Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The clothes - Part 3

I've only mentioned Zumba pants off and on so far but now I want to talk about them in a little more depth. For you readers who don't already own at least one pair, I'm sure you're probably asking yourself what's so great about them? Oh, you mean aside from everything? Let me clarify that when I say Zumba pants, I am referring specifically to the cargoes. Zumba does make other types of pants and if you're interested, look here for a complete list of every type of pant currently available.

About the cargoes - I've never seen anyone look bad in these! Seriously, they look superb on anyone and everyone regardless of height, weight, size, and shape. What other pants can claim that? They are made of a material that is even more lightweight than what yoga pants are typically made off. This means they move better and keep you cooler and in Zumba cooler is always better. If you've never seen Zumba pants up close, or had the opportunity to experience the texture, the closest fabric comparison I can think of to make for you would be to the material a windbreaker jacket is made out of.

On the fashionable side, Zumba cargoes always have ribbons or tassels on the pockets. Each pair of full length cargo pants usually has four pockets with ribbons, two on the back and two on the sides of the legs. They also have regular pockets up by the waistband you can use a little more easily; as in you don't have to unwind a ribbon or slip a tassel out to get into it. The long pants all have elastics at the ankles that let you pull them up to capri length as needed (once again, cooler is better). The cargo capri style is just as great. They have all the same features as the full length pant, and they're great for summer. If I know me, and I do, I'm probably going to own some pairs eventually.

The ribbons and tassels on these pants are the real selling point. If you haven't seen them in action, you might not see the big deal. To the left and right are my Feelin' It cargo pants. That's really what they're called and if you don't believe me, check the link above, these are actually still for sale. The ribbons say "Feel the music" on them.
They are my most recent pair and I got them for Valentine's Day this year. I'm not really a jewelry and flowers kind of girl as you may have guessed. After 12 years of marriage Bry knows me very very well. And after supporting me through three years of Zumba, he knows what I really want. Babe, if you're reading this, I'm already thinking ahead to Christmas.

The first pair I ever bought were the same as the pair I first noticed Rae wearing.
Black with long silver ribbons and to this day these are my favorites. I owned this pair before my first Zumbaversary. When I ordered them, Bry suggested it would be cheaper to buy some silver ribbon and staple it to pants I already owned.
Funny man my husband! Oh wait, he was serious. Like I said, if you haven't seen these in action... He has since seen them in action (and he does have a great sense of humor).

Another wonderful thing about these pants is the nylon/spandex waistband. Very very forgiving! I've spent the past three months steadily losing the baby weight that I gained with my younger son. It was a lot too. Even with the 12 lb loss in the first trimester I gained about 45 lbs total. I'm one of those unlucky women who cannot lose weight while nursing. I discovered this while nursing my older son. Any attempt to do so resulted in my milk supply being compromised. So having learned from experience, I didn't even try to lose the baby weight until my younger son was weaned. Oh, I still went to class every week, that wasn't up for debate. To maintain a good milk supply I just ate whatever I wanted without thinking about it. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal huh? Oh it was! I was able to nurse -and- account for the high calorie burn Zumba is so famous for. One day, I'll post about the challenges of making it out to class while juggling the needs of a newborn, but for now back to the baby weight. My younger son turned 1 about three months ago and he was clearly ready to wean. So bye bye "eat whatever diet". Time to start keeping track again.

Front - The patch says: Go Red por tu corazon
One of my goals was to fit back into my red pair. These were the second pair of Zumba pants I bought. My three black pairs are larges but my red pair is a medium. The thing I've found about cargo pants, and Zumbawear in general, is that they tend run a little small. If you are a medium in regular clothes, buy a large in Zumbawear. So, why is one of these things not like the others? My red pair is a specialty pair that represents Zumba's Party Hearty. Like my Rhythm Rocker shirt, the proceeds from the sale of Party Hearty stuff went to a cause; and that was heart disease. I love these red pants but they are the hardest to match a shirt to. They are the only reason I still have grey and black tank tops hanging in my closet.

In the last three months, I've lost nearly 25lbs and all of a sudden all my Zumba pants felt a wee bit loose. Normally with pants, I wouldn't bother taking them to a tailor but I did with these for a couple reasons. The first one being that Zumba pants fit differently pre-class than they do post-class. Zumba pants seem to get looser and ride down more the sweatier you get.
**Side note: Dear Zumba, please include a drawstring in the waistband of future styles. Sincerely, the Zumba Mommy**
It's actually not that big a deal if they aren't too terribly loose. A much bigger deal if they are quite a bit loose. The last thing I wanted was for them to fall down in the middle of a song. It's Zumba, not flash dance! The other reason I took my Zumba pants to a tailor was that three out of four pairs are no longer available for purchase. Basically, irreplaceable. Call me sentimental, but I am not going to get rid of them and the memories they hold. The black pair to the left and right happens to be the pair I wore during my pregnancy with my younger son; at least until the third trimester. Hey, the waistband might be forgiving, but there is a limit! I would rather pay to have the ones I own fixed than buy all new because I love them; plus it's cheaper anyway. When I dropped off the pants at the tailor's, he asked me what kind of pants they were. I got the distinct impression that he'd never seen any before.

Tailor (adjusting the waistband): What was it you said these were for again?
Me: Dance class. I do Zumba.
Tailor: Oh. Okay...

I came back to get them one week later and in that time he must have learned something about Zumba from someone or some place because when he saw me walk in...

Tailor: Aah! You are here to pick up your Zumba pants!
Me: Yes.
Tailor (bringing them out of the back): You must be the instructor!

Heh. I suppose I can see why he'd think so given that he'd just finished altering four pairs of Zumba pants. I mean, who else but the instructor would own that many?

Me: No sir I am not. I am just -that- student who can't help but own four pairs of pants.

