Something pretty miraculous happens when I get in front of a Zumba class and the music comes on. My body becomes a drum and I am the rhythm keeper. The class gyrates, rocks, thrusts and pulses, using my body’s timing as it’s heartbeat.
Of course, it all starts with the music. The music gives us the tempo and the timing. But not everyone in the class is familiar with all the different rhythms – salsa, merengue, reggaeton, cumbia, bachata, samba, salsaton, hip hop, coupé décalé, kuduro, champeta, and on and on – and how they are danced. I take my tempo cues from the music and the class responds to this by taking their cues from my body.
This is one of the things that most amazes me about Zumba. The way you can let go inside of the rhythm. Especially when you trust your rhythm keeper i.e. your instructor.
How did I become a trusted rhythm keeper for my fellow beat seekers? It’s a wonder because I’m usually that girl in dance class that has to watch others do the moves the first couple times before I catch on. And I’m still that girl in church that occasionally claps offbeat and has to glance sideways to pick up the rhythm again. Embarrassing. But I’ve learned to embrace my inner gringa. And have accepted that she’s not so much offbeat as on her own beat.
I’m also the girl who grew up in a family that would throw spontaneous music parties in our basement, my dad and I dj’ing for hours from the crates of his album collection. Dancing with my dad, sometimes on his feet, was how I learned to salsa, old school Puerto Rican style, which means bursting into funky improv to the rhythm from time to time. My brother and I spent hours downloading early hip hop songs from the radio on cassette tapes and playing them back to memorize all the lyrics and the beats. We would also choreograph little routines to rock at school dances, but that’s a story for another post, lol. Family get togethers for us meant salsa, soca and everything in between.
Being a Zumba teacher has taught me to channel my inner gringa to help make the movements relatable and easier to learn. It’s also taught me to trust my inner time keeper, the one that has been honed by years of family celebrations and the rhythms that are part of my heritage.
The even more amazing thing is that once I learn a new flavor or choreography, my muscle memory kicks in and I can pretty much do the song any where any time. My over processing mind politely takes a back seat and let’s my body do it’s thing. I’ve gained a new found respect for and faith in myself – the body knows. So when you see that girl on the subway with big curly hair and head phones on single single double’ing and doing the Beto shuffle, just wink at me cause you know the rhythm’s taken over.