Zumba. (Pronounced "zoom-buh.") Contrary to what you may think upon hearing such a word, it does not refer to the African tribal dance of some unknown indigenous tribe. Nor is it a programming language or an Internet job portal. No, Zumba is none of these things, and no I'm not making up stuff for fear this column is getting a bit on the slow side of things.
For the uninitiated, Zumba is, actually, a form of exercise. Not only that, but it's a really fun one. Basically it blends those good old tried and tested aerobics class mom maybe used to do with salsa and other types of fun dancing. There's a good amount of rump-moving, twisting, and hip-shaking along to fun, modern music, and by the end of it you generally leave having broken a pretty gnarly sweat. That may be why, when recently faced with an overwhelming sense of immobility now that I'm more or less settled in the Czech Republic, I saw it advertised and knew that it was my destiny. Please note: I use the term "destiny" very loosely.
Not too long ago, my parents sent me running shoes. Convinced that I was slowly getting fat and lazy (as any good American living abroad should aspire to be), I resolved to start running a few times a week on my own. My brand-new Asics acquired a thin layer of dust as I made up excuses: it's still really too cold out to go outside; I've been feeling kind of gross lately; I don't have anything to wear... Eventually, enough was enough. A poster advertising sign-ups for dance classes a couple of tram stops away from my apartment piqued my interest -- when I was younger, I took about 12 years of dance lessons -- and I hate everything about the concept and realization of "going to the gym." I had to move around a few English tutoring lesson appointments, but once that was taken care of I was all set to get my Zumba on.
Signing up, naturally, was slightly difficult, as the dance center that holds the Zumba classes is run by and attended by mainly Czechs. I'm pretty sure I'm the only non-native I've seen in that building thus far. Luckily enough, I've gotten good enough to explain my limitations with the language, and the woman who signed me up and took my money assured me that the instructor was a highly capable teacher and that I shouldn't worry.
At first I was slightly wary -- the classes are held in this gorgeous building reminiscent of one of the nicer hotel chains, and the instructor showed up for the first class sporting a wealth of clothing items emblazoned with the word "Zumba" on it. Not only that, he wore glasses. Slowly, however, my opinion experienced a complete turnaround. Our choreographed steps gradually increased in speed and difficulty until I realized the only reason I could keep up was thanks to those 12 prior years of dance lessons. Looking around at several points, I realized that this was, in fact, a challenge. I broke a sweat. I don't think I'll ever be able to totally understand or explain why, but I was thrilled. It may have been the first time (but certainly not the last -- I signed up for seven lessons total) that physical exertion with the intention and in the form of "exercise" honestly brought me satisfaction.
I'm only a few lessons into this short course, but I don't think it's too early to say that I couldn't be happier I've signed up. Lucky for me, Zumba doesn't need language. If you can keep up with the class leader's sometimes seemingly spastic movements, occasionally shake your hips and laugh when you screw up (often), you're set. Of course, understanding that "prava" is right and "leva" is left helps, but other than that the activity speaks for itself. The only bad thing I can say about it is that I have to pass not only a hot dog stand, but an ice cream stand as well, when going to and leaving the class. Shaking my booty for an hour a week is one thing, and that's more or less easy-peasy. Resisting both of those stands afterwards, though, my dear friends, therein lies the real challenge.