Call Me Selfish, But I’m Keeping Zumba Just For Me.

Believe it or not, I was not active as a younger person. Unlike my sister, who began playing soccer as a child and continued into college as I recall, I never participated in any sports other than the occasional trip to the bowling alley. I was more of the Couch Potato variety.

When Jim and I moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, I was 24 and decided that I should start exercising. I found a little women’s-only gym, got a tour from the owner, and signed up. I remember vividly how I used to be very jealous of the ladies who would get on the stairmaster for a full thirty minutes: whenever I stepped onto one, it was all I could do to get through five or ten minutes before I’d step off, wiping the sweat from my forehead and figuring I’d had enough for the day.

But you have to start somewhere. I just hadn’t found the right workout for me.

It wasn’t long after I joined the gym when I got into a regular schedule of going there in the mornings, when the aerobics classes happened to be going on. They looked like so much fun to me, and one day, I joined in. That’s when I met Mary, my first aerobics instructor. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Mary changed my life. I adored her classes. I attended every single one that I could, and I became one of those front-row people who knows all of the choreography just as well as the instructor.

I found the right workout for me.

Aerobics was always my favorite: though I stopped working out early in my first pregnancy due to paranoia that had no actual root cause, I participated in classes all the way through my second pregnancy, even past my due date during those “desperate times” when I just wanted that baby to come out.

When we moved here, I started working in the nursery of a gym (Benefit: free membership! Ladies with young ones and a limited budget, you should check it out!) so that I could continue taking the classes I loved so much. I became friends with the instructors, and became very close with one in particular. She taught classes five or six days a week, and I attended all of them for several years until she left under, ahem, poor circumstances and our friendship imploded at the same time.

I became an instructor then, in 2003, teaching mostly spin but also a low-impact aerobics and weight training class. Eventually, I was only teaching spin classes. I missed aerobics, but didn’t really realize how much.

Over the past few years, I have talked excitedly to friends whenever I am invited to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah reception, because I absolutely lovelovelove doing the group dances. It never occurred to me until last weekend that there might be a connection between the Cha Cha Slide and my beloved aerobics.

At Midwest Mania, I took my first Zumba class. I LOVED it. Basically, Zumba is a dance workout done mostly to international music (mainly latin), with specific choreography for each song, borrowing steps from salsa, merengue, bellydance, cumbia, and more. It involves more gyrating, ahem, than I am used to, and is just plain fun. After an hour, I was a hot, sweaty mess with a smile across my face. I haven’t done a group class that works every muscle in my body AND is enjoyable in years, since I was doing aerobics with my good friend. When I took that first Zumba class, I felt like I rediscovered a long-lost love.

My friend Fran encouraged me to get certified, saying “You could totally teach that!” (thanks Fran!)

And I think I could, eventually, after I put my hips through some loosening therapy.

But I’m not interested in teaching it. What I want is to save Zumba for me. It’s been years since I’ve been in a studio and only worried about my own workout. I’ve missed it. I want to take Zumba classes on the schedule that works for me. I want to arrive in time for class (but not too early!), I want the instructor to check in on me and the quality of my workout, and I want to walk out when class is over, not needing to stand around and chat with others if I don’t want to. It’s not that I don’t enjoy doing these things for my spin classes, because I really do; it’s just that I miss taking care of myself, fitness-wise.

I tried a Zumba class close to my house (at a dance studio) yesterday morning. The instructor was very, very nice, and she couldn’t have been cuter. She’s one of the tiniest people I’ve ever seen, and the mother of five children. (wow.) She smiled constantly, introduced me to the other ladies in class, and made me feel very welcome (as did the others).

Class? Was small. At the conference, there were more than one hundred people in the Zumba class. Yesterday’s class had seven, so it was much quieter. (She also teaches at a local college in the evenings, and says that her classes there have about forty participants. I might try it sometime!) Her class was fun. I had some issues with watching myself in the mirror during the workout: the last time I was jumping around in a mirrored studio with the lights on (in spinning the lights are off or dimmed!), I was about thirty pounds lighter. I felt very self conscious for a while, and I felt like people were looking at me…but they weren’t. The instructor kept looking in my direction, smiling, and I found that to be both unnerving and encouraging at the same time. I kept having to tell myself that nobody was paying attention to my body but me, and to just let it go and have fun. It was hard work, mentally, but after a while I didn’t pay much attention to the way I felt like I looked in the mirror and instead focused on trying to get my darned hips to shake.

When class was over, I thanked my instructor and said goodbye to the other ladies, telling them I’d be back next week. And I will. As I walked out the door of the dance studio–imagining myself to be a little like Britney Spears in the good old days, when the paparazzi constantly snapped pictures of her casually strolling into her own studio to practice her routines–I felt free, and it felt good.

I’m back.


©2010 Suburban Scrawl


  • Jessica

    I've heard so much about Zumba, but thought it was just another exercise fad. However, this sounds very intriguing… Not sure I could handle a class now. But, when I graduate in a few months, I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

  • Liz@thisfullhouse

    I love Zumba. Watching myself doing Zumba, in that big old mirror in front of me, not so much. My hips just don't wanna move like that no more 🙁

  • Mrs. CPA

    Never in a million years will I Zumba. But like you, the treadmill or elipitical carried no real sense of accomplishment and I was in no way motived to stay on either of those pieces of equipment. I think I feel the same way about spinning that you do about zumba! There's a lady at our office how is a Zumba-a-holic though. She goes several times a week and loves it.

  • Heather

    That is so awesome, Melisa! That feeling is pretty cool, huh? I am definitely looking into find "my exercise". At 26, I need to find something that I love like that– to get me out, keep me busy(ier?), and to make me skinny too! 🙂 I really think I will try Zumba– I LOVE to dance & one of my friends is OBSESSED with it– we offer it free at my work (along with our gym) so there really are no more excuses! As soon as I get the A-OK from the doc, I'll do it!

  • Michelle

    Oh that is so cool. I'm glad to hear you liked the Zumba clas you tried outside the conference. I know you were worried 🙂 And now I'm more jealous of not having made it to one than I was before 😉

  • Eternal Lizdom

    Love Zumba! I have the DVD's at home but rarely have time to use them. I'd love to find a class in my budget but it hasn't come to me yet…

  • Oscar

    We have Zumba classes at my gym at work. Sounds interesting….

    "hot, sweaty mess with a smile across my face"


    Good for you!!!