If you’d have told me when I was in my early-30s crying in my bathroom over the condition of my thighs that I’d be teaching a dance fitness class and in the best shape of my life when I am 44, I’d have thought you were mad. Simply mad.
It all started in 2009 when I was 36. I’d just moved to Florida and needed to make friends. I signed my then 5 year old daughter and myself up at the local YMCA. Surely we would meet people there. Except, I found myself back on the treadmills and not interacting with anyone. Passing the Group Fitness schedule I saw the word “Zumba.” What in the world is Zumba? I can’t recall if I asked the front desk or if I Googled it, but I convinced a mom-friend from our kids’ gymnastics class to go with me.
I was terrified to go to my first class. Oh the anxiety of it all.
It was confusing. I love Latin music, but the fitness part was baffling and I think the instructors hips weren’t actually attached to her spine. I was determined, however, to figure it out. Eventually, I was comfortable going by myself. My body was starting to understand what was happening and I found a different instructor whose class and routines made more sense rhythmically. The great thing about Zumba is, each instructor has their own style and each participant moves at the level with which they are most comfortable.
I went to class as often as possible. Here’s me in my mid-30s loving the gym? What the what?
Late summer of 2010 my then boyfriend suggested I get certified and teach my own class. Again, what? Me? Teach a fitness class? The training took eight hours and I was exhausted at the end of it, but I was certified in Basic Zumba. I had enough credibility behind me to present myself to gyms as an instructor.
I didn’t do anything with the certification for two months. A friend of mine whose class I had taken a number of times called me in October asking if I wanted a Thursday evening class. Um. OK?
It was go time.
Preparing for my audition (hello, anxiety), I went to every class I could find and maybe wore out the linoleum in my kitchen practicing. I put together a playlist and routines based on classes I’d attended and from instructors I admired. I was ready, and terrified. I had been told the former instructor of this same class was a monster. She’d pack in 80 people. They’d all leave dripping sweat, the mirrors would fog up and people had to be turned away at the door. She was a beast and the class expected high energy.
And then there was little ol’ me. *waves*
There were like 10 people in my first class. No one wanted to kill me. The lady behind me counted my mistakes, though.
Over the course of the last six and a half years, I’ve taught on every day of the week, mornings and evenings. I’ve taught in countless gyms across the county. I’ve lead I don’t know how many Zumba Bashes, which are jams that last two hours. I’ve taught as few as four people to as many as 70 in a class. That was a sight, indeed. And I have a following known as ZABs; Zumba Addicted Badasses. One of who was the lady who pointed out my mistakes; she’s one of my best friends. I’ve morphed my class from kind of fitnessy with a lot of dancing to equal parts of both. I’ve learned about my body. I know how it works and what I can do physically.
Squats are a constant; it’s always bathing suit season in Florida. I met the instructor who had the class before me. Her workouts were beastly, but she’s no monster; simply someone dedicated to helping people reach their fitness potential.
My knees, however, think I could perhaps do less squats and probably not jump so much. My quads are in agreement with my knees. It’s always leg day in Zumba.
Given that Zumba is mostly cardio, I eat whatever carbs I want. I need fuel to keep this body running. Protein is necessary as well. I found shakes are the best way to get that; I don’t really love cooking. I supplement my iron and B12; fatigue is a companion as I grow older. I wish Epsom salt showers were a thing.
I am, however, finally body-positive.
It took me almost seven years, but here I am in my mid-40s and I love my body, and my thighs. I have abs. My arms look great in tank tops. My daughter hasn’t ever heard me complain about myself; except the aches and pains of sore knees and tight quads.
Recovery takes longer now that I’m older. I feel the aches and pains all week. I’ve incorporated yoga into my cool down to help with stretching and flexibility. I could do more stretching or actually go to yoga. I give thanks I don’t have stairs in my home. There are days and have been years when I want to quit. I see women and men in their 60s and 70s at all fitness levels knocking it out with me; it’s motivating. My body is tired, my knees hurt, my neck gets stiff, but I’ve seen the effects of not moving, not pushing ourselves physically and stimulating our brains. I refuse to let that happen.
I plan on teaching for as long as I can. Someday, this body will give out. Maybe then I’ll go back to yoga. Maybe I should take that training…
Alicia “Woz” Wozniak is a Clevelander living in Tampa, with the rest of Ohio. She’s a mom, editor, marketer and Zumba instructor. She enjoys not moving on days she isn’t teaching. Recently, she’s managed to keep all, well most, of her plants alive.