Best advice: Zumba pants are like Zumba shoes - don't buy them until you're really sure you love Zumba well enough to do it long term or you're just wasting your money on pants you can't wear out anywhere. If you do make the investment, take good care of them. I learned the hard way that the cargoes with the metal rings need to line dry because banging around in the dryer can break the rings. Although Jae says she washes hers inside out to protect the rings even through the wash, clever girl. And here's one quick tip: If you want your ribbons to be perfectly flat and straight, pull them out of the metal rings before washing and drying them.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The ball-change (or as I like to call it: my arch nemesis)

Having come to Zumba in my late twenties with absolutely no dance background to speak of, there was a great deal that I didn't know. Much of this, as I came to realize, was actually pretty common knowledge to people who knew dance. Enter the ball-change. Wait, let me try that again in my best James Earl Jones voice... Enter the dreaded ball-change! The first time I ever encountered this step in a song, and for a really, really long time afterwards, I felt like everyone in the room knew some secret I didn't.

I know the origin, I can pinpoint it. Having taken 10 weeks of classes back in 2010, I decided to be brave an try out a little dance fitness studio that had only recently opened in a little strip mall next door to a grocery store. The owner said they had moved in because at their previous location they were next door to an insurance company and apparently those guys didn't appreciate loud Zumba music all day long, I can't imagine why.... No, really, I can't imagine it! She said she was just tired of hearing them complain. It was a nice little place and to attract clientele they offered the first class free as a trial. I had two friends with me, Don and Kay. Kay had taken two or three classes before and was, just like me, attracted to the idea of a free trial. So one Friday afternoon in March we all trooped out there. I can definitely say it was an interesting experience, interesting for a few reasons.

This was my first time doing a Zumba class without Rae. That all by itself was pretty weird for me. I had gotten very used to her particular style and these ladies had a completely different style. That was the second thing, the owner and another lady were team-teaching the class. They were very good dancers, no question, but they put the music on at the start of the class and didn't shut it off again for an hour. If I wanted to stop in between songs for some water, good for me, but then I'd better be prepared to catch up. I was definitely not used to no water breaks. And when I say break, I don't mean we all stand around for ten minutes chatting before we start again, no I mean we take 20 seconds between songs to rehydrate! Since they didn't stop in between, they also never went over a single step. For me, that was a little confusing, but I'd had ten classes so I knew at least some stuff. Poor Kay though, this little excursion was only her fourth class and she told me after that she'd spent most of it dancing in a circle and waving her arms (basically doing her own thing) because the teachers were too hard to follow. I was inclined to agree with her and in that moment, I truly understood why people would try Zumba and then not want to go back because they found it too difficult. As I said, these ladies had great skill as dancers, but their class really was sink or swim. I came away from that thinking how lucky I was to have had Rae to start with because if my first class ever had been at with them instead I probably would not have lasted a month.

Okay, that was some background for you. Where does the ball change come in? Let me get to that. The last song these ladies did before cooling down the class was Let Me Think About It by Ida Corr.
**Side note: I found out much later that this is a ZIN song. Zumba provides CD's and DVD's of music and choreography to the members of ZIN and this means that many songs are very widely used. For the individual instructor, it's up to them how much or how little of that provided  choreography they want to keep the same or want to change. The song will typically have the same foundation from instructor to instructor with variations that reflect their own personalities and styles.**, Let Me Think About It... This song would continue to mess with my head for years until Jae finally straightened me out (she excels at straightening out any dance issue I have). It has a lot of ball-changes in it, only I didn't know back then that that's what I was looking at. Every time I would encounter this song, the teacher called it "footwork". The step is difficult to describe, but here goes: With your weight on your left foot bring your right foot in front and a little across your body and tap the floor with your heel; swing that same foot around to your right side and tap the floor there with your toe; swing that same foot around behind you and put your weight on it; shift your weight quickly back to the left then just as quickly back to the right again. Now all your weight's on the right and you're free to swing your left around and do the same move on that side. The quick shift in weight from right to left to right is in fact the ball-change but it would be a long time before I actually knew that. Encountering that step for the first time with no background knowledge or initial instruction, I didn't understand it and I couldn't follow it. So what did I do back then when I couldn't follow a step? Remember anyone? I'd stop to watch!

That's exactly what I did in this situation. I stopped moving to let my brain absorb and process what it was seeing without interruption. I kind of leaned in and cocked my head to one side to get a better look and I did it without even thinking about where I was. When the song was over, every single person in the room turned and looked at me and one of the teachers said something like, "Oh! I felt so bad for you! You just stopped!" Looking around, I was thinking how do all these people know that? I was in the back row, with nobody behind me... The answer was, that like many dance studios, this one had its entire front wall mirrored. Oops! I wasn't used to thinking about mirrors because the yoga studio where I did my Saturday class didn't have any. So I was a little self-conscious... No, I'll be honest, I was mortified. I was thankful it was the last song so my friends and I could stretch and leave. Before we could, the teacher who "felt so bad" came over and offered to show me that step I'd been trying to figure out. Okay, that was pretty nice of her, maybe she really did feel bad. She slowed the whole thing way way down: Tap... Tap... Shift... Your... Weight. At that pace, if I thought really really hard about every last little nuance, I could do it. As soon as I'd try it full speed, it all fell apart. I left there thankful beyond belief for the kind of teacher Rae was and the fact that Let Me Think About It wasn't a song she did.

As I said, that song messed with me for a long time. And as I also said, many ZIN songs are widely used. One weekend, some time later, Rae had to be away so a sub came to teach the class. Nice fellow, the first and only male teacher I've ever encountered in the wild (a rare species around here in spite of the founder of Zumba being male). He had a pretty good playlist actually, and one of the songs on it sounded strangely familiar but I couldn't place it, the memory was elusive. I was having a good time with it too....right up until he yelled, "Footwork!" Then I was seized with the memory of exactly what song this was and that was it for me, it was all over and the fat lady had sung (not Ida Corr - the figurative fat lady). I sort of shuffled my way through the rest of the song, all the while noticing that every single other person in the room could do this but me. Why was I the only person who had trouble with Let Me Think About It? I never found out the answer.

