Zumba is taking over the world. At least that's what my instructor's T-shirt declares, and she may be right. How else can an exercise class be so popular that medical professionals are prescribing Zumba over Zoloft?
Seeking to step away from the edge of depression that threatened me as I hibernated through another Chicago winter, I listened carefully to my doctor's advice.
In his thick Puerto Rican accent, he shocked me with his no-nonsense approach to mood management.
“Do more Zumba,” he said when I begged him for something to make the winter blues go away.
“But Doc! What about the lifelessness, the exhaustion, the incessant obsessing over my kids' lives?”
He smiled and slipped into a little candid coaching.
“Your 40s are a crucial time. Your metabolism slows down. People gain weight. They give in, give up and gain 20 pounds.”
“By their 50s, the extra weight gives them back pain and arthritis. They get more depressed, watch TV and gain more weight. Their health problems compound. Finally, they come to me looking for the magic bullet,” he said.
Boy did this guy have me pegged. But I'm a fairly active person.
“You have to eat salad, salad, salad,” he explained. “I'm not one of these no-carb people, but no cookies or muffins."
I can get rid of cookies, but if this guy prescribes a no-pasta zone, he's out on his ear.
"Pasta is good! Just make sure you eat lots of vegetables," he said.
Scanning my history, he looked at me and smiled.
"Try the Zumba!" he said with finality, as he closed the file on his computer. "No way are you getting any pills."
Walking out of the doctor’s office I realized I just got the truth slapped into me while being hypnotized by a charming Latino accent. Deep down, I knew he was right.
I remembered the Zumba class that I had taken at Courts Plus and the vibrant instructor who taught it. I decided to return to her class to see if I could reignite the spark that had been beaten into dormancy by the brutal blizzard of 2011.
Entering Courts Plus, I already felt better for simply changing my routine.
Listening to other women talk about the depressing weather was enough to take the sting out of my own blues. I knew I was not alone as I heard people complaining about the bone-chilling freeze.
“It was so cold I think I pulled a muscle coming out of my car the other day!” said one woman.
“I don’t know why I live here,” said another, as we all commiserated, recognizing her bluff. Every city has its Achilles' heel, and ours was buried under 3 feet of snow.
“I couldn’t keep warm yesterday," a friend said, as we waited for our instructor. "I finally gave up, put a fire on and stayed under the covers all day with a good book."
We were a group who needed motivation.
Our effervescent instructor was just the woman for the job.
Zumba is a combination of dance moves that will have you sweating harder than you would during a 3-mile run on a hot summer day.
Our instructor, Lisa, is one of those rare people whose free spirit infects everyone around her. I can’t imagine a better job for her—or a better instructor for the class. It takes a very special person to take 30 middle-aged women and teach them to wiggle and gyrate to beats from around the globe.
She does this all without uttering a word. By just clapping her hands, Lisa has an amazing command over us all. OK, several of us throw a hip to the left while the rest of the room bounces to the right. But she is accepting and kind when we fail to look like the Urban Bush women who originated some of the moves. Her face lights up when the booming lyrics celebrate the pace of her joyful heart.
The first class takes the most courage. Midwestern moms fail to produce the gyrations that our Latina counterparts summon between sips of margaritas. But nobody seems to mind.
Clapping and dancing to beats from around the world, I felt a sample platter of cultures being infused into my bloodstream. I dreamed of pairing my pulse with Cuban seafood and colorful skirts.
Pretending to be on the dance floor of a Brazilian bar has long-lasting health benefits. “Fake it til you make it,” I sang to myself as I forgave my lack of finesse. I felt the anxiety that had been frozen into my bloodstream heat up and evaporate into the Columbian Copacabana in my mind.
I began to think my Latino doctor was right and that our world was becoming smaller each day.
Lisa ended our class with soothing music from right here in the USA to anchor us into our world. Thirty fellow mediocre moms piled out of the room a little lighter on their feet.
I stormed my teacher like the Zumba groupie I was becoming. She gave me her card and thanked me for my enthusiasm.
At home I Googled the fitness craze. According to Zumba.com, “Zumba is an effective, exhilarating, Latin-inspired, easy to follow, calorie-burning dance-fitness party that has taken the fitness industry by storm. It achieves the perfect balance of a progressive core workout, full-body cardio and strength training, and a stress-relieving, energy-producing fitness experience.”
It’s all that and more. Listening to the sounds from a hotter climate melted my frozen frown. Beneath the ice I thought I recognized something I hadn’t seen in a while. The rhythm of rushing water that was buried beneath the deep freeze of Chicago’s icy winter had begun to flow. Spring may be a long way off, but I had seen the movement of life and was inspired.
I may be a product of my environment. But for an hour in the basement of a cold gym in Elmhurst, my vivacious instructor infused enough life into me to awaken me from my dormancy.
I zipped my puffy parka over my sweaty clothes and headed home.
As I drove, I dreamed of a salted margarita to go with my dance class.
Thinking of my doctor's advice, I knew I'd have to skip the chips and salsa. So, for now I will sip water and eat those salads, salads, salads. But I intend to spice up those salads with some jalapenos, cilantro and lime. It wasn’t my idea, it was the Zumba.
It’s taking over the world, one middle-aged woman at a time.