Zumba class is on Thursdays in a studio lined with mirrors.
The instructor Irene is a curvy woman, Indigenous from Mexico, who favors comedic songs. We love Irene; she makes Zumba so fun, you don’t notice you’re exercising. She makes us feel graceful and competent, like track stars.
Endorphins can be deceptive. If you actually look in the mirror as we collectively execute that Bollywood sweeping ankle uplift, foot flexed, well, some people, including you, might look silly. The men in particular are trying very hard to retain their dignity and their balance. These are connected.
Like all lifelong introverts, I excel at spatial orientation, so found the one place in the studio where I can see Irene but not myself in the mirror. Also, it is next to a fan.
Irene’s signature song is “Rollin on the River,” Ike and Tina Turner version. Anyone who knows that story recognizes the concert from which that recording comes is a famous one, because Ike beat Tina up shortly before. Tina talks about doing the song “nice and rough because that’s how we do things ‘round here.” Irene starts slow, going through the steps twice to make sure we have it. You can tell when the song is about to up tempo, because Irene starts grinning.
Then we’re off, flying triple speed through grapevines and stomps forward/backward, big wheel arm movements, and there’s no time to think, count movements, do anything except breathe, move, swing, stomp, turn, don’t hit your neighbor with the big wheel arm, grapevine.
The song moves so much, we wind up all over the studio. Which means we can see each other, all these women and two men trying hard to simply try hard. We wriggle and swing and look pretty much like sectional caterpillars attempting to exit cocoons after a large dinner. Sensible pageboy cuts and backs of balding heads swirl in the wrong direction as you realize you’re facing them when you should be facing away. They are laughing, but not from schadenfreude. From communal joy.
Because we’re not trying to turn into butterflies, we wriggling caterpillars. As Irene has told us, we’re already beautiful, skins of nine different hues shining with sweat as we fling curvy bulky bits this way and that. (Our melatonin runs the gamut from Nordic to Saharan.) I will add that Zumba feels safer since I found a great sale on sports bras. Before that, the big wheel threatened to beat me to death with my own breasts.
Communal joy is hard to come by these days. Maybe it’s easy in Zumba because we’re moving too fast to talk. Or because we all know it could be us next time, facing the wrong way against the tide. Perhaps we just like the idea of a bunch of men and women gaining power from an iconic “me too” moment song. Or how Irene starts each class with such enthusiasm: “Just keep moving and have fun!”
We don’t care which it is, just that it is. All hail Irene and the community of dancing caterpillars.