Lets skip ahead to May, 2009. A friend of mine, whose name also happens to be Rae but for distinction I'll have to call her Rae-Mae, invited me to a Zumbathon in celebration of Cinco De Mayo. Two hours of Zumba? Sounded like great fun. So I pick up Rae-Mae and we ride out to this little place in a really nice part of town. It was packed. I was amazed that many people could fit on that floor. This event happened to have two teachers and they were dressed alike which I thought was kind of cute (Rae? Jae? Hrmm? Kidding...). I was having a great time at this thing with Rae-Mae and there came a point where I heard a song come on. I turned to her and said, "I feel like I know this one but I'm not sure from where.". I'm sure by now you can guess what's going to happen. You'd think I'd learn, but the fact is I much preferred to put that song out of my head entirely which...let me -not- think about it... Heh. So my first introductions to the ball-change were filled with neuroses. Frankly, reading this back to myself, I realize I should be giving Jae considerably more credit because she's the one who got me past all the BS with this song.

Let's switch songs for a quick minute. Now I don't know the name of it, so sorry. The description is: the fast tap ball-change one with the cross/rock step where the guy sings in Spanish about his kitchen. Vague much? Again, sorry. Rae introduced this one that summer. Yes it has a ball-change, and she actually called it a ball-change (thanks Rae, proper vocabulary matters!). So as far as I knew back then, -this- was my first real introduction the ball-change. Because the other was always called "footwork", I had no idea it was basically the same thing. So the song. It has three main parts: the cross/rock step, the ball-change, and merengue arms in the middle. Once again, I was the only one in the room that couldn't do a step. You see why I call the ball-change my arch nemesis? But with this song, something interesting happened for the first time ever and it had to do with the cross/rock step. I was one of about three others in the room beside Rae that could actually do it the first time out. What? Me? Apparently. Afterward people actually asked me how I was doing that. I didn't know! My feet just did it and I still don't know why. Everyone thought that was the hard part, and there I am going, "Forget that, how are you doing the ball-change?" It figures my weird self would pick the simple thing to get worked up about instead of the hard thing. I got Rae to show it to me after class and when it was slow enough, I could do it. At full speed... As much as I hate to admit it, I stepped on my own foot. For this particular song, it took a long time for me to really get it. I spent a great many months doing a "fake it til you make it", but made it I eventually did. The more often we did the song, the more often I got to watch the step and then one day, almost like magic, I could just see it clearly.

Back to Let Me Think About It. About a year had gone by since the first time I'd heard the song and it was late winter of 2010. There had been so much time between the Cinco De Mayo party and then that I'd really just forgotten about it. I walk into class one Saturday morning and like always Rae has her music going before class. What did I hear playing? One guess. I froze in the doorway. I may have been blocking other people, I don't even know. It was at least half a minute before I could get my body to move. Panic! Why, WHY must every instructor have this song? I took a few deep breathes and tried to reassure myself that it was Rae, and if she was introducing a new song, she always went over new stuff. I took my spot and just tried to relax but that was hard, standing there thinking at any minute that song was going to start. It never did and at first I thought that was good, then I decided that was bad because she must be planning it for the next week. But the next week came and went with no Ida Corr, and two weeks turned into four, which turned into eight, and in all that time, no song. In fact, she never even played it before class again. So once more, I just let all of it fade to nothingness.

Skip ahead two years and it's early summer in 2012. In that amount of time there were a couple big changes that I won't go into to much detail about right now. One was that I was back after recovering from delivering my second son. And the second was that Jae had taken over teaching Saturday mornings. One morning after class, and I don't even remember how the conversation began, I confessed to Jae that there was a song I didn't like because I couldn't do it. She hadn't heard of it before. At least there was one other person in the world besides me who didn't already know that song. That didn't last long. She decided, after finding the song that she was going to do it for class. "Don't hate me, but I'm going to do this one." "Okay, that's fine." Panic! More deep breathes... It'll be okay, she'll actually teach it, find a way to make me understand. And that good readers is exactly what happened.

Once Jae had the song ready for class, she demonstrated the step and said these magic words: "This step is just a ball-change." You know all the bells and whistles that go off when someone wins big on The Price Is Right? That's what was happening inside my head at that moment. Having already figured out the other ball-change from the other song some time back, I knew that was a step I could handle and when we got into the song and hit the "footwork" (try to imagine me saying that word sarcastically) it just all came together and suddenly I could do this thing and it wasn't scary and there was no more panic. Empowered! In truth, I felt like I was kicking its butt. Take that, Let Me Think About It! Take that.

Best advice: Take deep breaths and keep calm. Try not to panic. Whatever it is, it's not so bad. Just keep at it, because whatever -it- is for you will happen eventually.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The clothes - Part 2

In my previous post about clothes, I really focused more on the practicalities of being dressed appropriately for class and only briefly mentioned the idea of fashion. Zumba fashion? That's a real thing? Oh yes indeed, and I want to discuss here how it's become part of life.

Zumba is really a corporation. One division is their line of clothes. Created mostly for instructors and their students (like me) who just can't resist. Instructors get a discount when they shop if they are ZIN (Zumba Instructor Network) members, but students (like me) never do. Zumba sells pants and tops, shoes, and accessories - a lot bracelets actually...

Within the first year, I owned my first pair of pants and currently I own four pairs. Pictures to come! But today I still want to talk about tops. I love these ribbed racer-back tank tops, they work really well for Zumba. They're stretchy, they move well when you do, and they're a nice poly-cotton blend that helps keep you cool. In my previous post, I showed a picture of the first tank tops I bought (left). To remind you, there were only three colorful ones and the rest were brown, grey, or black. In a way, you can consider that the "before" picture. As time wore on, I added more to this collection but the brightly colored ones never outnumbered the more muted colors. By my third Zumbaversary, I'd say it was about 50-50. That was only six months ago. Below is a picture of what my closet looks like today. 

So what changed? A combination of things actually.

The first is that back in March I got brave enough to finally buy some tank tops that actually say Zumba on them. For three years, the only Zumbawear I bought was pants. My reasoning was that I didn't want to be mistaken for the teacher because surely they're the only ones who can get away with wearing two things that say Zumba at a time....right? Maybe, and maybe not. Maybe there was a deeper reason that I was ignoring. And would I ever really be mistaken for the teacher? Hah! Anyway, the two I bought were, you guessed it, black and grey. Very subtle, and that's why I bought them. But hey, it was a start I suppose. 

