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Not Too Old to Zumba

In typical late-bloomer fashion, I have only recently gained first-hand exposure to the exercise phenomenon that is Zumba Fitness. Frightened by the evidence that my over-40-year-old body craves a sedentary lifestyle, I entered the hall where the class would be held, equally frightened by the twists and turns this same body would be required to execute. Surely this was an exercise program for the young and already relatively fit. I found a place in the back.

Just the music of a Zumba class tells you it’s a high-energy, Latin-inspired fitness program that combines fitness steps to an international beat. Zumba has been around since the 1990s, attracting followers of all shapes and sizes. Dancer and choreographer, Alberto “Beto” Perez, created the fitness program by accident—another reminder to me that some opportunities land on your doorstep disguised as mistakes.

I have taken aerobics classes in the past and I’m usually good at keeping up or being able to pace myself. To me personal expansion means moving beyond one’s area of comfort, and this would be a good test. My first lesson—bring water! I don’t know how I could have forgotten to drop my water bottle into my exercise bag on the first day, but I have yet to repeat that mistake. There was a point when my mouth was so deprived of moisture that I hoped it might actually be possible to siphon moisture from the humid air. Did I think I needed another challenge?

Actually, I have three challenges: (1) coordination; (2) endurance, and (3) inhibition.

Coordination. Even if I stare hard enough at the demonstration to bore a baseball-sized hole in the back of the instructor’s head, that’s still no guarantee my feet won’t go left when everyone else moves right. I like repetition because by the time we are on our fourth or fifth rep, I’ve just about got it. My fleeting sense of satisfaction is abruptly interrupted by handclaps as the rest of the class celebrates completing that dance move. “Great job, everyone!” the instructor calls out to the sweaty mob (or am I the only one who is drenched?).

Endurance. When the music starts again, I’m ready to nail the next movements, and I do. I catch on quickly this time even though the movement is high impact. I’m having a great time but I begin to wonder how long the song is. It seems much longer than the previous song. And—lift your leg higher—it’s much more strenuous, I determine. Turn! I lift my leg. Turn! I can do this. So I’ve been sitting at a desk all day. Don’t be a wimp. Turn! Just keep going, old girl. How would it look if I fainted in front of all these people? When the step changes, I’m relieved to use other muscles. Zumba! When the song ends, I’m surprised my legs are still holding me up.

The greatest obstacle, however, is inhibition.

Considering the last class I took was classical ballet (where I also demonstrated a remarkable lack of coordination), the movements of Zumba are . . . different. Compared to a potentially graceful plié or grand jeté, jamming to a Zumba beat feels a bit—how shall I put it—exotic. All of the pumping, thrusting, and shimmying is new territory. Undignified or not, I remind myself that I need the movement if I’m going to delay being relegated to Geriatric Zumba.

Actually, I hope I’m still able to do Zumba when I reach fourscore and ten.

*Please consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

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