I dance like I sing: off key and off beat, panicked someone is judging me. The only reason I dropped in on a Zumba class in the first place was because it was right before my yoga class, and in the same room. I watched them dance, flinging themselves this way and that, as I waited to claim my spot on the floor with my yoga mat. There was nothing intimidating about the people in the class – no synchronized rows of buff beach bodies gyrating in perfect unison. Not at all, these were 'regular' people. There were a few kids in the mix, and a couple of people older than me. (Imagine!) There was a gangly man trying to follow the steps and a couple of middle-aged women looking bewildered as the teacher, Antonio McMath, danced fluidly, grinning from ear to ear.
I looked around the gym and noticed the only thing more prominent than the profuse sweating was the enormous smile on each and every face. These people were having fun!
I worked up my nerve and finally slipped in on the back row. After trying to follow the various steps for one chorus, I decided it was impossible. Soaked with sweat after one song, I took one misstep here and one misstep there, not even trying to combine a shimmy with the complicated footwork. Antonio never stopped dancing – his only instructions were throwing up two fingers (I presumed to indicate 2 steps?) and pointing at his hips (I presumed to indicate to move them somewhat?) He beamed broadly at the class the whole time, moving so fluidly to the music it seemed it was composed for his dancing routine only.
"I need a beginner class," I told him after my first class.
He told me to get there early for extra help. I did, but he just started dancing 10 minutes early. I don't think he can help it; he's that much of a natural. Finally I just got behind a woman who knew every step, but didn't go crazy on the gyrations, and I followed her as best I could. I didn't worry about moving my arms at the same time I moved my legs. I just concentrated on two limbs at a time, and let my hips stay still. It sounds terrible on paper. I was the worst one in the class, always behind on my footwork, and a complete failure in the shimmy department. But my heart rate was sky high, and I was saturated with sweat, even though I was totally out of step. I couldn't even get a breath I was so winded, just like I feel in Spin class. But I found myself grinning exuberantly. Not like I feel in Spin class.
And after a few weeks, I find I can follow a couple of the songs without crashing into the person next to me. And a few weeks after that I find I catch on fairly quickly to the brand new dances because really, there are only four basic steps in Zumba. Of course, Antonio combines them in ways that make it seem like there are thousands – no routine is the same – and he adds lots of wiggle and waggle and funk. Which explains the grins during the most intense cardio workout I've ever had.
He's a nice guy to boot. I called him the day before the Walk for Cammy's Cause, the MCR Foundation's benefit for the prevention of eating disorders, because the Zumba team scheduled to perform had cancelled. I knew it was a long shot, that he didn't have enough notice. But he seemed thrilled to give up his Saturday on a few hours notice, and arrived at 8 a.m. with his friend Ana Ortiz and together they rocked the stage and set the tone for the walk.
My husband and sons are thrilled because I get my 'dance fix' regularly and don't force them out on the dance floor with me at weddings.
My biggest problem is that I'm officially 'hooked' on Zumba, and the YMCA cancelled my noon class. Which is a shame because the evening classes are packed with the buff beach bodies who can shake their stuff in unison and they have all perfected the full-body shimmy. Which is intimidating. Not only is the timing a conflict with getting dinner on the table, but the class is not nearly as conducive to new-comers. So I'm on the lookout for a day class. But in the meantime, I'm squeezed in on the back row on Wednesday nights, dancing offbeat and trying to figure out how exactly
to move my hips.
My family is peeved because they're tired of sitting at the empty kitchen table, fork in hand, while I Zumba it up downtown.
But me? I'm grinning.
Antonio McMath and Ana Ortiz