The second was that just this April, Jae convinced me I could actually wear orange; that it was not a color that looked horrible on me as I had believed all my life. In the above picture, third in from the right, is a an orange tank top with a pink back. That is a Zumbawear tank top that says: Rhythm Rocker, World Hunger Stopper. I loved it the first time I saw it on the Zumba site. 30% of the proceeds from the sale of that top went towards putting an end to world hunger. I loved the cause and the message, what I didn't love was the color. Jae has this exact same top and I said something like, if only they made the same top in reverse colors - pink tank with an orange back, I'd buy one. She encouraged me to just get it if I liked it so much because orange looked fine. She knows I tend to over think things, but as you can see, I listened to her because there it hangs in the picture.

The third was that I discovered in June that DSW, my long time store of choice for buying Pumas, no longer carries my style of shoe. After I calmed down from having a freak out, I decided that I could just go online. Well, if I was going to do -that- then I wasn't limited to what DSW had in stock and I was going to get some pair other than white/silver this time, something brighter that would go much better with my Rhythm Rocker shirt. In the midst of the shoe search, Bry discovered that some of the Zumba brand shoes were on sale for 50% off (reg. $75). Sold! These arrived with four different colors of laces...four! Grey, black, neon green, and neon orange. So which pair of laces should I put on the shoes, neon green or neon orange? Liking them both and unable to decide, I sought a second opinion. Jae said how about one of each? Sold! Here's a picture to give you an idea.

I told her I was tired of black and then made an offhand remark, "Can't hide in the back? Hide in black." Whoa... Wait, what was that I had just said? It was meant to be funny, and it kind of was but then again, at the same time, kind of not. Feeling a little freaked, I went straight to my closest and pulled out brown, grey, and black until there was only one or two of each left. And even though I did that, I -still- didn't fully understand my problem until...

The fourth and final thing. It was a heat wave we had just this month. Those tank tops I pulled out of use and stashed on a shelf really came in hand with how hot it was all that week. On the third day, I pulled on this light grey one I'd bought at Old Navy. One I always thought actually looked really good with all my pairs of Zumba pants. Brushing my hair, I saw myself in the mirror and I just could not believe how blah I looked in that top. I thought orange washed me out? Oh no siree. This, THIS, washed me out. It looked pretty bad actually and as I stared at the me in the mirror, I saw that me I thought I'd left behind some time back, that one who liked the back row. Remember her? She was still there haunting me and had been all this time. I just hadn't realized it.

Well, I'm done with the hiding. So done. I said as much to Jae and her words of wisdom, in all their awesomeness, were, "Shine bright like a rainbow!" That other me can take her browns and her greys and her blacks and hit the road because she's not welcome here anymore. The thing about Zumba is that two people can't occupy the same one spot on the floor.

Best advice: I'll say it again - Shine bright like a rainbow (thanks Jae...).

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The dance styles and the music

Before I begin today, I think some of you may be wondering by now if everyone I'm writing about only has a single-syllable name. Of course they don't, that's simply how I've chosen to introduce them to you, the reader, and how I'll continue as I introduce new people. They aren't even actually known by the happy little nicknames I've come up with and I certainly don't address them that way in reality. I'm simply offering a modicum of privacy and readers may infer what they like about what the short forms really stand for. I will neither confirm nor deny. Bad Russian spy movie anyone?

So, on to the topic at hand. I think it was almost three months before I began to notice that Rae was calling the dances we did by specific names. She'd say things like: "This one is a cumbia." Or, "This one is a salsa.". First of all, looking back at it now, I think it's crazy that it took me so long to notice these dance styles all had different names but I guess that's what happens when you get so focused on not falling down, or not getting your right foot stomped on again, or figuring out how to do a bloody ball-change (gosh darn it all!). Second of all, I had barely heard of even half of the styles she was introducing. Reggaeton? What in the world was that? The -ton at the end of that word is actually pronounced more like "tone" than like "ton" by the way. And therein was my issue. The majority (I'd guess maybe two thirds) of what we do in Zumba is Latin-based and I didn't (still mostly don't) know much Spanish or even all that much about Latin culture. Think of me as this girl: Don-day ess-tah el ban-yo? (¿Donde esta el baño?).

Do you need to know Spanish to do Zumba? Absolutely not (unless you want to know what the artists are singing about but that's hardly make or break). There are distinct styles used in Zumba that mostly come from Central and South America and learning a little about these and the cultures they represent actually does help. Well, at least it really helped me... Learning about the origin of cumbia, for example, helped me get better at it because I understood what the dance style was trying to express. Cumbia is a blend of native Colombian and African steps and the fusion came when slaves were brought from Africa to the region. Reggaeton, so I learned, began in Puerto Rico and is blend of Jamaican style and Latin hip-hop. There are a lot of different Latin dance styles used in Zumba, these are only a few.

So then what's that other third? It's comprised of several styles from other parts of the world and these include things like North American hip-hop, African, belly dance, and bhangra to name a few. Rae's even got one inspired by the Maori of New Zealand. This is one of the many reasons I love Zumba. There are so many different styles of dance, such a wide variety of music, it just never gets boring. Beyond that, the different styles move your body in different ways which tone different muscle groups. It's a very well rounded workout from a lot of standpoints.

