Out of sheer boredom and motivation to reduce my ever-expanding waistline, I somehow found myself trying a Zumba class at the gym this week. An old veteran of the now out-of-style step aerobics craze, I figured, “How hard could it be?”
“Zumba,” a Latin-inspired dance aerobics program, is the latest thing to hit the fitness world. Gyms across the nation are now offering Zumba classes, which incorporate salsa, meringue, hip-hop, African beats, samba, reggaeton, cumbia, Bollywood and belly dance moves into group fitness routines.
I had seen a Zumba DVD infomercial once, with spandexed men and women writhing and jumping to Latin, Caribbean and tribal beats, claiming that you could “party yourself into shape.” It made exercise look more like a wild night out in Tijuana than a workout, so I was intrigued.
After placing my keys and water bottle in the corner of the cramped little exercise room, I tried to find a spot where I could remain anonymous. The rest of the participants, which ran the gamut from a buxom African American teen to a tiny Filipino lady in her seventies, seemed to know what they were doing. I, on the other hand, did not.
I was relieved to find that our instructor looked like a middle-aged mom just like me, and did not have a figure that screamed, “I am obsessed with fitness and I am about to kill you.”
She put on some catchy Latin music, and next thing you know I was kick-ball-changing, single-single-doubling, and body rolling my way around the room as if I had been doing it all my life.
But after about 30 minutes, the mild-mannered instructor bid us all adieu and told us that our “warm up” was finished. The real Zumba class was about to begin, and the real instructor would arrive momentarily. What?!
I had only a moment to wipe the sweat from my brow and slurp some water from my bottle, when in walked our torturer, er, I mean, our instructor. She had Beyonce’s muscular thighs, Pamela Anderson’s generous bust, and Charo’s wild hair and rolling “R.”
Suddenly, driving African beats blared from the sound system and, using only crazed facial expressions and minimal hand motions, Charo ordered us to rhythmically gyrate and flail our arms while in a semi-squat position.
A few minutes later we had moved on to reggaeton, whatever that is, and were ordered to stick out our rear ends and rotate our hips in complete circles from right to left while pumping our hands out in front of us. For some unknown reason, I was able to rotate my hips counter clockwise, but as soon as we were asked to go the opposite direction, I was unable to maintain the fluid roll of my hips, and could only swing them jerkily from side to side.
I thought, maybe this was due to the magnetism of the Earth’s polls – and perhaps, like the water in the toilet bowls, I can only swirl one way in the Northern Hemisphere, and would have to go south of the equator to be able to rotate my hips in the other direction.
Halfway through the class I was soaked with sweat and we hadn’t even gotten to salsa and meringue. The rest of the participants seemed excited to move on to these classic Latin beats. I thought maybe I’d fare better with something that I’d at least heard of before.
Despite the fact that everyone around me seemed to have the basic salsa steps down pat, I was so confused I just started marching in place. We moved on to meringue, which for me, was more of a lesson in how to sprain one’s ankle. I prayed that it would all be over soon.
Somewhere between the Brazilian samba and the Colombian cumbia, Charo started jumping three feet into the air. Like lemmings, we followed. Finally happy to have a dance move I could understand, I leapt like a gazelle. But then I remembered – I am 45 years old and have given birth to three large babies. My innards are not where they used to be, and might decide to drop out onto the floor at any moment.
Thankfully, the jumping routine ended before my uterus broke loose, and we moved onto our final dance – a Bollywood belly dance. At first, it seemed that Charo was merely putting us through a cruel endurance test when she demanded that we get into a deep plie squat while holding our arms out in a sort of King Tut position. Just as my quads were about to snap, she began to twist and turn her torso back and forth, rising like a cobra from a basket.
I left the class feeling exhausted, sweaty, and somewhat humiliated. My northern European genes had made it nearly impossible for me to perform the sexy writhing movements required to do Zumba correctly, but I was proud that my stomach, at least, performed its own wiggling dance, all by itself, and had kept perfect time to the beat.