I’ve taught Zumba for seven and a half years…..
Did I mention I’ve had a REALLY good time?
But something is changing. And it’s killing my vibe. I’ve been privately fighting this struggle for years now, spending hours before class, working on multiple songs trying to get motivated only to find myself using the same songs I’ve been using for seven years. It has nothing to do with being lazy. It has EVERYTHING to do with the way those songs make me FEEL. Zumba used to be a FEELING, not a job. It was about the music and the vibe of the people. When it started to become a place where people just gave me a list of the songs THEY wanted to hear and do a two step to with no regard for anything else, I felt like I had just become a choreographer on demand and not leader I wanted to be. I wasn’t motivated. I wanted to lead people into freedom of movement and spirit. I was losing what I had worked so hard to build. I had began to notice when people who had taken classes elsewhere first began to visit my class, they were “surprised” I played Latin music. They actually seemed annoyed. Beto Perez (the creator of Zumba) is from Colombia. Expecting to not hear Latin music in a Zumba class is like going to a party in Chicago expecting not to hear house music. (Percolator, anyone?) I have been asked PLENTY of times, “Can you not play so much other music? I want to hear Beyonce.” Well, other than the fact that the Zumba formula for music IS seventy percent Latin and other international rhythms and thirty percent other, I actually find it easier to do more appropriate dancing to Marc Anthony than I do to the lyrics, “Yonce all on his mouth like liquor.” I like some Beyonce songs. Her beats are dope. Her lyrics aren’t necessary crowd friendly. But when it’s your jam and you’ve danced to it at your “other” Zumba class, you think it’s the norm and you’re unhappy if your request aren’t met. In a class that can rise to over sixty people including sixty plus year old Latina women, fifty plus year old Asian women, 40 plus year old White males, thirty plus year old Italians and Indians and twenty plus year old Black college students, it’s hard to get everyone’s request in during a 60 minute time frame, stay in the 70/30 rule, use songs that are appropriate (that’s important to me and I STILL need to get better about that), keep your smile and your endurance up, remember your choreography and feel the music.
So I decided to do away with everything I’ve taken in over the past few years and do just that. FEEL the music. I told my class today, “If we can’t have fun with it then we ain’t doin’ it!!!!!” Zumba is NOT an audition for So You Think You Can Dance, Bring It On (although we have been known to create our own versions of West Side Story up in there) or an Alvin Ailey Performance, nor is my IPod a juke box that you can just push buttons on your demand and I move like a robot with not emotion (unless it’s your birthday. I treat people special on their birthday). It’s an experience. Today when I had my students close their eyes during a cumbia, I felt like it took the pressure off and people could just get inside of Carlos Vives’ voice without thinking about whose hips were moving more than theirs or how their belly fat was hanging out. And when it came down to Li’l Jon, we got it in! There’s a place for that. But today, it felt more like a continuous groove and conversation among friends than a race to the finish, who can do a merengue the hardest and who’s going to have an attitude if they don’t hear their song today. I got Spotify for that very reason. I can hear “my” song whenever I like. 🙂
I don’t want to get more complicated with my choreography (I have been doing this, seriously, for thirty years). I’ve concerned about people having a good time, not their memory, not making something look good for YouTube. When people leave out and say, “I needed that” or “I feel so good” then I know we did what I’ve always said we do in there; create community, hold each other up and have a good time doing it.
I COULD quit completely. God knows I’ve taken enough heat over the years to walk away and never look back. I could go back to just dancing in my house with my music and be done with it. But amidst the criticism, judgement, hate, disrespect, thievery and disregard for my hard work, I believe there is a place for me to do what I started. Zumba has (well, had) a culture of it’s own that was just totally unmatched. Nowadays people just throw on music, ANY kind of music, put one foot in front of the other, and call it Zumba. And for me, I can walk away from that. I’m all for putting one foot in front of the other but if we ain’t having fun and doing it because we love it, then why are we doing it? Following the crowd is overrated.
Or I can do what I do and contribute to what I love. So I’ve decided to stay.
See you on the dance floor. 🙂