The music. The music is fantastic. Over the past three and half years of doing Zumba, I've been exposed to music I would have -never- thought to listen to otherwise and at this point, I so rarely listen to anything else. It's upbeat, it's energetic and happy, sometimes it's even funny if you know the lyrics. I read something written by someone that went like this: Good Zumba teachers eat, sleep, live and breathe their music. From what I know and have seen of the instructors in my life, this is pretty true. Actually, it's true of me too and I'm not even a teacher. If I have music playing, at home or in the car, it's my Zumba music. My sons are used to this and both seem to have developed favorites over time. My older son loves a French reggaeton called Hella Decalé and the new remixed version of Ice Ice Baby created for Zumba. That one by Vanilla Ice? Yep, that's him and he's "back with a brand new invention", so he says. My younger son loves Say Na which is a bhangra song so it has a distinct East Indian sound. And I've mentioned before how much he seems to like Pitbull. I've even caught Bry occasionally humming something I know he's heard me playing. For me, I love the songs with Latin flavor, there is something about the rhythms that I just feel an affinity for. I don't think I've ever heard anything by Wisin And Yandel that I didn't like (Líderes is a killer album in my opinion). My favorite song, ever, is Danza Kuduro by Don Omar and it's sung in Spanish. I won't tell you how much of my free time I devoted to learning the lyrics so I could sing along. My family as a whole has been very accepting of "Mommy's music" when not all of it is to their taste. did I get my Zumba music from? A lot of music that started out specific to Zumba has become quite a bit more mainstream. Most of it has been available from iTunes and the Amazon MP3 Store for a while now. Zumba has produced several "greatest hits" type CD's in the last couple years available for purchase by anyone, not just instructors.  Also, there have been several well known mainstream artists who have made contributions specifically to Zumba and/or have made personal appearances at the annual Zumba conventions (that's right, I said conventions... watch out Trekkies!). I happen to be very good friends with Jae and she's been -extremely- generous with recommending songs she thinks I'd like. Who's Jae? She's also my Zumba teacher. Yes, I do have two Zumba teachers, Rae and Jae (and no, their names don't rhyme for real, wouldn't that just be silly...). How come I have two? I'll get to that in good time, but I will say this one thing now. Remember how I said Danza Kuduro was my favorite song ever? I might have mentioned this to Jae and she might have, in all her awesomeness, developed her own choreography for it (thanks Jae!).

My father said something interesting to me once after hearing me talk about how much I love this music and dancing to it. While I don't remember his exact words, the sentiment was that he didn't really feel Latin music had a beat or rhythm he could dance to. I was so surprised by this I think I stuttered a bunch of: "Wha? How...? I don't...? Huh?" Given what I love to do, I honestly had trouble comprehending this. This isn't a criticism of my dad by any means, he's simply expressing his opinion. It took me some time, but what I eventually took away from that conversation is that music and dance affect people in very different ways. That's something that sounds simple enough, so shouldn't I already have known that? Maybe (okay, probably...), and on at least one level I did, but I was also caught up in my own enthusiasm for something I love - doesn't everyone else love it too? No, the beats and rhythms that speak to my soul don't touch him in the same way. You know what one of the wonderful things about going to a Zumba class is? It's filled with people who are all passionate about the same thing and the energy created by that is something magical.

Best advice: It's great to want to share what you're passionate about with another person, but it's just as great if it turns out that other person is passionate about something completely different.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The clothes - Part 1

In a previous post, I talked about the ways in which I was woefully unprepared for my fist Zumba class. One of these was the way I had dressed. With Zumba being so high energy you sweat a lot and it's easy to overheat if you don't take care.

The fact that it was the beginning of January was what initially caused me to got to my first class in sweatpants. My logic being this: since it was cold outside, I should probably dress appropriately. No no, wrong! So I learned... It is worth being a little cold and uncomfortable in those few minutes one is outside between their car and the entrance to what ever place it is their class is held in order to be comfortable through class.

After my first class, I looked around at home for something better to wear the next week and found nothing. Well, next to nothing. I figured a pair of yoga pants would work considerably better than sweat pants. I was right. They are lighter and have a lot more stretch and give. I had plenty of these as I was a frequent student of Don's mommy and me yoga class. But I was used to wearing over sized t-shirts to yoga and those obviously were not a good choice for me. I figured a tank top would be a lot cooler but I didn't own a single one that could be used for fitness. What was a girl to do? Why, go shopping of course!

The problem was it was January. Where does one find a good supply of fitness-appropriate tank tops in a wide variety of sizes and colors for not a lot of moolah? Old Navy as it turns out.

Shown above are the first tank tops I ever bought for Zumba. Anyone notice anything interesting about my little collection? It's not exactly a "wide variety" is it? There are only three colored ones! The others are all brown, grey, or black. This was indicative of something that I wouldn't realize until much much later but that's not part of today's story.

Pairing a tank top with a pair of light yoga pants made all the difference in the least as far as wardrobe. Did it magically make me a great dancer by the second class? Of course not. I'll be brutally honest, I didn't really get the ball change down until I was into my third year. What this new choice in outfit actually did was keep me cool so I could focus more on learning and less on not fainting. And to that end, I also remembered to put my hair up and bring water.

Once you're not spending a lot of energy just to stay conscious, you start to notice things about your teacher aside from just her dance moves. Huh, she had her long hair in a braid. Huh, she had on a tank top. Huh, she had a bottle of Gatorade on the floor under the stereo. Wait now, she didn't have on yoga pants. She had on fancy black pants with silver ribbons that moved and twirled whenever she did and on the back was that Zumba logo. Zumba pants! There were Zumba pants? My mind was blown. Where had those even come from? I'd never seen anything like that in any store. So after my second class I went home and (after a long shower) went online and that was my first introduction to has been both a blessing and a curse to me over the years. A blessing because they know their fashion and I love their stuff. A curse because my wallet doesn't love their stuff nearly as much as I do.

I'll talk more about my discovery of a whole new style of pants very soon. Just as soon as I get my four pairs back from the tailor and can take some pictures to post!

Best advice: Look to your teacher. She sets the example and she is working the hardest of anyone in the room.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The things that interfere with Zumba

By the beginning of December of 2010 I had been doing Zumba for 11 months. With (or without) the title of this post I'm sure you're probably thinking, she's likely missed a week somewhere in all that time... Am I right? Yeah... Well you'd be wrong.

The things that interfere with Zumba:
1) Nothing's right. Okay, yes there were Saturdays that I had to miss, I simply made up the class Tuesday evening. That's something nice about Zumba, many teachers teach more than one class a week. In all that time, not a week went by where I didn't somehow get myself to a class. How can that be you ask? The answer is simply that I love Zumba. I love Zumba enough to push through the allergy attacks in the spring and fall (of which there are at least two per year), enough to push through the colds (at least two...), enough to push through that one bout of food poisoning (thanks a bunch food stand in the mall), and holiday weekends that almost everyone else took off. Remember when I said "Find something you love and just keep on doing it."? I was serious about that and now you now how much.

