Recreating Recess: Getting heated and having fun with Zumba

Before doing Zumba, I had heard a lot of stories about it.

Some were funny, while others described the experienced as exhausting. None, however, were exactly the same.

So when my sister asked me about taking a Zumba class this past summer, my curiosity won over.

The class was located at my former high school and the room was spacious. The room was also similar to those used for dance classes, which was a bit unsettling.

My dancing repertoire is small. At parties, I would bust out the hip twist, the sprinkler or an attempt at the moonwalk. Sometimes it was a frantic combination of all three but these occasions were rare. There are usually mixed reviews as well.

But now in a public class with my sister and her friend, the stakes were high.

At first, things did not look promising. The warmup was challenging and the music was silenced by doubts about paying money to make a fool of myself.

It was not until researching this article that I realized there was nothing wrong with that.

In the late 1960s, “Jazzercise” was created and combined muscular movements with choreographed exercises. Besides promoting the use of spandex, the creation of jazzercise lead to the rise of dance-aerobics sessions of intense dancing-related movements intended to keep you fit.

Then in the 1980s, fitness instructors such as Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons made dance aerobic classes available on VHS so people could follow along at home, which attracted audiences outside North America.

Someone who was attracted by dancing aerobics was Alberto Perez. Perez loved to dance and taught dance aerobics classes to support his family in Colombia.

One day, Perez forgot the music for his class. With no music and no set dance exercises, Perez told the class that he was going to try something different. Using the leftover cassettes from his car, Perez danced according to the rhythm of the music while the class followed his lead. The class became the one associated with the start of Zumba.

And within 10 years of that class, Zumba was then viewed as a new fitness trend.

So what exactly makes Zumba such an attractive fitness activity?

For one thing, Zumba differs from other dance aerobic classes because the style of the class is different. Instead of following each precise movement, Zumba allows for flexibility, creativity and in my case comedy — because the class feels like a party.

In the class, there is normally up-tempo music of a certain genre. For instance when I went, the songs were mainly Spanish pop.

As you are listening to songs like “Despacito,” it is hard not to deviate from the routine and dance as if you were in Ibiza.

With that said, there are some boundaries. Although the instructor did not correct my lacklustre moves, I am sure that if I tried anything disruptive it would not be tolerated. After all, most people taking Zumba are there to have a good time.

It is important to keep in mind that others use Zumba to exercise. The class is a great workout, but can feel tiring if you are not used to dancing for extended periods of time. But of course, if you are tired and need a break, there is no issue sitting out a song or two.

The nature of Zumba also allows for social engagement. I only went to Zumba once but going to these classes with friends or family is definitely worth some laughs each time. Again, it is hard to stay serious when you are dancing like a possessed chicken.

Another good example of the positive social nature is at UBC, as once a year there is a large Zumba class that draws many students and staff. Weekly Zumba classes are offered through UBCREC as well.

But besides the social benefit, Zumba also carries a good lesson: do not worry about being perfect.

There were definitely other people in the class who missed steps and were slower than me. But I could not see them, and they could probably not see me.

I was actually so focused on not embarrassing myself that eventually I just had to slow down. Maybe this was worse in terms of dancing quality, if that is even possible, but at least I started having more fun.

Too bad I did not realize this sooner.