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