It wasn't until October of 2011, almost a year later (and fast approaching my 2nd Zumbaversary) that something would finally happen that would bring me up short and end my streak. Morning sickness. So maybe I should amend my previous statement.

The things that interfere with Zumba:
1) Nothing, except severe morning sickness

I was forced to take a ten week break (oh the agony!) while I recovered and then regained the weight I'd lost. I was back after Christmas and sporting a cute little bump. That's right, I did Zumba through the second and third trimesters of my pregnancy with our younger son. The bigger I got, the more often people asked me how long I planned to continue before stopping for some kind of maternity leave. My answer was always the same: "The Saturday I don't show up to class, you'll know the reason why." Don't worry, I took every precaution. I had a medical alert bracelet with all the pertinent information about me and my pregnancy. I had a heart rate monitor wrist watch that I used to make sure I was keeping my heart rate within the safe zone.
**Side note: That's not the easiest thing to do with a song by Pitbull...**
Rae was fully aware of everything and very comfortable having me in class in that condition. I also brought plenty of extra fluids to make sure I was well hydrated. Even when I had trouble tying the laces on my Pumas because I was huge, I still went to class. The baby loved it, as a matter of fact. He would be active until the music would start. Then he would settle down for the duration of class and it wasn't until I'd sit down in the car to drive home that he'd start kicking me. I'm pretty sure he was asleep in there, soothed and rocked by his mama's dancing and then annoyed to be woken up. As an infant, he'd easily fall asleep to songs by Pitbull. I went into labor on a Thursday morning and by lunchtime I was sending messages to Rae and Don to let them know I wasn't going to be in class on Saturday; I delivered late that evening. Sort of an intense process what with the surprise lack of epidural. The fact that I stayed in shape through my pregnancy gave me the endurance to endure. The baby and I were discharged on Saturday morning and I had to ask the nurse before leaving the hospital, when she thought I could safely return to Zumba. Too bad for me, she said at least three weeks. I waited six and got the go-ahead from my OB, so none of you need to freak out. Okay then, a second amendment....

The things that interfere with Zumba:
1) Nothing, except severe morning sickness and postpartum recovery

Best advice: When you do find that thing you love that you can just keep on doing, no excuses!

The supportive husband AKA: The Zumba widower

Once before I mentioned how supportive Bry has been these last three and a half years as I leave him once a week for Zumba class. Without Bry able to watch our young son, this "Zumba thing" never would have happened. There would have been no way to justify hiring a baby sitter while I did an hour long class that cost $6. There would have been no way to take him with me, at that age, and expect him to not cause a huge disruption. The bottom line is, that without Bry's support I never would have been able to start Zumba much less make it such an important part of my life long term. think we've all heard the term "Football widow"? Referring to those women whose husbands watch football regularly while they find something else to occupy their time. Or how about "choir widow"? Meaning that lady sitting alone in church because her husband has a lovely baritone voice? Both of these were me by the way. Neither has been true in many years now, not since I learned enough about football to enjoy watching a game, and not since we moved and had to change churches (the new one doesn't have a full time choir, only seasonal). I thought the term "Zumba widower" was apt in this situation and based on the size of the class I am currently a part of for the duration of the summer, Bry is in good company. There must be close to 20 other Zumba widowers in houses throughout the southwest part of the Grand Rapids area.

Bry's support has not gone unrewarded. One benefit is the time he's spent with our older son, just the two of them together without a woman's interference. They do manly things together such as watching children's programing on Sprout, reading stories about large construction vehicles, or playing baseball in the living room. Our younger son is only 15 months, but he likes to join in the manly endeavors now by crawling on daddy like a jungle gym. Also a fun reward for Bry, is the leaner, healthier me, more toned, more confident, less stressed out me. That's the me he gets to spend his time with all week between classes. And I'm pretty sure, while he hasn't come right out and said anything..., that he enjoys seeing me dance at home when I practice. He gets to see first hand what it is I do those nights I go out to class. I think it's nice for him to see me do the thing I enjoy so much; the thing he's largely made possible for me to do in the first place. Bry is wonderful, loving and supportive, and I am lucky to have him.

Best advice: If you have someone this special in your life, make sure you tell them so. And I mean very specifically, as in why and in what ways, you appreciate them. They deserve to know that what they do matters.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The difference between the back row and the front row

A couple posts ago, I mentioned that somewhere along the line, I became a front row dancer. At the time, it wasn't my choice but it happened nevertheless.

I bought my first pair of shoes at the beginning of February in 2010 but let's skip ahead to May. In the five months total that I had been taking classes once a week, I had actually made a surprising amount a progress, coming a long way from where I started; even if I did think so myself. By May, I had learned how to clap and what "single single double" meant and thus how to properly do the Beto Shuffle. I was still working hard on pivoting and that was coming along, but ball changes were laughable. Hey, progress is progress though, right? At the end of May, Rae had the misfortune to break her toe. When you're a fitness instructor, and being on your feet is your livelihood, this is misfortune indeed! All credit to Rae though, she was a trooper and still showed up to teach every class.

Zumba is a high impact, high energy exercise. You're thinking, that sure must be hard to do with a broken toe right? It was, but she managed it, and had a little help from her front row. As a teacher, if you have a front row full of regular attendees, you can pick songs you know they know well and then tone down some of the higher impact moves. The front row was happy to help be the high impact example, no problem. So that's the context, the set up if you will.

One warm summer evening (it's common to cancel Saturday morning class through the summer) in the first week of June, I show up to class and find a nice little spot in the back corner and make myself comfortable. Rae starts making announcements before class, as usual, and then wraps up with " if any of you know the dances and the steps really well, could you please come up to the front." I just kept standing where I was standing because why on earth would I move? Until I heard her call me by name. Me. By. Name. Wait, me? She's waving -me- forward? While I stood there blinking at her like a deer in the headlights, the rest of the class turns and looks at me expectantly and in my head I was quickly running through possible options. 1) politely decline and then become known as that student who would not help the teacher with broken toe, 2) decline less politely by collecting my things and running for the exit as fast as possible and let them all hear my car squeal as I drove away never to show my face in class again, or 3) suck it up and change spots. And oh, wasn't the rest of the class just all too helpful, shuffling themselves around and different women saying "Here, trade with me!" as I nervously made my way forward. That is how I came to find myself in the front row slightly to Rae's right.

