After doing this column for a few years, I’m always game for something new – a fact my editors like to exploit from time to time by providing me with assignments intended to humiliate and/or kill me. Thus, this month.
“There is something so inherently endearing about Zumba – it’s egalitarian and unapologetically upbeat,” wrote my editor.
Challenge accepted. Somehow, I had made it this far into my tenure as fitness columnist/guinea pig without trying Zumba, the high energy, Latin-Caribbean dance fitness.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Technically, I had done Zumba once before, but I was drunk at a resort in Jamaica and the class was conducted right next to one of the outdoor bars by a man named Jose Bowwow. Maybe that wasn’t the best representation of the art form, so I figured why not give it another shot?
VP Fitness offered to oblige me. The fitness club was one of my first subjects back when I started this column, and to this day I still diligently do push-ups the way manager and master trainer Joe DePena showed me. Recently, Joe and his team celebrated their fourth anniversary with some upgrades to the equipment and facilities. Located right in the heart of Downtown, VP Fitness bills itself as “full-service,” which means they offer a whole lot more than just a weight room and some classes. There is a smoothie bar, professional massage service, lounge, more than 10 group classes, even a meal prep service.
That’s all well and good, but I just wanted to dance (or at least was assigned to). Our instructor, Elia, brought us into a small, open studio space within the gym and queued up her playlist. If you’ve never been, Zumba is all about the music. Unlike the soundtrack to most fitness classes, which tend toward a sort of monotonous, thumping four-four club beat, Zumba mashes up the swinging, often-polyrhythmic grooves of salsa, merengue, cumbia, reggaeton, soca, and just about anything else you can swivel your hips to.
Now, it should be noted that I am a horrible dancer. As Elia guided us mostly without words through a series of different moves for each new song, I struggled mightily to achieve even the most basic facsimile of what she was demonstrating. For those on the other side of the windows, it must have been mildly entertaining to see the one guy in the class sweating and stumbling, moving off-beat, going left when everyone else was going right, and occasionally making an attempt at a hip shimmy that was so pathetic it would have embarrassed a bunch of aunts doing “The Electric Slide” at a wedding. (I did, however, discover that a regular habit of doing squats at the gym made me surprisingly able to “drop it like it’s hot”).
Here’s the thing, though: it didn’t matter that I’m a bad dancer. Zumba is not about impressing anyone, and the emphasis isn’t precision, form, or even staying on beat. It very much belongs in the “just don’t stop moving” school of fitness. Who cares if I zigged when I should have zagged? Whatever inept movement I made at any given moment was faster and more aerobic than anything else I was going to do that day. It wasn’t about finding the beat so much as it was about keeping my feet moving and my core engaged.
After 60 minutes and what seemed like at least a dozen different sub-genres of music, we were all sweating, panting and – here’s the important part – smiling. None of us (except for Elia) was going to get recruited as a back-up dancer for Pitbull, but we had jacked up our heart rates, worked our cores and glutes, and even got in a little bit of light stretching for a cool down. I think Jose Bowwow would have been proud.
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