Zumba is my new anti-depressant  

Lately I have been in a bit of a funk. I have battled with bouts of depression since college and while I am not feeling as bad as I have during those other periods I have been feeling down a lot and lonely. I think this is a December thing for me. I already wrote about how I often get a case of the shoulds during this time, but December is also a time of transition which tend to be tough for me. December was frequently a tough and boring time for me as a Jewish kid in the suburbs whose friends were celebrating Christmas. I was often bored at home imaging what Christmas must feel like. At least that part is now over since I get to celebrate Christmas with Shaun’s family!

As a perpetual student December is also a time of breaks and transitions. In the past my transition has been pretty clear though, transitioning to a new semester, and being able to count how many semesters I have left. Now I am still a little fuzzy on what my career will look like in the near future. This is a bad recipe for me – unstructured time, alone, with lots of questions about my future, during a transition.

I have always known exercise could help with my mood, but I think I found a mood booster that is more than just exercise. Some sort of happiness blog or column I read recently suggested trying new things that you might not be good at. In this spirit, I decided today to try out my first Zumba class. I have actively resisted Zumba classes for years and have been unable to avoid picturing what I would look like in the class. I took jazz and ballet as a kid, but my mom said I didn’t quite have rhythm and she would occasionally have to stifle laughter while watching me. I am also a huge klutz so that also did not make me feel confident in my potential Zumba skills. When I texted a friend saying I was going to the class she said, “I would pay someone a lot of money to be a fly on the wall for that.” All this in my mind, I decided to try out a Zumba class at my gym where I don’t know any other members and felt anonymous. Even if I was embarrassingly terrible I would probably never see anyone in the class again.

When I showed up there were four other women in the room all over the age of forty and with seemingly little Latin dance expertise. I told the woman next to me I was a first-timer and I was nervous and she assured me to just “keep moving” and I would be fine. When the adorable Latina instructor came in with her sparkly white high tops I felt even more nervous. She also did not seem to plan to give many instructors since she blasted music and had no headpiece speaker to guide the class. She starts signaling with her hands to start.

I started the class timid and would not take my eyes off the instructor.  I worried that if I looked away suddenly the class would be spinning in one direction and I would be jumping up and down. This also had the added benefit of avoiding watching myself in the mirror. I started out nervous and rigid in the moves, trying to treat it like a science, move hip left like instructor. I would not shimmy matching the instructor because I was not sure if this was “part of the sequence.”

After twenty minutes I realized I could just forget trying to look like the instructor and could just move my own way to the music. I started moving my hips and actually dancing along to the music. I was probably jumping up and down like a crazy person, but when I got sight of myself in the mirror instead of being embarrassed I just smiled. This was fun! I would scan the room and see that no one else was that good and maybe I could actually be okay at this. By the end of the class I was shaking my hips, shimmying and adding in my own flair to the sequence. I even got distracted near the end planning whether I should start taking salsa dance classes and perhaps this was my real calling. Or maybe it was just that I should have done dance classes as a young child that were exclusively with middle age women who were not concerned about looking cool and just wanted to get their work out in.

From what I know about many Latin cultures, dancing is a big part of the culture, and maybe many Latin people are so good at moving their hips because they have been socialized to just try it out and let go. During class I felt that that people in many cultures in the US have been deprived of this joy. Why shouldn’t I dance more and move my hips even if I don’t look quite cool yet? Maybe eventually I will (wishful thinking), but even if I don’t there is something powerfully cathartic to just moving and having fun. We can’t all be Shakira, but why shouldn’t we all get to give it a shot? You won’t know if your “hips don’t lie,” if you never try. If you end up looking like an idiot (or Elaine from Seinfeld) at least you got some endorphins flowing, listened to good music, and smiled.

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