I’ll never forget the first time i took a Zumba class in Phoenix. I had just recently returned to Arizona after spending four months with family in Ohio. During that 4-month stint in the armpit of America, i attended Zumba class regularly with my aunt. On one occasion, my aunt’s Zumba teacher pulled me to the side.
“Have you ever considered training to become a Zumba instructor.”
I laughed. “Um… you’re kidding, right?”
“Why not? You pick the moves up quickly, and you’ve got a good sense of rhythm. You should really consider it.”
I remember laughing a second time and brushing off the thought. In the weeks to follow, she made similar remarks, and i got to the point where i thought to myself, “Maybe i *should* consider becoming a teacher. I had no idea i was this good!”
And then i moved back to Arizona … and took a Zumba class in Phoenix … with a gay, Latin instructor … surrounded by classmates who were mostly Latino … and then i realized with dismay the truth of it all.
I was good at White People Zumba.
I decided never to return to Zumba class again.
Flash forward five years later, and i find myself timidly walking up the front steps of a historic house, wondering, “Why am i doing this, exactly?” A recent online search had led me to the website of this non-profit organization, Cancer Support Community Arizona. This group has tons of resources for cancer patients and survivors, and their main headquarters functions out of a historic house in central Phoenix. I reached out to one of their contact people after noticing that they had a weekly meditative yoga class, but then on a whim i decided to sign up for the Zumba class happening later that night. I have known for about two weeks now that i need to get back into exercising, but there are barriers now that weren’t in place before cancer: the threat of germs from equipment that does NOT get cleaned regularly; the self-consciousness that stems from being a bald female; and, most significantly, the fatigue, which is daily but somehow doesn’t stop me from silently berating myself on a regular basis about not being able to work out on the level that i used to. I’ve been avoiding the gym, and i know it. The problem is, the rest of my body knows it too, and it’s responding accordingly. Sooo… i didn’t want to go to Zumba class, but “I don’t want to” isn’t a legitimate excuse. I signed up.
When i walked into the house, i was immediately greeted by two females with smiles emanating from their mouths AND eyes. “You must be here for the Zumba class.”
I nodded, suddenly shy. “It’s my first time here.”
The prettier girl stepped forward and held out her right hand; i ignored the immediate fear that now creeps over me from the thought of stranger germs and shook her hand firmly. “I’m Kristen. Zumba is in the house out back,” – there’s a house behind this house? Who funds this non-profit, anyway??? – “and Joy, the teacher, is expecting you.” She gave me quick directions, and i hurried to get there with enough time to find a spot in the back corner of the room.
Space wasn’t an issue; when i arrived to the back house, there were only two people in the room. It wasn’t hard to figure out which one was the teacher. One lady was wearing a sweatshirt hoodie over old leggings; the other lady was wearing a white tanktop with blue and red hearts all over it, a red ruffle mini skirt, black stocks, and black flats. I made eye contact with the latter womyn, who promptly said, “Are you Tarah?” After a nod from me, she continued, “Well, welcome to our Zumba class. Have you ever done Zumba before?”
I proceeded to tell her about my experiences with Zumba in Ohio and then made a passing reference to how the Zumba there was way different than here in Phoenix. She looked genuinely baffled. “Now, that’s odd. We all get trained by the same program … maybe it’s just about what is more popular in certain regions.” I nodded, not wanting to mention my suspicion to the White blonde lady standing before me that White People Zumba was kind of like taking the short bus to school … sure, all the students are going to the same building, but the whole learning experience is rather different for one group of kids compared to the other. Joy and i chatted briefly, and then i went to occupy a space in the corner of the room.
The class ended up being rather small – just the teacher and four of us students. I immediately noticed that i was the youngest one there, by at least a decade. I was also the only one without hair. These are things i pay attention to a lot now, especially when i am in a space where i know there are other cancer patients/survivors. After the warm-up song, i also noticed one other thing: There was no point in my earlier fears about attending this class, for this was clearly going to be another opportunity to engage in White People Zumba. It was like being in Ohio all over again (which, for the record, i wouldn’t ever recommend to *anyone* unless i want them to be punished for something terrible that they did). I was able to pick up basic steps with ease, and the times i found myself getting most confused was when the teacher was losing the beat (yes, i’m serious) to some trendy Rihanna or Chris Brown song. (I had to fight the impulse to ask the teacher if she PURPOSELY put Rihanna and Chris Brown songs back to back on her compilation.) At times, my arm mobility was limited, but for the most part i could have handled more of a workout. I felt good, knowing that.
Will i return? I think so. It’s a relief to be in an exercise environment that i *know* is clean, since immunity concerns are common for anyone who has/had cancer. It also helps that everyone in the room KNOWS why i have no hair, so i don’t have to deal with people looking twice at me in confusion. Also, even though i know i could have handled more of a workout, there will be times when i will be more limited, so i like being in a class where they will understand if i need to stop and take a break. And finally, now i know that there is a niche for White People Zumba, even in a city comprised of 41% Hispanic or Latino.