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Brad Petersen Personal Essay Zumba: Blushing Cheeks, Burning Hips, and Heavy Beats I sneak into the basketball gym and snag a seat near the upper decks of the stands. Sweaty bodies burning rubber-soled shoes against the wooden gymnasium floor provide comfort. The gym is my home away from home. But I’m not spying on a basketball game, hence my unbalanced nerves and shifty eyes. This is Zumba class. From the looks of it, there definitely aren’t any basketball players around. There aren’t even any guys, only girls. I further compress myself into the shadows while pulling out a binder to take notes. Zumba started in 2001 with Alberto “Beto” Perez’s fantastic accident. While teaching a dance course in Colombia, he forgot to bring music one day. This led to improvisation, using his personal music collection, salsa and merengue. His new moves were off the cuff, more based on the rhythm of the music rather than routine, boring moves counted out loud. The class loved it. He took this new genre of exercise dance to Miami, collaborated with some entrepreneurs and trademarked it as Zumba. Now more than 12 million people take Zumba classes in over 110,000 locations throughout more than 125 countries (About Zumba Fitness). With only ten minutes of class down, students already drip giant beads of bootyshaking sweat. I feel semi-inappropriate peeping from my dark roost. Forty-one girls and one boy out there…he must feel weird, right? “Quiero que te muevas!” reverberates through the large gym. “I want you to move!” The reggaeton beat demands bodily submission. My own foot involuntarily taps as I look down in unbelief, mouth agape, and eyebrows scrunched. Some dance alone, others with small groups of friends. Unequivocally, they follow the instructor on the stage with monk-like intensity; she appears to have years of


Zumba under her belt. Two neon-yellow flair straps attached to her waistband nominate her the captain of this crew, their only apparent role: to accentuate the sassy movement those fluid hips. Zumba instructors come specially qualified from all over the world. Sarah Gogarty, from Pueblo, Colorado, has taught Zumba for several years, after becoming licensed through a Master Workshop. This daylong workshop afforded her a certificate of completion, making her licensed. “Licensed, not certified, because it’s more professional,” she says. “Actually, it’s illegal for someone to teach Zumba without being licensed.” What is her life goal? “I hope to open up my own place and get paid per student.” According to Sarah, Zumba turns one into quite the cultural connoisseur. Her Master Workshop teacher hailed from Manhattan, but was originally born in Venezuela. If you reach Master level, you can travel the world teaching Zumba. I had no idea so many people connected so easily through dancing. She assures me people love it because it’s not like “real” exercise, but more fun. “I probably burn up to 900 calories per class, because I move a lot, am very energetic, and talk the whole time.” 900 calories! The thought conjures fantasies of eating otherworldly meals, yes, even buckets of ice cream, while burning off the excess calories through Zumba. To see what kind of global reach this Zumba movement really has, I perform one of the most scientific experiments known to modern humanity: I post a Facebook update on my interest in Zumba. I ask my friends out in cyberspace if they are Zumbites. Within several moments I score ten comments from friends I didn’t even know I’d previously accepted. People explode from nowhere to show Zumba some love. The moment I typed the word Zumba, all the ads to my right hand side of the screen instantly turned into Zumba dance invitations. I’m somewhat freaked out by how fast Zumba is moving in on my life. I decided to phone interview one of the girls who tried Zumba only one time to see what she


opines. She’s a senior in high school and dreams of becoming a Zumba instructor. I asked her why, if she’s only tried it once. “It’s going to be the next big thing, and all those Curve places you see on the road are going to be replaced by Zumba studios.” So Zumba is up and coming. Why is that so, I ask her. “I think that honestly, anybody, especially people that don’t like to work out, because it’s so fun and has lots of repetition so it’s easy to pick up, would like Zumba. It’s an easy way for people to work out. It’s kind of Latin based technique, but Americanized. Anyone would enjoy it, probably mostly women though.” Little does she know, many of those “Curve places” already offer Zumba classes. If Zumba can hook the upcoming generation of videogame playing, facebooking, all about me generation, they will be on to something for sure. Knowing this, Zumba is already available on the Wii, PS3, and X-Box 360, and as I earlier found out, their ads scour the Facebook cyber world. So they already are the “next big thing.” As my time spying on the Zumba class draws to a close, the instructor has a wardrobe malfunction and one of her neon flair straps falls off. My pencil freezes midstroke as I panic, almost reaching out from the dark shadows. Will she disrupt the rhythm to pick it up? I’m relieved to see her give no thought to the matter, continuing to Zumba as hard as ever. She smiles big, shakes it good, and sweats profusely. The strap remains motionless on the floor. Zumba Zumba Zumba, everyone claps in unison. Zumba pierces my thoughts throughout the week following my first note-taking visit. As I watch people walk between classes, I wonder whether or not they were into Zumba. I talked about it with friends, who concur I need to try Zumba to satiate my mind’s desire for more. So here I find myself, signing-in at the Monday night, 9:00 Zumba class. I bring my girlfriend, Betsy, for moral support, knowing this will prove one of the hardest battles against my natural instincts yet. My reclusive soul shivers as the music kicks off. I


make my way to the back row, only, the worst part about being on time is the arrival of latecomers. The back row turns into the middle row. Smiling, prancing Zumba lovers surround me. Dang. But then, that similar wave of uncontrolled movement surges through my feet, up to my hips. The music takes over and my body follows our Zumba leader. She works me like a master puppeteer. When I land a few of the difficult routines, my deeply carved smile further draws me into a strange, new world. This isn’t so bad. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spy a guy in the stands. Is he laughing at me? Is he judging me? Doesn’t he understand the call of Zumba? Just wait, I’m sure the music will overtake his body, he cannot resist the call. My self-conscious alarm turns up a notch, and I become aware of my presence as the only male here tonight. The Zumba songs become progressively more provocative, along with the dance moves. I feel the burn in my abs, hips, waist, calves, and everywhere else. Have I gone through 900 calories yet? It’s been twenty-five minutes. This is harder than climbing Mt. Everest. The scent of forty bouncing human beings invades my lungs, and I gasp for unavailable fresh air. Negative thoughts begin to invade my mind space. “You’re humiliating yourself, really. Give it up, the research is over.” I’ve heard marathon runners experience a similar effect after they hit “the wall.” Their minds begin looping the trail of self-doubt. The great ones overcome this challenge. Will I be a Zumba great? I push on, smile big, shake it good, and sweat profusely.


Works Cited About Zumba Fitness. Zumba Fitness, 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2012.


Zumba: Blushing Cheeks, Burning Hips, and Heavy Beats