Friday, November 12, 2010

What Zumba Has Reminded Me About Life and Teaching

Zumba is big for me right now. Anyone else out there Zumba? I realize it's been around for a while and that I am sort of late catching on to this trend.

After the first Zumba class (which was dizzying in its intensity, and I really had to learn what I was doing and how and where to move my feet, and where to stand so that I could see the teacher to get the steps right--never look at the other people around you; they will often just screw you up and don't always know what they're doing and can't necessarily dance that well, either), I found myself hooked.

That initial class was fun, it was fast, it was new, and Zumba was clearly an activity--like yoga--that I expect will get my head in shape, as well as my body. An hour of Zumba is such a flurry of movement that there is no time, really, to think about yourself and harp on your own worries; it's all you can do to keep up. (The happy, pounding music helps lift your spirits, too.)

We have a wonderful teacher who is now out (oh, no!) for eight weeks, recuperating from a torn ligament in her heel. She hobbled into the studio today wearing an aircast...I felt so bad for her. I know exactly what that's like. 

I felt worse for the Zumba teacher today than I did for myself when I broke my leg two years ago. That's because I know that her identity--indeed, her very job--is tied to her movement. 

"I felt so depressed. I was sitting on my couch crying," she said, "I miss my classes so much!"

Again, I knew exactly what she meant. When you can tell that you're making a difference and that other people depend on you to teach them something new, lift them up, help them realize what they are capable of achieving...well, it's a valuable thing for a teacher as well as her or his students. There's something reciprocal happening, and when it's just right, when you're really helping people learn, it's a boost for the teacher, too.

It's not always that great (teaching, I mean). Some days are miserable. Sometimes, people aren't paying attention or you can tell they're whispering about you or giving you weird looks. Some entire years of teaching can be depressing, while other whole years can be great. 

Some years, you might even have spies in your classes (happened to me, no exaggeration), and b.s. such as that can turn you off completely and make you question your entire life and vocation. Here's another lesson: no one deserves that, spy kids. No one. Especially not someone like me.

We had a sub in Zumba today and it was so clear that all of us resented the poor sub. You know how kids usually hate having a sub and tend to torture substitutes? It was, just a tiny bit, like that. 

I, of course, paid total attention to the substitute teacher--because I've been there, but also because I'm just always nice, anyway--but some other ladies were being difficult and talking (or, not listening) and rolling their eyes.

No, the sub was not as good a teacher as our regular one. Her cueing was off in places, and she liked to fancy it up by throwing in these ridiculous moving-around-the-room-and-in-useless-circles steps. She made Zumba harder than it needed to be, really, but I also knew that she was just doing that to try and prove that she had something new to offer.

Despite the huffs and gasps of some of the old-time Zumba dancers, I could appreciate what the sub was doing. I didn't like it all that much, either, but it wasn't the same old routine, and that can be good, as well. We all need a change now and then. Change--and learning something new--keeps us sharp.

There was a get well card going around the Zumba class today for our injured regular teacher. Most people signed their names and a quick "feel better soon!" I actually wrote something, and not because I am a writer. 

I wrote something to the teacher because--even though I do not know her personally--I knew it would matter.

Thank you for helping me feel like I could fly again, G., I wrote. Your Zumba class has changed my life.  You've given me an amazing feeling of freedom (not just in my stiff ankle), and dancing in your classes has made me remember that I can be beautiful. Learning this new skill has been utterly transforming. 

Then, of course, I wrote, Get well soon.

I know she will appreciate that. I know that notes such as those will renew her sense of purpose and give her some more strength.

We all need that, don't we? We need to appreciate each other and learn new things and not simply resent or roll our eyes at what we don't understand.


  1. What I love most about your blog, Elizabeth, is that everything you write has layers of meanings. And I love Zumba, too!

    Hang in there,

    A friend

  2. Thanks much. It is heartening to realize that not everyone takes this at face value, or merely literally. LIfe is so much more interesting when you can appreciate the metaphors, too.