Sierra's online journal

Zumba 101 December 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 10:47 pm

My love affair with Zumba began about two years ago with a drunken pinkie promise  in the booth of a Denny’s Restaurant at around 2:30am. (Isn’t that where all good things begin, really?) “Okay, I’ll give it a try,” I vowed.

And I hated my first class.

I agreed to “give it another try” before making up my mind, though. And after a few such tries, I was hooked.

Hi, I’m Sierra and I’m an addict. It’s been three hours since my last class.

All people belong in one of three groups: those who have no idea what Zumba is, those who haven’t tried Zumba yet, and those who love Zumba. There’s no other option. I assure you.


It’s the most fun you’ll ever have while working out. And the number of calories you can burn in an hour is astounding. So, please. Crawl out from the rock under which you’ve been living for the past 10+ years and YouTube it. Wiki it. Google it.


You have your reasons, I know. But I’m here to dispell them.

I’d be terrible at Zumba because I can’t dance. Wrong. If you can follow along when Aunt Millie breaks out with the good ol’ Electric Slide any family function with a DJ, then you can Zumba. That’s all Zumba is, really…just a series of line dances you haven’t learned yet. Here’s what you can expect from a Zumba class: An instructor will turn off the overhead lights (and likely turn on some sort of strobes or colored lights), the students will cheer, and then he or she will lead the class through about 55 minutes of easy-to-follow, repetitive dance moves followed by about 5 minutes of stretching. Just do your best to follow along and if you can’t understand how to do a move, just do something else instead. The goal is to keep moving. And with the lights off, no one is really going to notice what you’re doing anyway.

I can’t go to Zumba! I’m a dude! Tell that to my husband Chris, who’s been coming to class with me multiple times per week since the beginning. True, attendance is predominantly (okay, almost exclusively) female. But I’ve had a handful of male classmates…and even a few male instructors. No one is going to look at you cross-eyed, I promise.

I’m not in good enough physical shape to take a Zumba class. You don’t have to be in shape at all. In fact, if you’re not in shape, that’s a pretty good reason to start going, isn’t it? All good instructors will be glad to show you how to modify movements as needed. Bad knees? Step side-to-side instead of jumping. Can’t figure out what the heck everyone is doing when the instructor yells “Merengue!”? March in place. Having a hard time popping your hip as quickly as the person next to you? Try going at half-speed. No one is going to bat an eye at what you are or aren’t doing during class as long as you’re moving.

I wouldn’t know what to wear. Though the Zumba website offers a full wardrobe of Zumba gear (including under garments and shoes), there’s no uniform. Sure, you’ll see some students in the official garb. But most of us just wear a comfy t-shirt and some yoga pants. Or sweats. Or basketball shorts. Really the only criteria is that it’s comfortable and breathable. Dress like you’re about to go for a jog. When it comes to shoes, go for something lightweight with little or no tread. Stay away from running shoes (or any other shoe geared toward forward motion) and dance shoes (or any other shoe with no or split soles). 

I’m afraid to go by myself…who will I talk to? Before class begins, you can say hello to the other people in class. We’re friendly. But beware. If you tell us it’s your first class, we’ll probably shoot off on a tangent about how great Zumba is. During class, no one has the breath to talk to anyone else anyway. And after class you’ll be so sweaty you won’t want to hang around to mingle.

How will I know what to do or where to stand? We’re friendly, yes, but we can also be territorial. Ultimately, we’re there to work out so our goal is to be certain we’ll have full range of motion throughout class. Others crowding into “our” space or otherwise inhibiting our movement is a buzzkill. Some tips for your first class:

  • Don’t encroach upon the front row. That’s where the regulars (and/or friends of the instructor) stand. And you definitely don’t want to be there if you don’t have some semblance of an idea as to what you’re doing because as the instructor moves around the room, the rest of the class will invariably rely on those in the front row to know what move is next.
  • Don’t hide in the back of the room. You’ll never be able to see the instructor from the back row. If you can’t see the instructor, you chances of learning the steps are diminished.
  • Don’t stand smack in the center of the room. Newbies typically prefer to fly under the radar. But here’s a hint: Everyone watches the instructor. The instructor typically stands at the front of the class near the center. So try to choose a spot near the edges of the room (even if it’s near the front). Everyone will be looking towards the center so no one will notice what you’re doing.
  • Don’t try to keep yourself lined up too perfectly with anyone else. Stand slightly to the left or right of the people in front of you (and behind you). Stand slightly in front of (or behind) the people to your left and right. This will give everyone the illusion of having more room to move.


