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Zumba: A lesson in coordinated flailing

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For months, some of my female co-workers and I have talked about taking a Zumba class at Studio Thrive, a fitness studio just a few blocks from our office. And I’ve been looking for an alternate activity to keep me from getting burned out on running. When I received an email offering 70% off a 10-pack of classes… well, there’s no time like the present. My co-worker Nicci and I snapped the deal up, and a few weeks ago we headed to Studio Thrive after work to meet Mico, widely regarded (by the handful of people we talked to) as the best Zumba instructor at the studio.

For the uninitiated, Zumba is a dance fitness class. Think of it as Jazzercise‘s Latin cousin. It was created by a Columbian dancer and  choreographer who showed up to an aerobics class he was teaching with tapes of salsa music instead of the typical aerobics fare. He made up moves on the spot, and Zumba was born! It didn’t make it over to the US until the early 2000s, when the creator launched a line of home workout videos, and the videos were quickly adapted into live classes. Which is where my Zumba story begins.

I’d seen the videos before and thought they’d be fun to try – I love dance classes in general – but live classes were intimidating to me. Even though I consider myself reasonably sure-footed, the idea of learning foreign choreography, in front of a room of people who I was sure would be more tanned, toned and fit than myself, was not terribly appealing. But the screaming deal on classes talked me into it, and having a friend to go to classes with definitely help ease some anxiety. I watched Studio Thrive’s video about Mico, our instructor, to prepare for class.

We arrived early for our first class, and a steady stream of people trickled in until the room was filled – I would guess we had about 30 people in class with us. At 5:30 on the dot, Mico began our warm-up. The first two songs were slower, with easy steps, so I felt pretty confident even as I began to sweat a little. Then the actual choreography started. For many steps, I was able to catch on quickly. But as the pace picked up and legs were held in the air while hopping in a circle and gyrating… I’ll admit, I was overwhelmed.

But Mico, bless him, is a great teacher; he performs each sequence of steps progressively. First, he focuses on feet and what the basic steps are. Then he adds simple arm movements and a little bounce to the feet. Lastly he brings in more “hip action” and twisting and turning. If you are a pro or feeling confident, you can do the advanced version; if you’re exhausted or having trouble keeping up, you can do one of the easier versions. Or, if you’re like me in some cases, you can stop moving altogether and just stare at Mico trying to figure out a good beat to jump in on.

After a good 45 minutes of post-warm-up dancing and sweating, Mico began the cooldown. Big stretches, lunges and squats… it was a relief to do moves I was actually familiar with. After class, I was good and sweaty, and the only real soreness I had was in my knees – a combination of twisting movements with shoes that aren’t made for dancing (although I’m not dancing in my running shoes or anything – that’s asking for a turned ankle) and the gyrating deep squats some dances required. My knees have bothered me after every class so far, so they’re definitely something to keep an eye on.

All told, I’m enjoying our Zumba experience. I think I’d need to go more frequently to see the benefits, but more classes would mean more time away from home and the fam. So for now, I’m going to burn through our 10-pack of classes with our Tuesday night sessions, which will get us up to the new year, and then see if it’s something we want to keep doing. While I enjoy the classes, I don’t know that I enjoy it any more than doing videos at home (last night, for instance, I couldn’t relax because I was self-conscious about my granny-panty line showing through my workout pants and I spent most of class trying to avoid the aggressively dancing girl in front of me whose concept of her own personal space included about half of mine).

If you’re interested in trying Zumba at home before you brave a group class near you, the Zumba dancers have produced a series of videos to help you learn the basic moves of each dance style. I’m not going to lie – I’ll be reviewing these videos before next week’s class.

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