers?!?! Are you on the list? Is Aaron? I'm so intrigued!

    2. I would definitely say efehan's on that list, he's a pretty creative dancer. Not sure about aaron though, haven't seen him dance in years, hopefully he's still retained the skill, but I'm not sure. Recently I noticed that Bradford was really good at interpretive dance, I feel like he may also paint that way when he's in his studio...

      Hope you still get to do some hop dancing and one leg kicks, and your ankle will be healed in no time!

  3. Really funny post! I can't stand Zumba either, and I LOVE dancing and dance aerobics. I used to go to that sort of class all the time up until a couple of years ago, when the hideous corporate merchandise-friendly Zumba machine rolled into town and crushed all other dance classes (in fact, all other exercise classes) in my area out of existence. I don't live in a city where there's masses of choice, I live out in the sticks - but there always used to be a whole bunch of different classes if you were prepared to travel a little. There's now at least a dozen Zumba classes a week within a reasonable distance of my home, and NOTHING ELSE. The people who used to teach their own exercise classes with their own styles, are now content to be mere middlewomen for Zumba Fitness LLC, and they've been joined by a whole bunch of chancers who have never been anything else, and never will be anything else because they probably need a DVD of broken-down choreographed instructions from their corporate overlords just to get out of bed in the morning. I went for a while, but it was so incredibly depressing, I decided that if the choice was Zumba or nothing (which it was, and two years later still is), it was a REALLY EASY choice to do nothing. So now I do nothing and I'm just sitting at home getting fat and moaning about Zumba(R) on the internet. See what those bastards have done to me?!

    1. Thanks, Alex! I know what you mean; it seems like Zumba is everywhere now and slowly taking over gym schedules. But I know I'm lucky that there are lots of other classes I can take that don't involve shaking my thang or having to be sexy. I am sorry to hear that Zumba has ruined your life--can you try some fitness DVDs? My roommate swears by Denise Austin Kickboxing. Or running? I am forever trying to turn myself into a runner, which my body enjoys almost as much as Zumba. BUT YOU CAN'T LET ZUMBA WIN!!!

  4. Hahaha. I can't believe you hate my favorite aerobic workout! I guess we can't all be bursting with Latina flavor ;) But I will admit, in my classes I always tried to get the far wall furthest from the "observation" window. Sheesh, people have nothing better to do than gawk. We are normal. NORMAL!

  5. Velvet, I am truly sorry that I do not share your passion for Zumba. But I will still join you in the occasional Zumba session in our living room while pre-drinking. How good of a friend am I?!

    I think there should be a rule that if you are gawking outside a class for more than two (2) minutes, you will be pulled inside and have to join. Gawkers=gone.

  6. Zumba took over my "Hip Hop Dance" class at the Y last year. I believe the words "Hip Hop" were scaring off the elderly, because as soon as those latin beats began to reverberate off of the aerobics room floor it was like the 3:30 lunch bell at the nursing home and Ethel and Mabel hit the dance floor.

    I didn't cry. It was free entertainment of elderly rump shakin'. I made friends with Ethel and she brought me a bran muffin the next class.

    That class, however, was my last. I decided Spin was more my style as the latin stylings of PitBull and Mabel's slightly purple hair just didn't seem to mesh well.

    No more Zumba for this lady.

    1. Yeah, it's kind of a weird contrast, huh? Sexy music combined with the least sexy moves possible (at least in my class). And there are a few different varieties of rump shaking that I enjoy, but the top two might be elderly and uncoordinated. And reluctant.

      ..Now, SPINNING. That I can do. My quads were born to spin!

  7. I actually just read this, laughing out loud inappropriately at work. I have a door, but it was only provided on demand and is thin. It might be made of parchment paper. So everyone still heard.

    Aside from my day-job, I am thrilled to advise that I run a small but successful fitness business, part-time (Charlotte Schwartz Fitness, registered trademark, wholly owned subsidiary, bla bla) and as part of that, I am trained in not 1 but 3 Zumba disciplines; Zumba (the regular stuff you see on the dancefloor...I mean gym...), Zumbatomic (a version created to thwart the childhood obesity epidemic by encouraging youngsters to take out their aggressions to lyrically inappropriate LMFAO tracks) and Aqua Zumba (Zumba, dans la piscine).

    I only recently became Aqua Zumba certified and find that those who were super uncomfortable in a traditional Zumba class have made an impressive transition to Aqua Zumba. I think it's because no one can see what anyone's legs are doing. I think it's because every move becomes the same in the water after a few minutes, what with all that resistance and all. I'm pretty sure that in my training, I was following the instructor in my brain whilst Zumbaing in the pool, but that my feet could only manage to stomp. I did a lot of water running too. I don't think I executed one successful salsa sidestep. I felt like how I imagine it feels to walk on the moon. Only a wet moon without one of those suits to protect you from exploding/spontaneously combusting.

    Wow. I guess the point of this post is that not all Zumba classes are created equal. Unlike you, I am not a born dancer and those words do not grace my resume. Born to engage in off-colour sexual acts? Yes. Born to eat meals comprised entirely of condiments? Definitely. Dance, though? Jesus God no. So maybe give another class a try? Every instructor has their own style and what they don't have in skill (read: me) they make up for in humour (read: me) and laughing burns calories, too.

    This post is made with the express consent of Zumba Fitness LLC by virture of my Zumba Instructor Network Membership and licensing rights thereunder.

    Peace and ZUMBA LOVE!
    *I do not wear the pants either. I have them, but they're made of garbage bag material and are like the Seinfeld episode when he gets stuck in the leather pants after a good Latin-infused workout.

    1. Oh my! I'm so pleased to have an actual Zumba pro come and weigh in on this extremely important and divisive topic. It's funny you should mention awkward people's preference for Aqua Zumba. When I was doing research for this post (yes, I do research, as in spending vast amounts of time on Wikipedia), I think I read that there are 8 different kinds of Zumba (including one intimidating kind called ZUMBA GOLD), and I thought to myself "Hmm, I could go for some Aqua Zumba." The water shield of secrecy seems very appealing.

      Your style of Zumba sounds way more up my alley. A focus on embracing the silly, fun and fancy-free (you're fancy-free, right?) nature of it all. Maybe you should tailor a class made for the awkward people who want to Zumba, too. There could be breaks for laughing/cringing and freeze frames for particularly graceless moments. There's a market for this; I'm sure of it!

      Peace and Zumba Tolerance!

      PS--It does not surprise me one BIT that the pants are made of garbage bag material. They have that sexy sheen to them and that alluring whisper when they move.

  8. I had a hard time reading your blog because I was in hysterics! Please keep writing :-)

    1. Well, jeez--I'm happy to hear that! Now just imagine if I had posted that video of my one Zumba class...it'd be the kind of laughter that verges on tears. Thanks for your kind words!

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