Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shetterly's Guide to Zumba classes in Minneapolis's Standish, Ericsson, and Powderhorn Neighborhoods—One free!

If you've never done Zumba or have only done a little, there are a lot of reasons to try a class by Bernice Arias-Sather:

1. She does free classes at Powderhorn Park on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:30 which are especially fun once the weather warms up, because then they're outdoors. They're sponsored by OUT in the Backyard, an LGBTQ community outreach group.

2. Her style seems like the best of traditional Zumba: A few pop songs with a heavy Latin emphasis, a fun, fast-moving class without much verbal instruction from the leader, who favors visual cues to help people follow.

3. She has been teaching since 2007, so some of her students have become instructors who lead dances just as Bernice taught them. This is especially helpful for new students at the Midtown YWCA, where Bernice teaches on Thursdays at 6:45 pm, and the Saturday 9:45 am is usually taught by one of her students.

At Social Dance Studio (which closes at the end of the month, alas, but its Zumba instructors will continue to teach in the area), two teachers give classes at a $5 drop-in price. Jimi Jimi Jimi includes dances with a Renaissance Festival/Eastern European folk dance feel; Sadie Jelenik takes a slightly more contemporary approach.

My favorite teacher for reasons that should not reflect in any way on the excellence of Bernice, Jimi, and Sadie is Tania Mitchell, who teaches at the Midtown YWCA on Sundays and Tuesdays at 5:30. I always warn new dancers that if they find Tania challenging, they should try someone else, because Tania is the least typical: her dances feel more complex than anyone else's, she seems to bring in new dances more often than anyone else, and she may have more high-intensity dances than anyone else (though it may just feel like that because new and complex dances burn more mental energy). Tania gives more verbal instruction than the other teachers I've mentioned, probably because her dances are more complex, but she always exudes such a sense of fun that I never noticed that until I took my own instructor certification and began comparing the official Zumba advice with the ways different teachers vary from it.

Starting in June, Tania's Tuesday class will be free outside at the Farmer's Market, which should be great fun.

Tip for new dancers: Show up early to get a good spot. If you're too far in the back, it's hard to see the teacher. My favorite place is usually in the second row, slightly to one side.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Zumba? WTF?

After I shared How strange is it that I am now a certified Zumba instructor? on Facebook, a friend said, "I might think it was strange if I had any idea what it meant." Another responded, "So, you teach them how to navigate around the furniture while they vacuum?"

Which made me realize the world is divided between people who have heard of Zumba—15 million are currently taking Zumba classes, according to Zumba's site—and those who haven't a clue what it is, and most of my friends fall into the latter group. This is for them.

The Zumba origin myth is that a gym teacher in Columbia forgot his usual exercise tape and improvised by playing a mix of dance songs that were in his car and leading people in the steps. His students loved it, so he kept doing it, and after a few years, he moved to Miami, where a couple of investors saw the potential, and Zumba went international.

Zumba teachers like to think of Zumba as “exercise in disguise.” Officially, it’s a “Latin-inspired international cardio workout", which means the teachers are encouraged to keep a high percentage of Latin music in the mix, but “international” is open to each teacher’s interpretation. Zumba is effective exercise—people burn an average of 500-1000 calories in a class—but the main reason it's popular is Zumba feels more like dancing than working out—see yesterday's comment about how I hate the idea of exercise.

A few posts about my dancing journey so far:

Old white guy can't dance (yet) - Part 1

Old white guy can't dance (yet) - Part 2

Old white guy can't dance (yet) #3

Fat women will kick your ass at Zumba

Dance is changing my idea of female beauty

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How strange is it that I am now a certified Zumba instructor?

Perhaps the most unlikely thing I’ve done in my life was getting certified last Saturday to teach Zumba. This doesn’t mean I'll teach it soon, or ever, but I’ve started down that path.

It began two years ago when Emma and I joined the YWCA. We knew we needed exercise. I hate exercise. I like activities like bicycling and hiking, but I hate anything that seems like work for its own sake, I hate the idea of group activities (though I often enjoy the reality more than I expect), and the socialist in me really doesn’t like anything with a brand name.

But I love Zumba. When I was young, my idea of a good exercise was karate, and when I was older, it was tai chi. In both cases, the exercise was secondary. The point was to do something that took me out of my daily life for an hour or so and left me feeling better at the end of the hour than the beginning. Zumba does that for me.

I’m not sure why I kept on with Zumba during the first weeks when I was convinced I would never learn the steps. My best tips:

  1. Remember everyone there was a beginner once.
  2. Smile when you screw up. I smile a lot during zumba.
  3. The point isn’t to get strong or lose weight or build stamina or reduce stress or become an amazing dancer—I have no illusions about being a good dancer or becoming a great one. The point is to have fun. Some teachers are objectively bad, and some teachers are wrong for you because of their personality or the pace they set for the class, so if you don't like one teacher, try another. I was lucky to get a great teacher for my first class.