You’ve tried it. You love it. You can’t wait to go back to your next class. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

Not all instructors are created equal. I’m not Zumba certified but I’ve heard from those who are that “certification is a joke.” To become certified to teach classes, you pay a fee and show up for a one-day training seminar. Attendance is taken at the start of the day. And certification is given out at the end of the day. But there’s no tracking who actually stays for the middle part of the day when all the “training” actually takes place. That said, some instructors take what they do seriously. Those are the instructors who spend time selecting music, choreographing, and arranging their routines to maximize your calorie burn. If the class isn’t full, chances are the instructor isn’t very good (or is unfortunate enough to have a terrible timeslot for class). If you’re not sweating by, say, the third song, chances are the instructor isn’t very good. If you’re bored, chances are the instructor just ins’t for you. There are so many different “flavors” of Zumba classes so if one isn’t working for you, try another instructor.

The music is an important aspect of class. But it’s not the ONLY important aspect. I have seen some classmates (literally!) pop in earplugs at the start of class to shut out some of the noise. I’ve also seen some classmates bow their heads, raise their hands, and pretty much fade into their own two-steppin’ world the minute their “jam” comes on. Ideally, you should be somewhere in between these two extremes. If you don’t like the music, you should try another instructor; every instructor has their own style and chooses their playlist based on what they like. I’ve been to classes where the music is entirely instrumental, classes where the playlist could’ve been pulled from the American Top 40’s countdown, and classes where unusual-to-Zumba genres (ie country, techno, classic rock) have been sprinkled throughout. Find a class that suits your taste. But once you do, remember that your job doesn’t end with simply enjoying the soundtrack. Now you’ve got to MOVE.

Everyone—probably even you—has a nickname. When Chris and I first started going to Zumba, we didn’t know anyone else in our class. Two years later, we still don’t know most of them by name. But we’ve got nicknames for almost all the regulars. There’s Cow, a (despite what you may have thought) very physically fit woman who chews loudly on gum throughout every class EVER. And Hip (who over-exaggerates all hip motions). Soccer and Soccer Mom (a young, athletic girl who wears soccer shorts and sweat bands and her mother) always come together. Skunk used to have dark hair with a light streak down it…but will forever be Skunk regardless of her current hair color. Earplug hates loud music. I used to think this was “our” ritual—naming our classmates. Until one day when I heard Wingspan (the tallest, lankiest woman I’ve ever seen) whisper something to her friend about Google. I was not party to their conversation but as soon as she said Google, the three of us instinctively looked to the front of the room at the girl who immediately begins walking through the routine the moment she hears the next song start playing. She. Knows. EVERYTHING. And that’s the moment I realized that it’s not just something Chris and I do. About a year into attending Zumba, having lost a fair amount of weight, Soccer Mom approached me and said, “You look great. My daughter and I call you guys the Disappearing People.” It was then that I realized *gasp* we might even have our own nicknames from our classmates. (Side note: I’d HATE to know what Soccer Mom calls me now…post-baby and not-so-disappearing these days…)

You’re working out. Not starring in a J-Lo music video. Unless it’s a wedding band, jewelry really doesn’t belong in a Zumba class. So, please, remove your four inch hoop earrings before the warm-up. You are not obligated to coif your hair or layer on make-up for that 8am class on Saturday. You’re going to sweat. It’s okay to look a bit disheveled. There’s this one girl—I like to call her Porn Star—who comes to class every now and then. She arrives in a t-shirt, pony tail, and the teeniest short shorts known to man. And by the third (or so) song, without fail, she presses one hand up against the mirror and pulls her ponytail out with the other. She literally shakes her hair out. Then takes off her shirt and finishes class in her sports bra and teensy shorts. And every time she does this (which is every time she’s in class, mind you), I’m not the only one stifling a laugh and rolling my eyes. No one cares what you look like. Trust me.

If you’re not having a good time, you’re doing it wrong. It’s okay to smile. It’s okay to ham it up. Get lost in the music. Get lost in your movements. Know what you’re doing? Then do it bigger. The more fun you have, the more you’ll want to move. And the more you move, the more calories you’ll burn.


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