When I was in 5th grade, my older cousin was raising money for her high school dance drill team, the High Flyers. In Texas, the drill team is a staple at high school football games, wearing sequined cowboy hats and skirts and white boots. They were known for their high kicks, jump splits, and sharp coordination. My cousin was selling tickets for a kids’ dance clinic that she and her teammates were teaching and to my dismay, my mom bought a ticket for me to attend.
At 10 years old, I was already super awkward and I was never one of those girls who did cheer or dance or gymnastics. I was destined to be in marching band, ya know. Well I went to this dance clinic and we were divided by age group so I was with the older girls, the 10-12 year olds. The High Flyers taught us some simple choreography and the idea was that we would learn it and it would be fun and then we would perform it at the end of the day. Reader, I did not have fun. In fact, I sucked at choreographed dancing! I was falling all over myself and going in the wrong direction. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the counts or how to imitate the moves. I was shunned to the back row because I kept messing up. The rest of the girls were pros and made it look easy. I think I was supposed to learn from them from the back but it just made me feel shitty. I was self-conscience and felt like everyone was judging me. I was embarrassed and frustrated and was teary-eyed for the rest of the clinic which only made things worse. This experience is seared into my memory and I’ve been wary of dance classes ever since!
Fortunately for me, I’ve redeemed myself from that awful dance clinic time. I was the star of my own choreographed dance for my quinceañera where I did some Shakira-inspired moves and a short dance solo to Selena’s “Baila Esta Cumbia.” And if you were at A-Camp Spring 2017, you would know that I lip-synced and did some light choreography to “Oops, I Did It Again” on stage. The thing is that I love dancing! I’m Mexican, it’s in my blood and also because I’ve been to approximately one thousand quinceañeras, bodas, and family parties, so I’ve had a lot of practice moving my body to some catchy beats. But to this day, I’m highly uncoordinated! I’m very bad at following directions and telling which is my left or my right. I overthink things so it takes a while for my brain and my limbs to communicate. So it was to my surprise that I attended a Zumba class at my local YMCA about a year ago and subsequently fell in love with it.
In short, Zumba is a dance fitness class set to popular Latin music but honestly, for me, Zumba is more than just that, it’s given me life. I was looking for a change in my workout routine because I was frustrated with my regular cycling class, mostly because the instructor insisted on playing Imagine Dragons and Christian rock while we pedaled up the toughest hill and I refused to believe anyone was pumped off of “Thunder!” I walked into Zumba skeptical. I knew there was a high chance of me making a fool out of myself. Zumba is like any aerobic exercise class where you follow the instructor as they lead you through the workout but instead of mundane step-ups, it’s shaking your ass to reggaeton hits, being light and quick on your feet to cumbia, or moving your hips in a sexy grapevine to bachata. And you know what, I did mess up several times, as I predicted, because I had no idea what I was doing. The moves are repetitive so I eventually stepped into rhythm with the rest of the class after a few hiccups. I laughed a little at myself at every missed step and I couldn’t help but smile when I got things right. After a few songs, I was actually having fun.
What really sold Zumba for me was the instructor, Ellen. She’s a curvy middle-aged woman with tattoos, has dyed red hair and a really good sense of humor. As a woman turned on the fans of the dance studio, Ellen called out to her, “Don’t turn off the lights because I charge extra for that!” She was friendly and made me feel welcomed into this new cult where everyone seemed to know what they were doing. At one point she shouted, “Don’t worry about messing up, we get unlimited dance solos here.” I felt seen. Towards the end of the class, she asked, “Is anyone new to this class?” And I raised my hand along with a couple other women. The whole class clapped and Ellen told us to grab her card after class so we could follow her on Facebook. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with Zumba and all that it encompasses.
I go to Zumba now about two times a week and dance my worries away. It’s become part of my routine and it helps me feel grounded and sane. Here’s what I love so much about it: The music is banging and includes all my faves so every time I hear them on Latino Mix 107.9 like “Dura” by Daddy Yankee and Bad Bunny, I want to do a mini-session in my car. After attending a few classes, I learned the basic steps that make up most of the dances so Zumba has become soothing and meditative for me. I don’t think about the steps anymore, it’s better for me to just feel the beat and let myself focus on having fun and letting go. And depending on how much effort I put into the moves, Zumba is a really good workout without it being a pain in the ass.
But it’s the women who attend Zumba who give me the most life. There are some women who walk into that dance studio with such a zest for life and for Zumba that it’s inspirational. One particular lady in her mid-forties has dedicated dance sneakers and wears a belly dancer belt with all the dangly things and just BRINGS IT. I’m in awe of her enthusiasm every time.
The other Zumba instructor, Magaly is a fucking firecracker and I love her! Every one of her movements is intentional and sharp and she has the nicest calves I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t do a very good job at giving the class cues but she is extremely good at pumping us up. Magaly also has the gall to leave her long black hair down for the workout! It whips around her as she’s moving and giving us facials in the mirror like she’s in a fucking dance competition. Her passion for Zumba is palpable and it’s hard to keep up with her. She taunts us every time a song finishes, and yells out “Cansadas?!” and I’m always like “NO” out of breath.
There’s a pudgy Latina girl who attends class with her teenage sister and she’s always up in the front. Even though she can’t fully do some of the moves because she’s short and the beat is too fast for her to catch up, she tries her best and does everything with a smile! I’m always like ugh I want to be as carefree as that little girl!
There’s a whole lot of older señoras who go to Zumba and I have so much respect for them. They even do the workout with tiny hand weights. I see them before and after class with their comadres and I’m pretty sure they go to the gym just to chismear but also para bailar.
It’s these women and everyone else at Zumba who help make the class a truly judgement free zone! If you think about it too much and notice everyone in the mirror, including yourself, shake their ass at various degrees, then you’ll feel incredibly silly. It’s best not to dwell on the fact that you’re a grown woman following another grown woman and doing little sidesteps and jumping and waving your arms and moving your hips while you twirl around. These women don’t care what you look like! They’re not concerned if you miss a step. Everyone in there is just trying to get a workout in without hating it. I’m pretty sure everyone is thinking that they’re the star of their own show and everyone else are just backup dancers while at Zumba. Maybe it’s because I have better self-esteem now than when I did as a pre-teen but I feel accepted and free at Zumba compared to that dance clinic long ago and I’m so grateful to reclaim group dance classes.
It’s these women and the ones I didn’t mention — the moms, the women who look like me, the twenty-something white women with the super cool workout leggings — who radiate so much positivity into my life. It’s the sisterhood of Zumba that keeps me going. Being surrounded by these women for one hour each week motivates me to get my shit together and be as happy in life as they are to be at Zumba. I join them as I pause the stress in my day and let loose. They remind me to be present in my body, to be confident with what I’ve got, and to just dance.