Remember how I said before that people aren't watching you, they're watching the teacher? That's only true until the teacher makes you stand in the front row for the specific purpose of being an example. That first night was pretty nerve-wracking actually. I tried hard to make myself relax so I wouldn't start making mistakes but that was easier in theory than in practice. Especially when, in the process of scrolling through her iPod, Rae asked me if I had done the song Fire Burning. It's by Sean Kingston, and back in 2010 that one was really new to the class in general. My answer was, yeah, once. Great! she exclaimed and got it playing.

Honestly, I was amazed at what I was able to do, and do well, that night. In that moment, it felt pretty surreal and scary, but something clicked in my head and it all came together. Today, I look back and laugh at what a big deal I thought it all was. See, what I slowly began to understand as that summer wore on was that the me that Rae saw, was a very different one than the me I thought I was. She saw a confident dancer worthy of being in the front row, but all I could see was someone who -still- couldn't do a ball change. Reconciling these two very different versions of me was as difficult as figuring out that blasted ball change and I still hadn't managed to do either by the first week of September.

September came, and Saturday classes started again.
**Side note: some time back before the summer, Don had recruited me to work her reception desk on Saturdays and check in all the students coming for Zumba. This meant I was always the last one into the studio before class started.**
The morning of the first class, I took care of my reception duties and then went to the studio only to find that the entire room was completely packed and there was only one open spot left. Want to guess where it was? Yeah, front row and slightly to Rae's right. One of the women said, "We saved you a spot!", ...thanks for that. Another one said, "That's what happens when you're late to church, you sit in the first pew.", ...uh huh, sure. The present me has to once again laugh at that past me and here's why. After spending the entire summer in the front row, at the behest of Rae no less, I was more than willing to just take up my spot in the back all over again. I really would have too, if there hadn't already been someone else standing in it. So had I learned nothing all summer? Not nothing.... Just not as much as I should've.
That spot, slightly to the teacher's right, has belonged to me ever since that September morning. There even came a point where I felt proprietary towards it and annoyed the two times someone dared to steal it. About that same point was when I began to have some of the confidence in myself that Rae had seen in me from the beginning.

Best advice: When someone decides to believe in you and put their faith in you, do your best to live up to that even if, on the inside, you disagree. You never know where it might carry you. This is something that still challenges me even now, so I try to follow my own advice.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The first pair of shoes

Zumba, like most physical activities, has its own special kind of shoe. In the beginning, I wasn't sure I would like Zumba well enough to want to invest in a pair. Dance fitness shoes are usually pretty light weight, have shallow tread, and what's called a pivot ball. The cost of a pair, depending on brand, typically starts at around $36 and I have seen pairs for as much as $75. You can understand, I think, why I didn't want to spend the money until I was sure. I made do with cross trainers the first four classes. To give you a frame of reference, the first four weeks I did Zumba would have been the month of January in 2010.

Waiting to make the purchase was the right thing to do at the time; intellectually, I do know that. However....if I'd had a crystal ball, and could see the future and how much I would come to love Zumba (and how many pairs of dance fitness shoes I would go through in three and a half years), I would have bought my first pair before I ever took my first class. In the week between class number four and class number five I checked every shoe store in the mall only to come up empty. The people at the Footlocker had no idea what kind of shoe I was even talking about! Some "experts" they turned out to be... Getting down to the wire and not expecting much considering my failure to find anything earlier that week, I made a foray into my local DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) with my husband and young son in tow (they were very patient with me). Lo and behold! They had many pairs by several different brands. Some you would expect, like Nike and Puma. Others not so much, like Coach (remember when I said $75? Yeah...). I tried on both the Nikes and the Pumas and decided on a pair of Pumas because they fit better and were lighter, plus I got lucky and found a clearance pair in my size. I also couldn't help but embarrass my family and do a little salsa right there in the store on the one piece of hard floor I could find. Well, I had to test the shoes didn't I?

These would the ones. Long since retired but still I keep them. Go ahead and laugh at my sentimentality if you must, but rarely have I cared for another pair as much as this first one. See the cats? Likely the reason for them being on clearance as every pair of Pumas I've owned since has had stripes instead. This has also been the only black pair for some reason, every other pair of Pumas I've bought from DSW has been white. I've kept them all this time in the hopes that I might one day find a replacement insole that can revitalize the shoes, but alas, no luck yet. From looking at them, you can see what I mean about the shallow tread and the pivot ball. The Zumba corporation does make their own dance fitness shoe, complete with vibrant colors and logo, that can be viewed here
**Side Note: If you check out the page, please know that the flip flops they sell are for fashion and not actual dance. No one really believes anybody can do Zumba in flip flops right? Nod your heads, there you go...**
I describe the shoes pictured as being retired and what this means is that they are worn out and continuing to wear them to class wouldn't be the best idea. I've learned from experience that these Pumas last for roughly 45 classes, give or take a couple, and I can always feel when the pair I'm using is getting close to "retirement age". After that, they really should be replaced or one begins noticing soreness in the shins and knees. This black pair is not the only pair of retirees, in fact I have six pairs of retired dance shoes in my closet at this moment. So why do I keep them? Good question.

The answer is that I still use them, just not to go to class in. After I had been doing Zumba for a year or so, there were many dances that I had learned that I could just do by myself without needing the guidance of the teacher. I use my retired pairs of shoes at home for practice (and Xbox) so that I don't wear out my current pair more quickly than necessary. And I suppose this then begs the question of why I can use them at home when I can't at class. Well, the answer to -that- would be that my dance space at home happens to be carpeted while classes are held on a hard floor. The extra cushioning in the carpeting makes up for what the shoes lack. What's that, another question I hear? How does one safely do Zumba on the carpet you ask? Well, you can buy something called "carpet gliders" from or you can do what I do instead and that's wrap plastic packing tape around the shoe down at the toe where the pivot ball is (shown below). That will get you sliding and gliding for considerably cheaper.

