I've fallen hard... for Zumba. I hesitate to make enthusiastic pronouncements in writing. I've always been prone to mild obsessions, which I throw myself into, heart and soul, only to burn out after a couple months. Marathon running. Photography (obviously not in evidence from anything I've posted on this food site). Stocking up on purees to sneak into the food of the child who was not even born yet (and thankfully, at three, eats almost everything). It's almost embarrassing, later on, to witness my absolute lack of consistency, recorded for posterity in a blog post. So, with full knowledge that I might read this some day and be annoyed at myself for finding yet another all-consuming hobby that I could not stick with, I announce my great love for Zumba.
I had really been enjoying the Zumba classes at my local YMCA when I found out the Zumba convention was here in town. I decided to check it out and talk to people about why they loved Zumba so much (approaching the whole thing with my anthropologist's cap on), after which I wrote this piece. But going to the Zumba convention got me hooked. Until then, I found the outfits a little bit too bright, a bit garish. But afterward, suddenly I was on EBay browsing bright orange racerback tanks emblazoned with inspirational Zumba messages. I reached out to a couple old, old friends on Facebook who I knew were Zumba instructors. I started following a couple blogs. I couldn't believe some of the stories I was hearing- both in person at the Convention and through the blogs. People who lost over a hundred pounds with Zumba. People who conquered major illnesses, addictions, you name it. Could a sport/dance/fitness program truly be that transformative? Will those people gain that weight back later, will interest in Zumba fade? I have no idea. But I understand why it's so infectious.
Then there are the classes, which remind me of how much fun exercise was as a kid. Back in the days when I'd pretend to be a Solid Gold dancer and choreograph routines to Chaka Khan (fantasizing that at some point I'd surely get a gig on Soul Train). It appeals to the 4th grader in me who brought a dismantled refrigerator box to my private school's playground so I could breakdance (alone) during recess. (Okay, so I was kind of an eccentric). I also spent a couple years studying Middle Eastern dance (a respectable term for belly dance), and many happy nights when I used to live in NY and New Jersey going to salsa clubs. I have always loved reggaeton, salsa, merengue, etc., which forms the core of Zumba's music. It's like all of that history is suddenly coming together in a fitness program, and when I'm in a class, I literally forget about everything for a little while.
Not only have I been trying to attend different classes here in Orlando to check out different instructors' styles, but I just returned from visiting family in South Carolina for a couple weeks, and I went to six classes with four different instructors. Each class is not only an intense workout masquerading as a good time, but also a mini ethnographic experience - what, in anthropological terms, sort of means checking out a different culture. Here in Orlando, the classes I've attended so far have been more intense, with maybe 90% international music, 10% garden variety hip hop. In South Carolina, there was a lot more hip hop. But the diversity of the participants has been unbelievable-- diversity in age, race, you name it. This morning, for example, at my local Y, there were forty people in the class, ranging in age from 16 to 80. People are drawn to Zumba for different reasons. I love people watching and thinking about how you'd probably never find the same group of people in a room for a common interest, except for Zumba. But most of all, I just love going to Zumba classes, and I hope it doesn't go the way of most of my obsessions but instead can simmer for awhile without boiling over. Because my life is infinitely happier with Zumba.
So how does all this relate to food and cooking? It's summer, and I've been cooking so much lately that I have multiple recipes stocked up, ready to write about. I'm eating way less meat and chicken, much lighter in general, except for the desserts, which will always be my weakness. But also, with the Zumba, I am working harder than ever at eating well, and I feel great. Exercise has always been important to me, especially so that I could eat what I want to, but now, with Zumba, it's like not even trying. It just makes everything fun. So, please bear with me if I occasionally post something about Zumba, and I'll be back soon: with recipes for Moroccan pound cake, a green monster smoothie, and more...