I fell in love with Zumba while taking classes in my hometown. When I went to grad school, I continued to take classes and loved them. One day, there was a sub. I’m sure she was just a good friend filling in for the original instructor. The funny thing was that she drew a few blanks while instructing, and would always look to me (who had all the routines memorized) to remember what to do next. I was glad to help, and it occurred to me that if I were certified, I would be available for subbing too if they ever needed it.
I was certified to teach Zumba in January of 2012 and have been teaching off and on ever since then, teaching for over a year at the local Curves, as well as for some other local groups. I’ve taught in Utah, Alabama, and now back in my home-state of Idaho.
My time teaching classes has helped me realize some simple principles that people who get the most out of their Zumba classes tend to do. You’re probably doing a lot of them automatically (hence the magic of Zumba). But if you’re struggling at all, evaluate how you’re doing with these 7 principles (not necessarily in this order):
1. Don’t worry about your self-image.
It can be a good social skill to be aware of how you’re coming across, but that has no place in a Zumba class. Here, it doesn’t matter if you’re on beat or doing the moves exactly right. Chances are, if you’re having trouble moving your hips, it probably has more to do with having trouble letting go of self-consciousness than it has to do with your “body just not being made to move like that”.
Remember, nobody is watching you. Their eyes are all on the instructor. Everyone is at different stages with the routines. Take a step back and look around if you don’t believe me. You’re not alone.
2. Don’t tell yourself that your body wasn’t made to move a certain way.
This goes well with #1. Positive self-talk goes a long way not just into helping you develop new skills, but also in helping you enjoy yourself more. If you do really struggle with a move, take a moment to just observe the instructor. Are her knees bent more? Is her stance more widespread? Observing little nuances will help you realize that with some observation and small adjustments, anybody can do these moves.
3. Look for Patterns
This is another one that will come naturally the more you attend classes; noticing patterns is how you memorize a routine, and is also how your instructor choreographs them. Music definitely repeats certain sections, but the more you break it down, the more you will notice patterns on different levels. A single movement often involves a “single-single-double” pattern, where you might move to one side, the other side, then two moves to the first side, etc.
4. Check your position against your instructor’s position.
Still having problems feeling like you’re getting a move right? Take a mental snapshot of your instructor. Are your legs bent? Are they bent as much as hers? Is she flat-footed or on the balls of her feet? Is she leaning forward or standing straight? When facing an instructor, it can sometimes be a trick to project a mirror image of what they’re doing onto your own movements, so mentally going through their position as compared to yours will help you get more out of the moves and really begin to feel like you’re dancing. If your classroom doesn’t have mirrors, it can be a good idea to review moves at home in front of a mirror to really see what your body is doing.
5. Feel the beat.
This is probably the biggest one to really enjoying the class, but it should be the easiest and most fun. It’s nice to learn the moves, but if you focus TOO much on them, you might be missing out on just feeling the beat of the music and letting your body move. Connect with the music and let yourself move with the beat and get lost in the rhythm; it’s the most magical part of Zumba. Ask yourself if you’re really feeling end enjoying the music.
6. Once you know a move, don’t overthink it. Let your body do what it’s figured out to do.
Believe it or not, as you continue to attend classes, the moves will come and you’ll be able to rock out as you become for familiar with the routines. Here’s the thing: once a routine is part of you, you don’t have to watch the instructor too much. It’s essential at first, but if your body already knows what to do, studying too much might make you trip up. It’s a trick to learn how to mirror-image the instructor and transfer the moves to your own body, but once you’re there, let your body just go with it. It knows what to do.
7. Listen to your body.
This one is particularly important, and it’s one that everyone can probably work on more. If you’re in tune with your body, you’ll know when you need to take a water break or sit a routine out, or when your body is is fighting old habits of laziness. In general, being tired often doesn’t mean you need to take a break. Being short of breath does. Sometimes stitches in the side need you to slow down to get rid of them, or maybe push through a little more.
8. Ask your instructor to break moves down for you.
Your instructor won’t mind at all if you ask for help with a particular move you’re having trouble with. This just demonstrates that you’re invested in the dance aspect of the class. Though the class isn’t about precision, a lot of moves are more fun if you’re comfortable that you’re doing them correctly. Your instructor might break a move down before introducing a new routine during class, but several instructors go through their whole class with no real breaks for instruction. Be sure to ask them at a time that works for them; after class is generally always safe as long as your instructor doesn’t have another class immediately after the one you’re attending. Even so, if you make it known you’d like a step broken down, they’ll find a good way and time to review it with you or the class.
Like I said, you’re probably doing all, or at least most of these. And Zumba is always about movement and having fun first. But these might come in handy if there’s anything standing in your way of getting the most out of your Zumba classes. The cool thing is, Zumba classes have a magic of their own that tend to help you work past and through these issues. So hug a Zumba instructor today!