what teaching zumba taught me

I was an athlete all through high school which means I never really owned my fitness. I just did what my coach told me to do. When I arrived in Texas as a college freshmen, I had NO idea what to do for my body. Running wasn’t fun anymore. I was tired of fitness. But I knew I needed to do something physical, something healthy.

And then I found Zumba. And I fell in love with it – the loud music, the laughter, the community, and how I felt so incredibly sexy after each class. Fast forward five years, and I’m an instructor with a class of my own. Teaching Zumba has been more challenging than I ever thought, and it’s taught me a lot about life in general. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1.       Pursue things that make you nervous.

After I graduated from college, I missed challenging myself. I missed being pushed by professors, presenting papers, and feeling butterflies in my stomach. So teaching Zumba became my new challenge. It was something I had always wanted to do, so I did it. It might seem like a trivial accomplishment, but it wasn’t to me. And your accomplishments aren’t trivial to you. Find something that makes you nervous. Find something that invites a bit of risk into your life.

2.       You aren’t as anonymous as you think you are.

After my first class, I realized that teaching and participating are not the same thing. Not only was I given responsibility, but I began to notice everything. When someone wasn’t into my class, I noticed. When someone was mocking me, I noticed. When girls were mean to each other, I noticed. I realized that as a person, I am not as anonymous as I feel. When I talk in church, text during a meeting, or giggle through a presentation, others notice. My body language is telling them that I don’t value their time. Now I try to be as respectful as I can in all situations, because someone else might be doing what makes them nervous.

After teaching my very first class

3.       You don’t have to shake it well, you just have to shake it.

I have so many people tell me they can’t do Zumba. “I don’t know how,” they complain. “It’s too scary,” they lament. Excuses. Some of my favorite people in my class aren’t very good dancers. But they come, week after week, smiles on their faces, dancing to good music. They leave feeling sexy, confident, and high on endorphins. So you think you can’t be a wedding photographer? That you can’t go back to school? That you can’t read classic literature? I challenge you, to try.

4.       Keep your focus.

It’s easy to remember the moves to each of my songs. Until I stop thinking about the moves. To teach successfully, I have to constantly be thinking about what move comes next. Trust me, it has taken countless missteps to realize this one. My life is like that too. I can’t be prepared for what comes next if I’m not thinking about it. A week of meals doesn’t come together unless I focus. I can’t be the wife I should be unless I focus. A good life takes a lot of focus. It takes intention.  

5.       Encouragement MATTERS.

I had someone ask me the other day, “Are you one of those teachers that is always saying encouraging things during class?” Heck yes I am one of those teachers. Why? Because encouragement works. When we are three fourths of the way through a class, all it takes is some happy shouting and I can visibly see the difference in my class. It re-energizes them. Yelling “Come on ladies!” during squats can keep a girl from quitting. Your co-workers, peers, and friends need encouragement too. Encourage someone when they have done something right, encourage your spouse when they’ve had a rough day a work, and encourage the checker at Target when they seem down. Encouragement is one of the biggest blessings you can give.

6.       Be yourself. People like it.

It took me several months before I was really comfortable in class. Comfortable enough to throw in a silly dance move or tell a joke during a break. And you know what? My students liked it. They liked seeing me be me. This is so incredibly true in life. When I let myself shine through, not an idea of what I should be, people like me more. As humans, we can sense when someone is being genuine. It encourages others to be genuine too. And there is nothing more fun that seeing a bunch of girls, being themselves on the dance floor.

7.       Vulnerability is really hard. But necessary. 

Standing up in front of twenty girls and shaking your hips is really vulnerable. Writing this post is really vulnerable. When I put myself in front of others, it invites criticism. And criticism can be a really scary thing. But I wouldn’t be a Zumba instructor if I wasn’t standing in front. And I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t put words on a page and post them. Moving forward in life and achieving goals, that takes vulnerability.

I once had a few girls come to my class late, only to spend the hour laughing and mocking the moves. It really hurt my feelings. I felt foolish, naked, and I wanted to stop teaching right then and there. But in reality, those girls probably just felt uncomfortable being new, and didn’t know what else to do. That was my vulnerability wake up call. I could either quit teaching, or I could surpass the negativity and keep on dancing. I’m glad I kept on dancing.

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