In the fall, I did something I had never done before.  I started taking Zumba classes at the gym.  Being in situations where I don’t know the proper code of conduct and etiquette REALLY stressed me out.  And I’m also an introvert.  And I’m also extremely self-conscious of not being good at things.

But I started going to Zumba anyway because it was something that looked fun, and I am trying to do more things that challenge me and overcome all those petty fears and self-doubt.  I discovered that I really LOVE Zumba!

I don’t love Zumba because I really good at it.  I’m not.  There any many people that are better at it than I am.  But being in Zumba classes with different women, the same women, and the random male who occasionally shows up has helped me form a new frame of mind towards my body and the bodies of other women.  Here are some things Zumba has shown me and helped me experience:

All Bodies Are Beautiful.

My biggest take-away from Zumba is a much greater appreciation for everyone’s bodies.  The women at Zumba come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.  But I could not predict from one woman’s body how graceful, or strong, or coordinated she would be.  Many of the women who are the best dancers did not have the typical ‘music video’ bodies that we idealize.  But they looked great killing it with their excellent dancing, and everyone looked great relaxing and getting comfortable in their own skin.  Some people were better at certain kinds of dancing than others.  I’m more of an athlete and was better at (some of) the more powerful, hip hop-like moves, while other people were fantastically better at the more sensual movements and Latin dance songs.  There were also women of all different nationalities and cultures, so some women were better at certain styles than others.  It was fun to see everyone expressing their cultural knowledge and diversity in this way.  It was great to see the capabilities of everyone’s bodies and learn from them.

Women can have fun together.

Idiots love to perpetuate the idea that women cannot get along with each other, or cannot coexist as well as groups of men, or I guess groups of mixed genders?  But that’s a myth.  In Zumba, we all danced and worked out together, filling the room with positive energy.  There were great moments when I could feed off the energy of the others in the room as we all got really into a particular song or melded into a focused, precise whole where everyone was in perfect synchronization.  One of my biggest fears about taking a gym class was feeling inferior or the others in the class making me feel bad for being a novice, but no one was ever snide, judgey, or mean.  More often we bonded about being tired or appreciating our cheerful instructor.

My body can do so much more.

I did not expect to be very good at Zumba, but there were also certain moves that I found really challenging which I did not expect.  It seemed like my body was just incapable of understanding how to move in certain ways when I could see the other dancers moving in and out of the moves with relative ease.  When I tried to shake my shoulders, I felt like I was just doing some sort of weird, very bad seizure impersonation.  I started to realize how rigid and stiff I held a lot of my body, and all the possibilities of movement and expression I was denying myself.  I still have a long way to go, but I am slowly liberating my body and enjoying its new capabilities.

No one is watching you.

As I mentioned before, I was nervous about trying Zumba because of what I thought other people might think.  But it turns out, no one cares!  Most of the time people in Zumba are focused on working out their own bodies, improving their form, having a good time to the music, dancing off frustration and stress, or (like me) trying to follow the instructor and learn the moves.  People might notice that you are out of step or are not Fred Astaire, but no one is going to spend more of a fleeting moment of thoughts on it and no one is going to go out of their way to make you feel bad about it.  Everyone in Zumba messes up now and then, no body will hold it against you or stop you from carrying on.  It’s a good lesson for life.