Monday, February 28, 2011

Zumba’s trying to kill me

I tried Zumba last night for the first time. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be doing again anytime soon. That’s because, despite this being the winter of my discontent, I do retain a stubborn self-preservation instinct. I barely survived that Zumba class last night and I don’t think I’d be so lucky next time.

For those of you who haven’t tried Zumba, you could Wikipedia it but I’ll give you a better explanation than those clowns. As far as I can tell, Zumba is aerobics on methamphetamines, with a Latin twist. Remember Jazzercise? This is Salsaercise, but done at such a furious, unrelenting pace that you will wonder if it isn’t maybe attempted homicide? Think The Red Shoes, but with sneakers and more sweat.

It’s not that I didn’t like Zumba. I don’t even know if I liked it or not, because I was too busy trying not to have cardiac arrest in front of my friends and neighbors.

I mean, I love salsa and meringue: I love any kind of dance which relies heavily on the hips, and involves shimmying. Part of the advantage of being more ample than I used to be is that I’ve got the goods to shake. But although Zumba relies heavily on the fast foot action of salsa and meringue, and on the attitude, there is a lot of moves which would never be found in any kind of dance, moves which were generically engineered to maximize your workout, moves you do not because they look good but because they are good for that muscle group, There is nothing I hate more than bald-faces calisthenics masquerading as something fun.

Someone in our building sent an email around, announcing a Zumba class starting up in the gym. I was all for it – had heard it was a high-intensity, really effective workout. Of course, that should have signaled to me that it would involved panting and sweating, but as you see, I live in a fantasy land.

As I neared the gym for the inaugural meeting of Zumba club, I could hear the pounding music. It gave me an uneasy feeling. In my experience, the volume of the music tends to correlate directly with the amount of effort you have to exert in the class. This didn’t bode well.

The room was packed, five times as many people as showed up for our peaceful, slow Pilates classes that were JUST my speed. We crowded into lines, too close together and the instructor, a trim, energetic man in a bright orange Zumba Tshirt, walked to the front of the room.

“There are only two rules to Zumba,” he said, bouncing already, “Or I should say, there are NO rules in Zumba but two rules in this class. Don’t stop moving and have fun.”

I wanted to tell him that for me, those were mutually exclusive but I didn’t think he’d warm to that and besides the music had been cranked up even higher and the class had started. The music was too loud for him to yell instructions, so she just modeled the moves and signaled how many reps we’d do with his fingers. This nonverbal system probably would work for Zumba experts, dancers and people who are really fast on the uptake but for most of us, it meant significant confusion.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if you get the moves right, as long as you keep moving.

The first ten, fifteen minutes weren’t so bad. That is probably because that was the warm-up. But when the fourth song started, he did a move which made me laugh out loud.

“A traveling move?” I thought, “Oooh, this is gonna be a disaster!”

It was one of these electric-slide-type side-traveling steps, but the trouble was not only were we cramped way too close together, but since the instructor was facing us, he was doing each move backwards, and half of us thought we were supposed to go in the same direction as him while the other half thought we were supposed to go the other way. There were several collisions and near collisions. Then he signaled with his hands we were going backwards.

“Oh shit!” I thought.

And as I guessed, I did promptly bump my big ass right into the nice, sweaty lady behind me. It was an uncomfortable encounter.

“So sorry!” I panted, “But you should know – I may—accidentally—kill you.”

Then the music sped up and things got hazy. Eating dinner beforehand, it turned out, was not such a capital idea. I was beginning to feel seriously sick to my stomach, like I had had one too many drinks and was about to toss my cookies. In fact, it seems probable I would toss my cookies and I seriously considered absenting myself. But no one ELSE was walking out of Zumba class, miserably defeated, and I didn’t want to be the only one who couldn’t hack it. So I grimaced and hoped for the best, moving my feet so fast the worn rubber soles of my sneakers became dis-adhered from my shoe. Then I was tripping over the flopping sole of my sneakers and lurching around in addition to crashing into people who werecelectric sliding in the opposite direction as me. Soon after the nausea came the light-headedness. The room was spinning and the Zumba instructor was smiling madly, jumping so fast he was literally blurred. Was this all a bad dream? Had someone slipped a rufi in my water bottle? At what point do I cry Uncle?

I looked to my sides and the women there – not Olympians but mothers of young children trying to get back in shape, like me – were perfectly happy, panting and sweaty but smiling. No, I could not admit defeat here. I would rather pass out in a pool of my own vomit, having a heart attack, all of which was imminent. Then at least maybe they’d ban Zumba all over the country, make it illegal, and my death would have been worth it.

I don’t remember much about the second half of the class, except looking down at my watch every five minutes and having a panic attack about how much time was left. I do also recall a series of moves that involves such fast and emphatic humping motions with the pelvis that I could not stop myself from laughing out loud, even though that extra physical exertion nearly did me in. It was like a humping seizure. In fact, it was probably the best moment of the class, because remembering it now still make me laugh out loud.

I walked through the door to my apartment afterwards and collapsed on the couch.

“Never,” I panted, “again.”

“Did they make you sweat?” David asked, “You hate that.”

Zumba, I wish you the best, but we’re done. Caput. And frankly, I think you owe me a new pair of sneakers.