Everything I need to know I learned from Zumba


It was the fall of 2012 and within the past six months, I had lost my Mom and had my second child. I was sitting on a bike by the internal window of the spin studio in my gym looking down at the cardio floor below me. Inside the group exercise studio on the ground floor, some booty shaking and chest pumping caught my attention. The group in the class looked like they were having so much fun. I had loved spinning since I took it up in my mid-twenties (and I still do), but I wasn’t in a good place in life and spinning gave me too much time to be in my own head. I used to cry quietly as I pedaled to nowhere. After the cool down, I went downstairs and looked at the schedule to see what kind of class I had just watched. It was Zumba. I didn’t know much about Zumba, but I had taken dance for years from elementary school through college, and I needed a change–or really, a distraction.

Over the next few weeks, I gathered my courage and decided to take my first Zumba class. It was fun! Like really, really fun. And I had to concentrate so hard on learning the steps and following along, I spent my first hour in a long time not being sad. I started to go to Zumba more and more until I was standing in the front row of the class. Any Zumba regular knows that there is a hierarchy to gym class Zumba. It is not so different from middle school. You start in the back (practically out the studio door in a crowded class) and you have to prove yourself. I had to show the “in crowd” that I was worthy of a spot towards the front. Eventually, I was brought up to the second row (I wish I was joking) and when the Regina George of my Zumba class was out one day, I got her spot in the front. Side note: I didn’t try to overthrow her regime, I gave the spot back when she returned–it is just Zumba class.

After making it to the front, I started to fantasize about the instructor asking me to lead a song with her. So when a friend and fellow Zumba-lover approached me about going to instructor training together, it did not take much convincing. In February 2015 we went to the training and became certified instructors. As I approach my 4th anniversary as a Zumba instructor, I have been able to reflect on some important life lessons I have learned from Zumba.

1. No one is watching you

Whenever I have new people in my class, I tell them not to feel embarrassed. Everyone is so busy looking at themselves in the mirror and thinking about what they are doing that they are not looking at anyone else, except maybe the instructor. This is also mostly true in life. We are all so focused on what we are doing and what we look like doing it (both literally and figuratively) that we don’t have a lot of space to watch each other. I used to be so sensitive when people would talk about themselves and all of their accomplishments thinking that they were judging me. “I only applied to the top 10 business schools because I would not think of going at all if I didn’t get in to one of those.” “I work out seven days a week at 5am.” I thought that people were telling me those things because they were watching my life and telling me how they were better. Then one day I realized, they weren’t thinking about me at all except looking for MY approval. They thought I was watching them and they were feeling insecure so they had something to prove. In reality, we were all just watching ourselves.

2. Do what feels right for you and have fun

I start my class each week with these two rules. Everyone comes to Zumba with different experience, different abilities, and different goals. I want people to push themselves in class to get a good workout, but that means something different to every person. We should all be this kind to ourselves in real life. I am really hard on myself. Full stop. I think in 2019 as a mom in a major metropolitan area, a lot of us are. But to be totally cliche, life is short. Too short to feel like we need to be doing a lot of things that we aren’t doing or don’t want to do. This could mean anything. It could be signing our kids up for one more extra-curricular, or feeling the need to Pinterest the heck out of a holiday or take on another big work project or keep a super tidy house or stop eating bread. We come to life with different experience, different abilities, and different goals. We should all focus on doing what feels right for us and having fun.

3.  Just keep going

As an instructor, sometimes I mess up. I miss a step or blank on a move or say left when I go right. When I first started teaching, a small mess up would completely throw me off. I would get upset in the moment and think about it for hours after the class. Over the years, I have learned that if I just keep going, no one cares and in many cases, no one even noticed. Sometimes I yell a quick apology, sometimes I make a joke about it, but mostly I pretend that it is what I meant to do. As a person and especially as a mom, sometimes I mess up. I get angrier than I should or forget a deadline or say yes when I was too tired to say no. I used to beat myself up about my mistakes, but then I realized that I need to keep going. I may say a quick apology for getting angry at my kids or make a joke about mom brain when I miss a deadline, but mostly I pretend that there is a method to my madness and I keep moving forward. Just like in Zumba, for the most part, people don’t care or don’t notice. And just like in Zumba, I learn from my mistakes so I am ready for next time. 

4. Smile

I want to say from the start that I don’t think people should have to fake happiness when they aren’t happy. However, there are some instances when putting a smile on my face does help my mood or help me deal with a difficult situation. There are mornings that I walk into my Zumba class and I don’t feel like teaching. I don’t even feel like exercising. Those mornings I still put a smile on my face as I start class and by the end of the class, I mean the smile. My mood is better and I had a good time. I have found that while this lesson can be applied to many things in life, the place I use it most is at work. As a Conference Director, there are things that come up that make me want to lose my mind,  but instead, I put on my best instructor smile and I feel like I am more equipped to handle the situation at hand. That smile helps me remain calm when someone is asking for the ridiculous, and even, no especially, when the answer is no. The smile also helps the person on the receiving end of that no stay calm. I was always taught to smile when giving a phone interview because it changes the way you come across over the phone (and this was in the days before Skype). The same concept holds true when you smile in person. It changes how you come across to your class and your colleagues.

5. Take a risk and try something new

Three years before I became a Zumba instructor, I am not sure I could have defined Zumba for you. I go back to this lesson a lot. As I struggle with falling into a rut in this phase of my life and feeling like there is nothing exciting out there for me, I remind myself that it is very possible that I haven’t yet been introduced to my next passion. That three years from now there could be something new and wonderful in my life that I can’t even fathom today. One year ago, I never would have guessed that I would be writing this post. Life can be exciting and unexpected even when we are well past the days we expect the unexpected. I am just waiting for my next Zumba. 


  1. YAY fellow Zumba instructor/lover! I really loved your article because you captured the reason Zumba is so successful and so much fun for so many people! (Sidenote, I’m about to stalk your classes so we can dance together sometime!) Thanks for writing this!

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