Now, as a warning about Pumas (and dance fitness shoes in general)... They have very little cushioning in the first place when you compare them to runners, walkers, or cross trainers. They also have next to no arch support. Essentially, they are the bigger and stronger sister to the ballet flat. These are the reasons I love Pumas and keep on buying pair after pair, but I have spoken to people who do Zumba that cannot wear shoes like this for these very same reasons.

Best advice: Save yourself from joint soreness and invest in proper footwear! If you're going to try Zumba, wait to buy shoes. If you're going to do Zumba long term, -definitely- buy some kind of shoe to use specifically for classes. If you're going to buy shoes, try on several different pairs of dance fitness shoes, as well as athletic shoes that have shallow tread, to find what works for you.

The origin story continues

Last time, I wrote about how I became the Zumba mommy that I am. I should state, for the record, that none of that would have been possible without my loving and supportive husband. Since class was on Saturday morning, Bry would watch our 18 month old son. It made for some really nice daddy-son time. Since that first class, Bry has continued to support me in all things Zumba and the Zumba journey has been a long and winding one for sure; but I don't want to get too ahead of myself here.

I call myself the Zumbamommy now, but I sure didn't back then. Back then, I was that girl dancing (hiding) in the back row and hoping no one was watching. The truth is, they -weren't- watching, I just thought they were. Once class gets started, nobody is really looking anywhere else but at the teacher, I promise you. Someone who doesn't watch the teacher because they want to rubberneck is probably going to fall on their face. But forget the non-existent watchers for a minute because I need to talk about how unprepared for class I was. This is how I showed up to my first class:

1) dressed in sweatpants and an over sized t-shirt
2) with my shoulder-length hair down
3) with no water to speak of

Why are these mistakes? Those out there who've taken a high energy fitness class before, I know you're all laughing at me and that's okay because I laugh at that girl too. These are mistakes because 1) I overheated in that outfit, 2) my hair went everywhere, got in the way, and with it down I overheated, 3) with no water of my own, I had to make continuous trips to the water cooler between songs with a Dixie cup and this barely kept me from passing out from overheating.

Pretty dumb huh? But I was ignorant of a lot of things back then, not just proper preparedness. I mentioned in my last post that I couldn't clap to a beat. Clapping is a bigger part of Zumba than many people realize. I also had no (zero, zilch, nada, none) dance background to speak of. I didn't understand what "single single double" meant. I didn't know what a ball-change was, much less be able to execute one. I couldn't turn around for any reason because it meant losing sight of the teacher momentarily. Here's a weird one, there were times in the first six months that I actually had to stop moving and stand still so that my brain could actually process what it was seeing - meaning that, back then, I found the steps so complex that I could either keep moving, or stop to watch to actually learn the step; but not both at the same time. Crazy right? For anyone reading this who has never done Zumba, you're probably wondering why in the world I would recommend something so difficult and how in the world I stuck with it.

The point in all that is this: If someone who started out like I did can become a front row dancer and actually master the dreaded ball-change, anyone can. ANYONE, and that means you. Yes you! What's that you ask? How did I find myself in the front row? Interesting story but that's for another time.

Best advice: When (that's right, I said when...) you try your first class, 
1) wear lightweight clothing, a tank-top if you feel comfortable in one
2) if your hair is long enough, tie it up for goodness sakes!
3) bring a bottle of water - the one I travel with now is 33oz (approx. 1000 mL for you metric folks) and it is empty by the end of every class

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The genesis of the Zumba mommy

I am a mother of two who is really into Zumba. Hence the name of the blog. I discovered Zumba when my oldest was 18 months old. Having weaned him only four months earlier, I had already lost some weight but not in the way I had pre-pregnancy. I was disappointed but accepting, thinking that's just how was after you've had a kid.

Wrong! I just needed to find the right thing and apparently the treadmill was not it. Zumba's slogan is: "Ditch the workout, join the party." That's not false advertising, it really is true. I talk to people about Zumba all the time, in fact if you ask my friends, they'd probably say I never shut up about it. But when I talk to random people, aquaintances and strangers alike, I get a lot of the following...

"I've heard that's really hard."
"I have a friend who tried that and said it was hard."
"I can't dance very well so that's not for me because I think it would be too hard."

Sort of a running theme isn't? I thought the same thing but my friend Don, well she thought differently. My excuses to Don for why I shouldn't try it were all the same as everyone else, but she convinced me to at least try one class. She's also my yoga teacher and owns the place where I do yoga. Conveniently, she had a Zumba instructor teaching class there on Saturdays. So the first Saturday in January (this was back in 2010) I decided to give this a try. Was it hard? Yeah, a little bit actually because at the time I couldn't dance very well. Okay, being totally honest, I couldn't even clap my hands to a beat and I got my foot stepped on by the next student over because I used the right foot when everyone else was using the left. In short, I looked like a dancing windmill with arms and legs all over the place. I stuck with it though and I was back again the following Saturday. I have been doing Zumba for three and a half years now so that says something about the kind of class Zumba is and the kind of teacher I was lucky enough to start out with.

That would be Rae. She is a fantastic dancer and teacher. She took the time (still does) to break down the steps when introducing a new song. Her style, and by that I mean the songs she would choose for class and the choreography, was very diverse. Not -all- salsa, or -all- hip-hop, a lot of everything which kept it interesting and fun. One of the secrets of Zumba that can really make or break the experience is finding a teacher whose style you can connect with. Rae was that kind of teacher for me and I'll be forever grateful. I know the difference too. Back in the early days, I had a few classes here and there with other instructors; for a Zumbathon, or maybe Rae needed a sub because she was away. I'm not disparaging any of these other teachers because they definitely had the necessary skill set. What I'm saying is that I simply didn't feel their personal style fit my own as well. Down the road I would meet, and become very good friends with, another teacher whose style definitely fit mine, but more about that another time.

Discovering Zumba has made staying healthy and fit so, so much easier and when I say that, I don't just mean weight loss. Taking a Zumba class once a week gives me energy and helps me manage my stress. I know people (myself included) working on fitness and/or weight loss goals who have had amazing success so far and one of the main things I know that can mean the difference between that and failure is the enjoyment of the activity.

Best advice: find something that you love to do, and then just keep on doing it. Deceptively simple.