An Open Letter to Zumba Moms

Illustration by Katherene Quiteno.

Dear Zumba Moms,

I don’t think you realize it, but you have played an incredibly influential role in my life.

A few years ago, my friend and I took summer classes at the same Zumba studio our moms went to as a joke — kind of. Quickly, we realized that Zumba is no joke. So we came back the next summer. And the next. And the next. As burnt-out ballerinas tired of taking classical dance classes, but also not really into the whole gym thing, Zumba was the only thing that could get us to exercise at all over summer.

Honestly, the foundation of our friendship is our shared desire to become Zumba moms.

I hope you all know that you are great at what you do. The quality of Zumba that I have seen executed in that room is incredible, and makes me wonder what I even learned in 13 years of dance training. Yet I never felt intimidated, self-conscious, or competitive, because not only are you great at dancing, but you are great at creating a unique space for female empowerment through exercise. For that, I want to say thank you.

Thank you for smiling, cheering, dancing, and singing from the moment you walked in the door to the moment you got in your car to go home. You didn’t hide your enthusiasm, but instead used it to fill the room with some of the greatest positive energy I have ever experienced. Who would have guessed all I needed to do to find this space was enter a room full of sweaty middle-aged women?

Thank you for being brave enough to demonstrate in front of the class, but more importantly, for creating an atmosphere that fosters that bravery.

Thank you for not being afraid to “freestyle sexy dance” when instructed to do so, because I know I was.

Thank you for counteracting the prevailing body-focused narrative within fitness culture. I understand and support those who find motivation in working to build up or tone certain muscles to create a better physique. However, this can also foster a toxic environment in which success is measured only by what you see in the mirror, and can even lead to eating disorders. Zumba is a space where we can dance for the sole purpose of feeling good and helping our bodies be healthy. You helped me learn to appreciate all that my body can do, rather than focusing on what is wrong with it.

Thank you for proving that a fit body and a thin body are not mutually exclusive categories. Zumba is hard. As a teenage ballerina it was hard for me, and now as an admittedly less fit college student, it is even harder. Zumba-ers come in all shapes and sizes, and their ability to get through a class is a testament to their fitness. The instructors in particular possess an incredible amount of strength and stamina to teach classes every day, yet not a single one has a stick-thin, athletic body that one would associate with a fitness instructor. Society makes it easy to forget that we all have different body types, and very few can realistically achieve the “ideal body.” We idolize those that can, but ignore or even shame other women who work just as hard, but do not have the predisposition for that body. In a world where the female body is constantly scrutinized, Zumba celebrates the unique accomplishments of everyone and every body.

Thank you to the diversity in age, race, gender, and body, proving that not only the “typical” athlete can enjoy fitness.

Thank you for accommodating varying degrees of ability. All bodies work differently, and a less-able body should never been seen as a bad body.

Thank you for building an environment free from toxic masculinity, so that men can Zumba alongside us without worrying that it makes them less of a man.

Thank you for supporting each other unconditionally, and never succumbing to the comparison and competition that I am used to feeling in female-centric dance classes. I have always loved to dance, but I was never able to fully get past insecurity, self-consciousness, and a constant need to compare myself to others until I came to Zumba. You allow me to be completely uninhibited and dance for me, without worrying about anyone else in the room.

Thank you for wearing shirts printed with “dance 2 b happy,” and then actually doing it.

A Zumba Mom in training

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