I have been leading Zumba classes at least six times each week for the last four months, after I randomly and reluctantly stumbled into my first class last July.
Sometimes when I'm teaching, I'll catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror -- head held high, dripping hair pulled back in a colorful bandanna, a wide, white grin stretched across my dark, glistening face, studded bling sparkling from my earlobes, ZUMBA splashed in neon across my chest and bright pants hanging from my hips with just one pant leg cinched to my knee. "Who is that in my body and how in the world did she get here?!?" I wonder as I step and sway in a side salsa.
"So, what exactly is Zumba?" I've been asked more than once. Feel the Music; Get Fit, Get Happy our wrist bands and tank tops tout. "It's a Latin-inspired dance fitness program blah, blah, blah..." I reflexively reply. But in my final class of the day yesterday, I saw and felt something happen that my auto-response fails to describe.
When I think back to who and how I was six months ago, it blows my mind that I am doing what I am doing. I reached a bottom so low that the only thing that could get me out of bed for a while was food (ice cream, preferably) which I couldn't stop eating once I began. With a sore belly and a wounded spirit, I called my friend Joy one bleak morning last July. All I could do when Joy said hello was cry. She listened for a second, then confessed that she was heading out the door to the free Zumba class that would take place at her church 20 minutes later. She invited me (again) to come. "There's free childcare too," she added.
I went to Zumba that day, and a few days later, I went back. And I went back again. And again. And without retelling the whole sob story of the early days of last summer, June's clouds eventually lifted, the sun came out in July and something in me began to change. That something didn't happen overnight, and it certainly wasn't pretty. It's been sloppy and slow actually.
I remember the day when I started to notice. I had moved from the back to the front of Allison's Zumba class, and I caught a glimpse of myself -- left arm extended across my body, fingers long and alive. I was abandoned and lost in music and movement. The sadness that threatened to swallow me was gone, and in that moment I felt free. I was dancing.
For the last few months, I have had the good pleasure of coming alongside the persons who have attended my classes to see what this whole "Zumba Thing" is all about. I have been witness once again to beauty being birthed. Insecurities have crumbled as pounds have dropped, hips have loosened and smiles have returned. In this world, belly dancing shimmies have replaced baggy tops and sweat pants, and neon has become the new black. Individuals who were once straight-faced strangers have unabashedly uncovered what was hidden. "Look, Abi," one glowing woman in particular exclaimed as she lifted her shirt after class recently. "I have a WAIST!!"
Yesterday night, I saw 13 women move in sync. Salsa, Samba, Reggaeton, Charleston, Foxtrot, Cumbia... harmony. Although I've taught classes quadruple the size, the energy and enthusiasm in the studio last night could have illuminated the entire state. Again, I felt that shift -- we were no longer thinking through steps and choreography, we were indeed feeling the music and the magic of that moment. This was not just an hour of intense, brightly colored group fitness, and for me it was much more than a job. It was a concert of confidence, commitment, beauty and joy. For 61 minutes we worked and shook and shimmied our asses off. And from start to finish, we were beaming. We were dancing.