I am not an athletic person. Never have been. When I think of exercise, I think of middle school gym class, being the last to finish my mile. I think of gymnastics classes, not advancing to the next level because I couldn’t do just one pull-up. When I think of coordination, I think of the one and only musical I was in, needing to learn a time step, and only figuring it out after the show was over. Mostly I think of embarrassment, eyes on the girl who can’t run or dance or move in any sort of coordinated fashion.
So when I decided to go to a zumba class at my local Y, I was a little anxious. My usual mode of exercise is walking around my neighborhood cause it’s hard to screw that up and it’s a solitary endeavor. Zumba is dancing and learning steps and in front of a lot of other people.
But I go anyway. I tell the people at the front desk that this is my first time taking a class. They show me the room and also mention that the instructor only speaks spanish. Great. Not only will I need to interpret her movements, but there will be a language barrier as well.
I arrive a little early, and one woman asks me if this is my first time. I must look pretty awkward, not knowing what to do with my hands. She tells me to just keep moving and I’ll do fine.
After everyone arrives, I notice that almost all of these women look like me: fuller around the middle, fitting uncomfortably in their workout clothes. This puts me at ease.
Then the music starts and we’re off. I have placed myself in a position in the middle, with a good view of the instructor, so I can what she’s doing. At first, I do have trouble following her. She doesn’t speak (so the language barrier I thought would be a problem isn’t). She just moves effortlessly, looking natural and sexy and all the things I’m not. I spend a lot of time frantically correcting my steps. In fact, this is what I spend most of the first 30 minutes focusing on. And of course, there is a mirror, so I can see how utterly hopeless my dancing looks.
But at some point, I quit caring. I may not have the steps right, but I’m actually having fun, and I’m moving. And towards the end, I’m catching on and my steps start to resemble actual dance. I look around and see all the shapes and colors of women around me. Some dance like pros and others look more awkward than I do. But no one gives judgmental looks. No one is snickering in the corner. At some point I realize that this is not my middle school nightmare. Everyone is shaking her booty and having a fantastic time. And so am I.