Death By Zumba

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Like many people, I belong to a gym in order to engage in what most people call "getting fit." You know, like those people who wear clothes that they bought expressly for the purpose of going to the gym and looking like they seriously intend to hold a plank for more than 10 seconds.

I am not one of those people. If I had a spirit animal, it would be the sloth. And that sloth would be wearing an old "Save Ferris" T-shirt, roomy yoga pants, and fuzzy slippers. My sloth would be binge-watching Transparent instead of going to the gym.

But the alarmingly buff and perky trainers at my gym insist that both showing up and making an effort are really the keys to the whole fitness thing.

Fair enough. But what these buff and perky gym people do not mention, even as you're signing your life away on the dotted line, is that gym-type fitness can be deadly. I'm not even talking about the "flying-backwards-off-the-treadmill-and-leaving-a-sloth-shaped-hole-in-the-wall" kind of deadliness. I'm talking about Zumba, the relentlessly upbeat, Latin-music-festooned exercise craze that is apparently designed to help you leave behind a fabulously toned corpse. Once they untangle your limbs, of course.

The promotional video playing at the gym showed a whole class full of perky, buff people dancing skillfully to Latin music and having the kind of fun that you normally only have after consuming a few adult beverages. No one in the perky Zumba video was breaking a sweat and at no time did anyone miss a beat. No one stumbled over their feet or—this can't be overstated enough for reasons that will become apparent later—the feet of anyone else in the room.

In contrast, anyone passing by the door of the Zumba class that I took would have seen a group of confused, middle-aged women lurching, off beat, to Latin music and looking like they were experiencing a moderately strong earthquake. The door is actually tough to see through, due to a mixture of the fine mist of sweat that covers it and the collective faces of the women begging to be let out.

Fortunately, the one thing that intense, heart-exploding exercise provides—other than a reason to keep your life insurance up-to-date—is epiphanies. Or sweat-stained hallucinations; whatever you want to call them. What follows are some of the epiphanies I had during my experience with Zumba.

5 minutes in: This isn't bad! It's not what I'm used to, but the Latin beat really makes working out fun! I think I could make this my new jam!

10 minutes in: My teenaged daughter—who, in compliance with state law, is much, much younger than I am—once took a Zumba class, and her words of wisdom to me when she heard that I was about to attempt this were: "God help you." I should have listened to her. Is that me wheezing like that?

15 minutes in: This is going to hurt like a mother in the morning. Just remembered: water company visit tomorrow. Must remember not to shriek in pain at the precise moment the water company guy pulls the old meter out of my basement.

20 minutes in: Evolutionary Achievement Unlocked: I am the first of my kind to develop the ability to sweat out of my eyeballs.

25 minutes in: No matter what count I think the perky and buff Zumba instructor is on, I am wrong. Always. I'm pretty sure I apologized to the woman whose feet I tripped over, even if she is throwing me shade.

30 minutes in: I have ibuprofen at home, right? Yes, I have ibuprofen at home.

35 minutes in: Current orthopedic theory says that the knees only allow leg movement in two directions, but I really think there are more than that.

40 minutes in: Apparently, clutching the center beam in the classroom and performing deep breathing exercises is not a sanctioned Zumba routine. I am encouraged to rejoin the class "for the fast part."

45 minutes in: There is no crying in Zumba, I am told, because it scares the gym members who look into the classroom as they pass by. The perky and buff instructor mambas effortlessly back toward the front of the room, disappearing into a mist of sweat droplets, only to be replaced by visions of my dead grandmother eating a pastrami sandwich. She lived to be 97. I might not survive the remaining 10 minutes of this class.

50 minutes in: You know what would be great outside the Zumba classroom? A fried chicken buffet. No! Ice cream sundaes! On top of the chicken! How is it that I am not fabulously wealthy, what with all of the brilliant marketing ideas I have?

Suddenly the music stops, and I stumble from the dank classroom, shaking and sweating from parts of me that I didn't even know could sweat. Seated on the lounge couch, I marvel that I survived the ordeal. Try again next week, my fellow Zumba classmates urge me. It gets easier with time.

I might do that, I tell them. Hopefully, one day my feet will fly and my hips will merengue to the correct beat.

Right now, however, there is a casually dressed sloth calling me. We have another season of Transparent to watch.

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