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Erin Joy Henry Headshot

Zumba Was The Best Workout I've Ever Tried. Here's Why.

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I was at my breaking point last night. I was sick and tired of what a hassle it is living in New York City. Insane rents, my job and gnarly love life were taking their toll on me. And then when the rain started pouring down and it officially got cold here again, all I wanted was to be in a place where I could saunter out to a garage, stay dry and get in a car to drive and meet the friend I had plans with that night. Instead, I got into my rain gear and trudged through the wind and wet night to take the 6 train and meet her late, cold and soaked. Poor me. Life is so hard. I was just having one of those weeks.

I was headed to my first Zumba class. My friend Kate had been raving about Kara Doyle's class for months. I was skeptical because I'd like to think I'm a person that's too cool for school when I'm in the gym. I'd like to think I'm the woman that knows her stuff and is in her element when I'm in there. I run miles on the incline treadmill, wear tough girl workout gear and take difficult classes involving words like "melt" and "boot camp" that have me drenched with sweat. I do not go to classes involving dance or large groups of women. This is what Zumba entailed.

However, Kate is also a woman like me when it comes to exercise so I knew she couldn't be overselling this workout. She gets the job done and her body is evidence. So when I finally heard enough stories from her, I met her on this rainy night for the class to check it out for myself. I positioned myself towards the back of the room where I hoped nobody would notice the new girl. Then our bubbly and breakdance pant clad instructor asked who was new and Kate raised my hand. Great. I think the person next to me moved three feet to her left in anticipation of my clumsiness.

The music started abruptly, and I was immediately handed my pride on a silver platter. This girl can not dance, and there was some serious dancing involved in this Zumba stuff. At first, all I could do was stare in awe at the three rows in front of me who'd clearly learned the routine months ago and were fully able to swing their hips and shake their booties in ways that I was not born to do. The girl behind me moved like Britney Spears, the one in front of me was Shakira and everyone else seemed like a member of the Pussycat Dolls. What was I doing here? I sort of stumbled around and did some heel tap like maneuvers that at least had me in some kind of motion, but my arms were not moving at the same pace as my feet and nothing was graceful about what was going on when I attempted the pirouette like hop through the air and change direction thing that everyone else seemed to float through. Then another hip hope song came on and even the 60 year old lady in front of me was able to get down and shake the contents of her sports bra to Flo Rida's "Low."

If she could do it, surely I could too. I threw my shame to the wind and stopped looking at myself in the mirror. I stopped looking out the window wondering what guy in the weight room may see me acting like a ridiculous J. Lo impersonator and think I was a complete moron. I positioned myself right behind the instructor, stared only at her undulating body, pretended I was my teenage icon Jody Watley in her "Real Love" video and joined in with the group to shake what my mama gave me. I got down and it felt good. For 60 straight minutes, we salsa'd, tango'd. hip hopped and everything in between. I'm pretty sure I actually just bopped up and down thrusting my hips and gyrating my ass periodically, but it stopped even mattering. My body was moving and dripping with sweat and I felt great. I thought about nothing else in the world but Zumba-ing for the entire hour.

As Kate and I were mopping up our sweat after class, I felt extremely humbled. Partly because I was the worst Zumba'er in the room, but also because I couldn't remember the last time something cleared my head and made me feel so free, including my daily runs on the treadmill and the two hour guided Buddhist meditation on Monday. I looked around at the other women ( and the two men who I give extreme props to) and had such gratitude for the fun I just shared with them. Who did I think I was to be taking life so seriously all the time? I got off the poor me train and walked out noticing the homeless man who actually had to sleep outside in the rain, not just walk through it like me in my designer rain boots. I noticed the person in the wheelchair who would probably give anything to shake what their mama gave them. Somehow Zumba gave me the perspective I needed to remember how great I really have it.

Who would have thought doing something as silly as a thing called Zumba could give me what I really could use, which was a good a good dose of light-hearted fun? Sometimes that really is the best remedy. I'm going back next week, but I'm going in as Ricky Martin a la " Livin La Vida Loca." Maybe I will even throw in some jazz hands at some point.