Zumba is that thing for me. You know when busy women say, “You need to do one thing for yourself”? That’s my thing. Although I also include occasional giggly beers, lots of flat whites and Grey’s Anatomy as the “one” thing.
I’m not very sociable. I stand in the back where I don’t tread on anyone’s toes and where nobody can hear I’m not making the compulsory woo oo! noise whenever you do a move so laborious you have to make it sound sexy. It doesn’t, but they think it does. I don’t speak to anyone, really, but I overhear them and watch them.
There’s the older lady with white-blonde hair and jangly earrings who sings along to every song, in every language, and gets all the words wrong.
There’s the overweight girl who has clearly struggled to find a sports shirt that covers her belly when she raises her arms. Her footwork is faster and more precise than mine ever was in pointe class. She also raises those arms with no hesitation.
There’s a tall, thin girl who I think looks like a former Russian ballerina, her angular limbs bumping tempo with the Latin rhythm. She doesn’t smile but she was enthusiastically shaking her hips in her belly dance bells when nobody was watching.
There’s the Filipino woman who has no sense of rhythm and wears a brand new, multi-coloured gym kit every week. She started singing Christmas carols in between tracks today.
There’s about forty other women. Some of them regulars, chit-chatting before the class about their lives. Some of them are newbies and come once or maybe twice, falling apart somewhere in between J-Lo and Enrique, and are never seen again. Some of them come sporadically, like the wispy looking beauty therapist I spoke to once, who greeted me like an old friend the next time I was in. All I’d said was it her first time and she nearly hugged me.
Everyone is smiling, laughing when they have breath, singing, dancing and obliging with the woo oo! or at least miming it. Nobody gets angry if someone goes the wrong way, invades their space or bumps into each when grabbing their water bottles. A hall of middle-aged women can also sing Rolling Down the River with a gusto that belies their exhaustion.
They are exhilarated. Active. Passionate. Connected. Generous. Wild. Free.
One in three of us will experience cancer at some point in our lives. One in four of us will suffer domestic abuse. Twenty percent of our pregnancies end in miscarriage. One in five women encounter sexual violence. Around a quarter of us will have some kind of mental illness. A third of women will have an abortion before the age of 45.
Chances are that someone, or someones, in that dance hall will know what those things feel like, ache like, sound like, hurt like. But there they all are, shaking their hips to Pitbull and Kei$ha (there’s a dollar sign in there, somewhere) like it’s the only thing that matters. And I love that.
I probably should say more than “hello, is it your first time?” in ensuing weeks, but even if I don’t, it feels good to dance in a room full of women that feel powerful and feel strong even if the statistics say that most of us will inevitably be having a shit time. Every woman should have their one thing. I think Zumba is a good one.