My sister had been buzzing about Zumba for a few weeks. She found a class near her work, found a few willing co-workers, and proclaimed that it was the most fun she’d had in months. Now, my sister is a special kind. She’s naturally thin. Annoyingly thin. Eats-anything-she-wants-and-never-exercises thin. So when she mentioned that she started a new workout, I immediately knew I had to step up my game.
I checked out the program calendar on the Ocean State Health and Fitness website and came across a Zumba class that was conveniently scheduled at 5:45pm on Thursday. I have to exercise right after work or the excuses get the best of me. I guess you can say I’m also a special kind.
When I got to the gym, I was relieved to find a casual atmosphere. The music wasn’t too loud, the employees at the front desk were welcoming, and the members nodded at me in solidarity. “Comfort is one of our top priorities,” said Debbie Chennisi, who opened Ocean State Health and Fitness, along with her husband Michael, last April. “There is no intimidation factor here,” added Michael. “We consider ourselves a family-oriented community gym.” In addition to the 30 group classes they offer each week – like spin, kickboxing and yoga – the center also has personal trainers and a certified dietician on hand to assist members.
I walked into the classroom and found a few women chatting and stretching. There were six other women there, another thing I was thankful for. I hadn’t taken a group exercise class in over five years so I was a little worried about keeping up. After a few introductions, including with Kara the instructor, I blurted out that I was a Zumba rookie. “It’s so much fun and you’ll pick it up quickly,” said one of them. As they lined up in what seemed to be their go-to spots in the room, I wasn’t so sure. Then the music started. The first song? “Hot, Hot, Hot.”
If you’re also a newbie, what you need to know about Zumba is that it’s all dancing. As in the samba, mambo, salsa and meringue. It’s been around nationally for 10 years and locally for a few. The music is Latin and hip-hop inspired, and it’s super high energy (as in dancing to “Hot, Hot, Hot” two times in a row, just for fun, energy).
By the last few choruses of the encore, I was beginning to get the moves... sort of. The thing is, the other women were in their own cha-cha happy place and having too much fun to notice my missteps. So I just went with the flow, nailing some of the steps and completely messing up others. The hits kept on rolling (“Do You Love Me,” from Dirty Dancing, Usher’s “DJ’s Got Us Falling in Love,” a Marc Anthony song) and so did I. The hour flew by. I guess I was too busy shaking my moneymaker to keep track of time.
A few of the women came over to me at the end, encouraging me to come to the Saturday class. I can see why Zumba has such a cult following. As much as you get sweaty with all the shimmying, it doesn’t really feel like exercise. It’s just my kind of fitness – you know, the special kind.