As I scanned the vast Zumba Maniacs studio in search of a place to hide, I realized I'd felt this particular brand of fear once before.
That was my first high school dance, when the wheels came off an otherwise pleasant date once the music started and I came face-to-face with an unsettling reality.
I can’t dance.
On that night, I was so petrified I made about 40 trips to the restroom, positive I was going to spew. While my arms were wrapped around the toilet, my date passed the time by wrapping hers around another guy on the dance floor.
Without a doubt, once I started dancing in Zumba class it wasn’t going to be pretty either, but certainly it wouldn’t be that bad. After all, this time my date was my wife, Kristen, and she already knows I’m about as smooth as sandpaper.
Still, as the studio at Puyallup’s Vision Quest filled with about 30 women (and just one other guy) I was nervous.
Kristyn Dahl, who leads the class with Mandy Huetten, says I’m not alone. Fear of feeling uncomfortable not only keeps hoards of people from trying this Latin dance workout but virtually every type of group fitness class.
“It’s too bad,” said Dahl, who earned an exercise science degree from Central Washington University. “There’s no reason to be uncomfortable. Everybody here understands.”
I’ll never be a good dancer, but Dahl offered a few tips to make me feel more comfortable. Well, at least as comfortable as an uncoordinated guy trying to salsa dance can be.
BRING A FRIEND
If my wife hadn’t come with me, I’m pretty sure I never would have made it out of the car.
“You’re always going to be more comfortable with a friend,” Dahl said.
Well, maybe not always. About 20 minutes into class my wife slipped a camera out of her bag.
As the flash started firing, I pleaded with the instructors. “Hey, I thought cameras weren’t allowed.”
“It’s OK,” Dahl said. “We’re making a special exception.”
Not only did I bring my wife, but as a further security blanket I selected instructors who I already knew.
If you don’t know the instructor, introduce yourself before class, Dahl said.
The instructors will be able to give you some quick tips and help you feel more comfortable.
I made the mistake of telling Dahl and Hueten that I was there researching a column about overcoming fear in fitness classes.
Like any good instructors, they gave me exactly what I needed.
About halfway through the class Dahl and Hueten jumped off the stage and the sea of dancing women parted. The instructors faced off in the middle of the room, each with an army of sassy women with wiggling hips behind them.
This looked some kind of MTV video dance off and I wanted no part of it.
No such luck.
Dahl motioned for me to join her in the middle and “do what I do.”
What happened next wasn’t pretty – spastic arm movements, clumsy footwork and hip gyrations that I’m sure brought shame on my entire family.
But surprisingly the only laughter I heard was my own.
GO TO THE MIDDLE
Later, my wife told me the lack of laughter did not mean I looked like I knew what I was doing. “They were being polite,” she said.
After all, everybody was new at one point and they know it’s not easy.
“We make mistakes all the time, too,” Dahl said, “but people don’t realize it because we are the instructors. They just follow along.”
So, Dahl says, forget about trying to hide from everybody else at your first class and go straight to the middle of the room.
It’s the best place to be because you can see the instructors and it’s easier to follow along.
“People aren’t looking at you because they don’t want people looking at them,” Dahl said.
I compromised and went to the middle of the room, but picked a spot in the back row behind a thin black pole. I was able to hide but by the end of the class I’d moved out in the open for a better view of the instructors.
DON’T GET FRUSTRATED
If I wasn’t so proud of the fact that I don’t dance, I easily could have gotten frustrated trying to keep up.
The women seemed to be able to dislocate their lower backs and make their hips orbit the rest of their body.
And the shimmy provoked a bit of coaching from Dahl I’m sure that I’ll never hear again. “Shake your shoulders, not your boobs.”
But Dahl says try not get frustrated. Trying a new fitness activity should be challenging. “After a few classes you’ll start to get it,” she said.
HAVE A GOOD ATTITUDE
Perhaps the biggest reason that my first Zumba class went considerably better than my first high school dance was my attitude. This time I knew I was going to embarrass myself.
At one point my wife noticed two women watching me and laughing as they worked out on Stairmasters.
“They’re just jealous that their husbands aren’t out here,” Dahl said.
“I don’t know,” Kristen said. “I think they were just laughing at you.”
Either way, by the time class was over I didn’t care. The second half of class went by in a flash and Dahl said “You were starting to get it there at the end.”
She was probably talking about the stretching that concludes each class, but I was just happy to still be standing.
Apparently, you can’t really die of embarrassment.
Too bad I didn’t know that in high school.
Craig Hill, 253-597-8497 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure
Our new fitness column runs weekly in The News Tribune and The Olympian. Submit questions and comments via email@example.com, facebook.com/adventureguys or twitter.com/adventureguys. Also get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure.