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Stereotypes, Zumba, and Me

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Somewhere along the way I turned into a stereotype. I’m not exactly sure when this happened; I just know it did. Sadly, I have become the stereotypical, middle-aged, fat woman who can’t dance.

This epiphany came about a week ago. I blame the entire sordid mess on a trendy exercise thing sweeping my community called Zumba.

Go ahead and call me a Zumba hata, and don’t bother me with Zumba-ish success stories or testimonials on how many inches of belly fat just melted away because you cha-cha-cha-ed to the Zumba god. It’s all beginning to sound rather cultish to me.

My week started rather innocently enough. My exercise instructor, who I have known for several years and considered to be a friend, landed a Monday night Zumba teaching gig. I put on my cleanest exercise attire and drove the eight miles to attend her first class to support her.

About a half dozen other would-be Zumba neophytes showed up, but all that shaking, rattling, and rolling didn’t bode well for a middle-aged fat woman with back issues. No siree, Missy.

I can blame some of my failure on a slipped disc, but I can’t really explain why some of the Zumba-ites can make their behinds jiggle one way while their upper torsos glide in the opposite direction. I swear it’s as if they were channeling Shakira herself.

Nor can I explain why I travel to the right when everyone else jingle jangles to the left, or why my body heaves forward when everyone else hippity-hops backwards. Hails bails, it spins my head right ‘round. Forget about the Dove Self Esteem Fund for teen girls. How about a little Dove Love for non-dancing stereotypes like me?

What makes this entire realization even more painful is that I have actually taken dance lessons before – ballet, jazz and tap. In fact, I still have my tap shoes to prove it, and in a box stashed somewhere in my house is a VCR tape of a dance recital. I know it’s all rather hard to believe.

When I whined about this Zumba debacle to my lunch buddy, she leaned forward just a bit and in a whispering voice (apparently intended to soften the blow), stated rather matter-of-factly, “Carol, perhaps you never could really dance to begin with.”

My angst was compounded the next day when my exercise instructor announced she was abandoning our little independent exercise group to teach classes at the Zumba studio. “It’s not about the money,” she said.

Yeah, right.

I think she was going to start with the Can’t-We-Still-Be-Friends speech, but I left. I just didn’t have the stomach for it. Or, in my case, I guess I have too much stomach for it.

So now I have to find another place, but this time, I won’t make the same mistake of trying to build friendships and muscles at the same time. Lesson learned.

I’m fairly confident I can find a suitable place to work off those extra pounds. Now if I can only figure out a way to shed the stereotype as well.

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About Carol Richtsmeier

  • everyone should learn at their own pace as long as nothing by force.

  • littleleers

    It is easy why Zumba is popular. It is available just about everywhere and there are more instructors than Zumba jobs. The market is flooded in the big cities. For me, I am very turned off by the cult-like worship of Zumba. And since many of the instructors teach numerous classes during the week, quite a few have fairly boring routines.

    I am an amateur dancer, but have been doing it for over 8 yrs. And I just earned my AFAA certification for Primary Group Exercise.

    My problem with Zumba is that the DO NOT certify. They license you. You get to use their name and pay THEM money to do so. If you have a private studio for Zumba, then you likely will make decent money. However, most Zumba classes are in gyms/clubs where they pay poorly. I would like to teach once a week, but the payments to Zumba, Inc. is too steep.

    I also agree that Zumba does little to insure that their instructors teach safely. After a one day workshop, no testing or evaluation, they tell you to teach and push you to sign up for ZIN membership at $30/mos.

    Of the five different Zumba classes I attended only one instructor (extensive dance background) led us through a proper warm-up, cool down and stretching.

    Most recently, a long term Zumba instructor started a new class in our Church’s basement/gym. Not only was there no A/C, but the floor was hardwood over cement!!! My knees were killing me when class was over. Zumba instructors are not told that it is important to know about dance/exercise floor surface. If they did, likely a lot of their instructors would not have jobs.

    I just cannot get behind Zumba. It is way too expensive to get into unless you are getting paid per student and have a large following and lots of classes. Zumba encourages their people to get a Primary Group Cert. But, between the cost of keeping up CE’s for AFAA, paying yearly membership….and then paying again for Zumba monthly…No thanks! I work very hard on choreography combining aerobic moves intermingled with dance moves. There are some instructors who do not know what a ballistic move is and like to use those thinking erroneously that it makes their routine better.

    Most Zumba instructors either break even or actually end up paying for the privilege of teaching. The cost of the workshops and the monthly cost are too prohibitive for anyone wanting to do it part-time.

  • Pilar

    Carol, I just had to comment! I’ve been in the Fitness Industry for 20 years. I’ve done it all in that realm, however, recently an injury has put me in a limited state and while visiting a friend and former employee, whom I trained as a group exercise instructor, took her Zumba class and thoroughly enjoyed it. Saying that…..when I returned home, bored of the elliptical and bike, decided to venture into the local Zumba class. I have a Latin dance background so no big deal right? NOT! First the class started several minutes late, first impression shot! The instructor gave no verbal cues whatsoever! Too much hip hop and belly dancing and my injury didn’t allow me to move that way. I looked about the room and saw a variety of participants. It made me think, why modifications for high impact moves were never offered. Even her non-verbal cueing was blocked by the Zumbanites filling up every inch of the room. The cool down was brief and improper stretching was noticeable. I was very disappointed and have concluded that the industry has allowed instructors to fall short of their obligation to their clients. In my bewilderment decided to certify in Zumba. What I found out was that the company has taken the stance that language should not be a barrier and therefore cuing is not needed. They have also allowed too many styles into Zumba; Hip hop, belly dancing and so on. Remembering why I had enjoyed my friends class so much. She used combined knowledge and not limited to Zumba. She also utilized verbal cuing and offered variations, she slowed the music tempo down if needed. 90% of her class was Latin based and kept the moves simple so that no one in the class felt like a failure! I have to agree with you on what you stated and I too, have become disappointed with the instructors jumping on the band wagon with whatever the craze may be in the Fitness Industry. The industry itself is also jumping on these types of band wagons as they too make money off of them. I can go into greater detail about this however it may be quite long. Another thing I noticed at the Zumba Certification was that most of the participants had no teaching experience. Yet, they walked out of there as certified Zumba instructors! Insane!!! My skill on choreographing, cuing and music was acquired through very hard work and learning a specific method that is mathematically precise. Although, I learned that method 15 years ago, there are still instructors that can’t understand it and teach classes out of control. Even the certifying companies have excluded the part within the exam that forces instructor to know music counts, phrases and tempo.
    In any event, In my opinion instructors should follow Group Exercise Guidelines regardless of what class they conduct. In all honesty, even in my friends class, I don’t think I burned too many calories and for those that might comment on my statement…….Yes, moving is better than nothing, but there are so, so, so many other things you can do if you don’t like Zumba! Kickboxing provides a higher caloric burn and I’m with you on that! It’s totally fun! Best of luck to you!!!

  • Stacey

    Zumba takes a few classes to get used to. I’m usually very shy & cannot dance at all unless I’ve had a few drinks, lol, but once I realized that nobody cared if I messed up but me & I saw from very young to very old doing better than me, I was inspired. I hate exercising, but I love Zumba. My instructor is awesome and so is the music she chooses. It isn’t just Latin music or dancing. It can definitely become something very addicting though. But who doesn’t like to feel good? I do, however, need to purchase some non-traction shoes, as Zumba is very hard on knees, backs & hips. Especially if you have a history of past issues with those parts. At the end of the day though, to each their own. All I know is after moving to a foreign country & having a baby, it’s the first thing FOR MYSELF that I’ve truly enjoyed.

  • kid taxi

    hello im 33 and have always had trouble with my weight. i found that i get very bored with the latin zumba, however i did some looking around and found on youtube “zumba dance fitness” , there are alot of new fast paced hip hop zumba dances and i love it. my 15 yr old daughter does it with me. we look and feel so much better. ive lost 43 pds. in 4 months. this sure does beat sitting on the couch watching tv or complaining bout your weight and not doing anything about it.

  • Andrew

    Zumba is about disguising fitness within the dance. Its just a more accessible way to keep slim, if that help just one person change their life then what’s wrong with that.

  • Christina

    Carol, your intuitions are so correct – Zumba could be considered cultish and as crazy as that may seem, I know this firsthand. Many marriages of my girl and guy friends, including my own have be a victim of “Zumba culture” and Beto is living proof of this. It’s disgusting what Zumba has done to people, it’s all about ego, greed and selfishness based around “fitness.” I can assure you, you are not missing anything and the people that defend it are blind.

  • Kdnytransplant2008

    i am 48 years old. After having a transplant 3 years ago, i have gained 85 lbs. I have been going to zumba for 8 months now. I am still trying to get moves down, but having a blast and losing inches sometimes doing my own thing…Don’t give up on Zumba.

  • Amy

    If you don’t find instruction in your classes, get the dvd’s. No one is going to watch you while you jiggle away at home. But I’m also one for mixing it up. I would love to get my hands on choreography from Chicago. How awesome would that be. Alas, I cant’ take a class.

  • Kristy

    I love Zumba, I dislocated my knee and tore 3 ligaments back in April, here 7 months later I am able to particpate in Zumba classes. And it took me several sessions before I was able to pick it up and flow with the group however I stuck with it and have caught on. Thankfully I have a total of 10.5 lbs and have only been to 6 one hour classes. Whatever you do dont give up, find something you like and stick with it!

  • Susana

    I’d also agree with most of the comments about giving Zumba a chance. You won’t get it the first time, but hey, if you don’t enjoy it… then don’t force it. It’s supposed to be a way to make you feel better and have fun, and if it’s not for you, then it’s not for you. I’m an instructor but also understand that it’s not for everyone. On another note, I would say not to lose your friendship with her just based on the fact that she found something that she loves, or gets paid more to do… You can’t be conditional about your friendship. If you lost friends every time you made a positive change, or neutral change in your life that fulfills you, then they aren’t your real friends and you probably don’t need them. Don’t be that way to her, show your appreciatiaion for the time that she did share with you. She moved on, it’s life… to each it’s own. Show love and support on her new endeavours, if it doesn’t benefit you and you walk away then you’re showing you were just being opportunistic.

  • girl can sing


    I have heard so much about this Zumba but never took a class. They do offer it at my gym however, I’ve been told from friends it’s very boring. If you live in the Los Angeles area, there is a class called “Dance With Me” taught by Billy Blanks Jr. and his wife sharon. Whereas Zumba is mainly salsa type dances, they do everything from Country dancing to Bollywood and we have even learned actual choreography from “Chicago”, Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul dances. The Class is a mix of high cardio and dance so it stays interesting and it’s been proven to burn up to 1000 calories per class. I’ve seen people come to class ages 10 to 80 and they keep coming back. You will never see clicks forming like other classes or bad attitudes because they don’t allow it. Billy and Sharon are starting to certify teacher all over the US for 24 hour fitness clubs and they will be coming out w/ DVDS at end of the year. I’m not a trained dancer but after taking this class for about 7 month now, 3 times a week. I’ve lost 30 Lbs and have more flexibility than I did taking Bikram Yoga. Don’t give up. Find something you like to do so that you stick with it. There model is, they are not changing our bodies for summer or wedding. but for life.

  • Kin

    The article seems more like an exercise in creative writing than a legitimate critique of Zumba, but I find it odd that someone with a slipped disc could manage kickboxing. Or, was that also an attempt at humor?

  • I really appreciate all the comments… I guess the unsettling part about Zumba to those of us non-Zumba-ites is the lack of “instruction.” Instructors just point as if you are suppose to know what to do. So, you guys keep cha-cha-cha-ing! And me? Well, give me a good kickboxing class. Who knew hitting things could be so much fun!

  • Hello ladies (and gentlemen for that matter!!)
    I am a Zumba instructor in the UK and can understand how you can feel this way!! IT’S NORMAL!! Like any work out, you need to get used to it, from the fastest to the slowest of all ( I would not inflict on you my story about my Yoga trial!! Let’s just say that my body was saying:” NO you are not putting me in that position missy!!” LOL)

    Zumba is the same, you need to get used to the music specially if you are not familiar with latin rythms, then the choreography (I am from a dancing background and still needed few sessions) . Your muscles need to get used to the moves. Who cares if you’re getting it the first time or if you’re looking cool??? NO ONE!! Contrary to gyms … So you go the wrong way?? you might be lucky and find yourself smiling at the lovely lady or man next to you!! You need to go at your own rythm as long as you are pushing YOUR LIMITS, noone else’s. Bottom line: just enjoy yourself and in no time you’ll find yourself smiling and sweating like no tomorrow!! Oops forgot: zumba might have some side effects. It creates a larger circle of friends and is highly addictive. To be used without caution (unless you have a medical condition, like all other fitness activities)

  • Fabi

    ..well, I guess, I missed the joke as well. =( I felt sad that your got turn-off after your 1st class. I grew up thinking I had two left feet. And was a “closet dancer”. It took me several classes to not feel spastic! lol. ..and to accept that no one was watching me. I would recommend ZUMBA GOLD it’s a great workout for beginners. Best of luck. *smiles~Fabi*

  • carolyn banks

    Fiona, you were supposed to LAUGH, not lecture!

  • fiona

    You took one class and abandoned it? I’ve always had 2 left feet (and I’m older than you!). Just go at your own pace, learn the moves – it took me three classes to even get close! Nobody is looking at you, nobody is competing, just get with the music. Try again – even just moving to music will help your fitness.
    Try yoga classes in between – the stretching will feel good. Don’t give up!