Last month, early enough to get a discount, I signed up online for Zumba's Basic 1 instructor course. Saturday morning, I bicycled across the river to spend the day at LA Fitness in St. Paul.

The quick facts:

Kelly Bullard, the teacher, is great: cheerful, informative, an excellent dancer and an excellent dance teacher.

The first hour is an intense Zumba class; expect to sweat copiously. They're right to recommend bringing a change of exercise clothes. The remaining seven hours (including a meal break) are a mix of lecture and instruction in the basic moves. Expect to sweat more, though not as intensely as before. Bring a light jacket for when you’re sitting and listening.

Two people at the class had never taken Zumba before—they probably were assigned by a school to get the instruction to teach it. I'd recommend taking a month or two of regular classes before going to one for instructors, but if you’re prepared to feel like a klutz or if you’ve got some dance background, the basic instructor course could be a fine intro. I haven’t played the review DVDs that come with the course yet, but I'm sure they make a good refresher for all the moves we learned.

Minor observations:

I should’ve counted how many people were there: I’m guessing around 80. Of those, three were male, and I’m pretty sure that I was the oldest person in the room. Most of the women were white, but the other two men were not—I wouldn't be surprised if either of them were already working at gyms. Most of the attendees were Americans from the Twin Cities. The people who traveled furthest to attend drove from Iowa, but the students included an Israeli and an Indian who was going back to India soon.

It is hard not to be noticed when you’re male at a zumba class. At an instructor class, guys especially should expect to get moved up to the front at some point—Kelly had all three guys come up and dance with her during “Uptown Funk”, a song that’s popular with zumba teachers, who each have their own version. I am very pleased that I did not trip once, and not ashamed to admit I had plenty of excuses to smile

Recommended for balance, a post by a more cynical person than me who had a less pleasant experience: What Zumba Instructor Training Reveals About the Myth of the Terrible Teacher | Kafkateach

In writing, dancing, and everything you learn, seek mastery skills, not performance skills

From What are the best tricks to keep yourself motivated? - Quora:
What surprised Halvorson was how the two groups dealt with the challenges. The ones in the “get-better” group remained unfazed and solved as many as problems in the challenging conditions as the easy ones. They stayed motivated and kept trying to learn. The ones in the “be-good” group, however, were so demoralized when they faced the challenges and obstacles that they solved substantially fewer problems than those who didn’t have to face them. 
And those differences happened just because of how the initial goal was framed. 
Define Mastery Goals, Not Performance Ones, For Difficult Problems 
Halvorson’s experiments illustrate the difference between a mastery goal, where you aim to learn and get better at some skill, and a performance goal, where you aim to be good, either to demonstrate you’re talented or to outperform other people.
Speaking from experience, this is very true: when I try to write as a performance, I get blocked. When I write for myself, I write freely. I've probably kept dancing for the last couple of years because I never think about the idea of performing for anyone. (Okay, I sometimes think briefly about it, get terrified, and go back to thinking about dancing purely for fun.)

An interesting take on privilege theory among US Maoists in the 1960s

Privilege and the working class | SocialistWorker.org makes a fascinating claim to an old-timer like me:
At the height of the American civil rights movement, when theories of oppression might be expected to have some resonance, privilege politics were virtually unknown. The privilege model was unable to find a foothold among the hundreds of thousands of anti-racists involved in the country's massive and often integrated struggles for freedom. Only later, during the tragic crisis and disintegration of the New Left at the end of the '60s, were privilege politics able to gain a hearing--among white, middle-class students, most of whom had had no involvement in the civil rights novement. White-skin privilege theory would come to play a major role in the destruction of Students for a Democratic Society [2] (SDS) by extreme sectarians.
Now, while this short article may accurately explain how Privilege Theory became popular in parts of the communist left, it doesn't explain its general history. Derrick Bell, the father of Critical Race Theory, was a black man who took part in the civil rights struggle but, unlike Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, had no interest in socialism. The appeal of privilege theory isn't to whiteness—it's to middle-classness, because it does not challenge the privilege of the rich. Privilege theory only insists that the exploiters should look like the exploited.

ETA: From a response to the article, Tarred with the same brush | SocialistWorker.org:
It is quite clear that privilege theory became something else in the 1970s and '80s. The writings of J. Sakai of the Maoist Internationalist Movement are, to this reader, the clearest exposition of a theory where white workers are just not part of the revolutionary subject, and are considered instead as active beneficiaries of the system. This is a dangerous, demobilizing theory, and the ISO is correct in fighting it. But I certainly think it is unfair to tar Ted Allen with the same brush.