Tonight I had the fat Zumba Instructor.
Normally, I go to Zumba on Mondays and Saturdays with the same instructor: a short, fit little thing who kicks all of our asses with intense hip-hop aerobic choreography. After every class, I’m left with sore calves, an elevated heart rate and a shirt that’s literally drenched in sweat.
“Good class!” I’ll pant to a few other women in my class, curls hanging in my eyes like wet, salty corkscrews.
“Good class!” they’ll respond back cheerfully.
Tonight, however, my regular Zumba instructor was not there.
“Hi, are y’all here for Zumba?” a short, heavyset woman said as she made her way into the dance studio. “I’m Beth. I’m gonna be substituting for Carolina tonight. She’s not here.”
Instantly, I felt the mood around me change. I don’t know how to describe it, but you know when you can just feel the energy in a room change? That’s exactly what happened. Almost like a Spidey Sense, I could tell that the other women were not at all happy with this turn of events.
Beth made her way over to the sound system to plug in her music. I’m sure she could tell that she was not who everyone wanted to see. I saw a few women bolt from the room like junior high kids on the last day of school.
“Have you ever done Beth’s class?” I asked a girl with whom I was talking before class started.
“Yeahhhh I haaaave,” she said, elongating all her vowels. She then leaned in and whispered the rest to me. “I kind of like Carolina better.”
“Ah, yeah,” I said quietly with a nod. “Me too. But, whatever!” I added.
I would make the most of this, I thought.
Beth taught one class a week at my gym. I have never attended it but I assume she has a following of people who like her. My only experience with her came from a two-hour Zumbathon that I attended in October. During the Zumbathon, six instructors would each switch out and do a song or two while a huge group of people danced along. This went on for two hours and by the end of it, I was destroyed.
During Beth’s turn, though, I felt a sort of reprieve from the more difficult routines of the other instructors. Compared to their jumps and squats and turns and kicks, her moves were cake. I was able to regain my breath a bit, and for that I was thankful.
One of the things that I find fascinating about Zumba is that there are so many different styles of it. Each instructor has their own niche and you can usually find one or two that suit you. Beth’s niche, though, does not really jive with the kind of dancing I like to do. Whereas I am more of a hip hop/high-energy dancer, she does a lot of salsa and merengue and bachata.
Reggaeton music began to play from the speakers in the studio and I found myself moving my hips to the beat as I waited for class to start. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, I thought as I watched other women filter in to the room via the reflection of the mirror in front of me.
Soon, the reggaeton quickly faded away and was replaced by an upbeat salsa song. “Okay, let’s get warmed up!” Beth yelled and started waving her arms from side to side.
Soon we were off, arms flailing back and forth rhythmically and torsos turning in beat to match them.
“Right!” Beth shouted as we shimmied right – arms still waving.
“Left!” she shouted. Again, we shimmied the opposite way – arms still waving.
“Stop!” she shouted. We stood in place and salsa-d for what felt like an eternity. My arms looked like the large styrofoam noodles children use to whack each other with in swimming pools.
I kinda felt like this guy, to be honest.
Soon we were on to cumbia-ing. With balled-up fists at my sides, I stepped to my right side. Then left. Then right. Then left. Then right again. Then left again. Jesus, I thought, how long is this song?
Usually during Zumba class, I am focused entirely on getting my moves right and just jamming to the music. I don’t have time to think about much else. Beth’s routines, however, were not captivating. I found my mind wandering to all sorts of things that I had no business thinking about during Zumba.
I should do laundry, I thought as I spun to the left and then to the right and then the left again.
I stuck my right foot in and out a few dozen times as if I were doing a Mexican hokey pokey. Then, with disappointing predictability, we were off across the floor in the other direction.
When animals fart, does it make the same sound as humans? Do they even fart? What about bugs?
It was here when I caught the eye of another regular who I talk to in class sometimes. She works at the gym and usually comes to Carolina’s class for a bit before her shifts. She is the type of Zumba-goer who will tell others – “save my spot!”.
Her short frame was cumbia-ing behind me and she appeared bored out of her skull.
Finally, the song stopped and everyone in class ran to get a drink of water before another hour-long song began.
“I miss Carolina,” the short gym employee behind me said, her voice dripping in judgement.
“Yeah, well…” I said taking a swig from my water bottle. “This is new, right? It’s a change!”
My attempts at being positive had no effect on her and she rolled her eyes. “I’ll probably leave soon anyway.”
The next couple of songs were much of the same: cumbia, salsa and merengue. At one point, a salsa song was jarringly spliced with a slow reggaeton song that came out of nowhere. One minute, we were spinning right and left with a flick of our wrists and the next, we were squatted down low throwing our hands out to the sides and then over our heads.
Eventually a lull in songs came again and I retreated to my water bottle again. The girl I had just spoken to looked at me and, once again, rolled her eyes dramatically. She made no effort to hide her displeasure and shook her head as if to emphasize just how much she ‘couldn’t even’. It was as if she wanted me to partake in her judgment. I was having none of it.
Soon, the next song started and within the first minute, the pint-sized bundle of snark had gone, taking her negativity with her.
As we continued to noodle-arm and turn back and forth, I felt my mind wander again.
Why doesn’t the word ‘umlaut’ HAVE an umlaut?
How did the Tasmanian Devil do it? I’m spinning at like, a fraction of the speed and I’m already dizzy.
As we were now facing the doors, I saw people walking by outside. Two women who usually took Carolina’s class walked by and kind of stopped when they saw me. I gave them a smile and they raised their eyes and smiled back as if to say ‘Glad we’re not doing what you’re doing’.
Paying them no heed, I continued to cumbia back and forth. Why were people so negative?
At one point, Beth had us galloping in place. She let out a series of shrill whoops to try to hype the class up. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect and I think she might have scared a few of us. She walked back and forth in the front, waving her stubby arms and goading us to whoop as well. A few women let out forced whoops that seemed to pacify her.
Okay, I though to myself, I get why some of these women were less-than enthused about Beth substituting.
When class was over, it seemed like Beth was just as relieved as everyone else.
“Thanks for comin’ y’all,” she called sweetly as everyone gathered their things. “Thanks for staying.”
That line ‘Thanks for staying’, really hit me. She knew that she was not who these women wanted to see. She knew that her style was completely different than what Carolina’s was. She knew that she had started out with almost thirty people in class and ended with less than twenty. As an instructor, that has to be pretty demoralizing.
What was worse, though, is that I’m sure she felt the judgment from other people in class. She knew the rest of the women in the class were going to talk about her afterwards. They would gossip about her and demean her and lament how they missed Carolina.
Yet she still showed up and did class.
I mean, sure, she may not have the most interesting routines. And maybe the music she plays might sound like something your tia would dance to in her living room. And some people might not think the rolls of fat bulging out of her tight clothing is the most motivational thing to see at the head of a cardio class.
But conventions be damned, she does it anyway. And I think that’s incredibly admirable. Even though I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually do, I was glad I stayed because it was a different experience. Most importantly, I left class with a new respect for Beth.
So go ahead and leave, catty women. Deny yourself a workout and take your negativity with you. You were not missed.