Chronicles of a Plus-Sized Zumba Instructor: Part I

OMGoodness! I’m now officially a licensed Zumba instructor!!!! How crazy is that?!!

“So,” you ask, “how did this all happen?”

(I apologize in advance if this post seems a little garbled and long. Maybe I’ll wake up and edit this tomorrow. It’s been a long day and my body is tired and it’s late, but I just wanted to get this post out while I was still motivated and “on a high” and inspired. As a writer, I’m a slave to fleeting moments of inspiration. I know Elizabeth Gilbert or Cheryl Strayed or Julia Cameron would have something to say about that, but that’ll have to be left for another post.)

I’m always looking for ways to workout that are a) fun and b) allow me to do things at my own pace. I had heard of Zumba before, but I personally was not into group classes. I had taken a class called “Abs, Back and Booty” when I was at McGill, and it was “meh.” I didn’t start going to Zumba until I finished law school and joined Energie Cardio pour elle (as a Goodlife member). I figured I’d try something new. That’s where my love for Zumba began. I was hooked.

Zumba came to me at a time in my life when I needed something to break up the drudgery of becoming a lawyer and living by myself in a cold city. I was bored with my life. Along the way to becoming a lawyer, something inside of me died. I couldn’t quite place a finger on it — creativity? My fun-loving nature? A zest for life? Whatever it was, I lost it. Moreover, my education had caused me to become highly cerebral — I needed something to get me out of my head and into my body.

Along came Zumba. I was getting a great workout and not even realizing it because I was having so much fun. It was like a mid-week dance party. I LOVED the songs. I never thought that I’d love bachata so much. Zumba inspired me to take salsa dance lessons and bachata lessons (and one random Kizomba class). It gave me another reason to pursue my goal of learning Spanish.

I started going to Zumba classes once a week. Then twice a week. Then sometimes three times a week. I’d walk in the snow to go to Zumba. I’d walk 40 mins one-way to go to Zumba. I’d wake up on a Sunday morning to go to Zumba. I bought the Zumba Exhilarate DVD package. I bought ALL of the Zumba Wii games. I had Zumba songs downloaded on my MP3 player. I had a Zumba playlist on YouTube. My nephew and I would have our own Zumba parties whenever I’d go home to Toronto (he loves it! He always says, “Auntie, zuma?” [sic] He’s so cute…). I was hooked. I was dedicated.

And you know what? I realized that I was actually good. Not to sound arrogant, but when I would see my reflection in the mirror during class, I was actually moving and I was actually coordinated. Sometimes students in class would tell me, “I couldn’t see the teacher so I was just following you the whole time.” Sometimes the instructor would even invite me up on stage to dance with her.

This all got me thinking… I thought of the frequent times my sister would mention how I “threw down” one time on the dance floor at a Black Law Students’ of Canada gala. I thought of the times in elementary school when I wanted to be a prefect but they made me a houseleague captain — basically the person to hype up my classmates and make sure we cheered the loudest. I thought of my past jobs as a summer camp counsellor and a tour guide — how I love being in front of people and how I had to lead the children in learning their dance moves for the plays we would put on for their parents.

And I thought of my body. I thought of my poly cystic ovary syndrome and my insulin insensitivity. I thought of my muscular build. I was made to move. I am built like an athlete, but I definitely wasn’t acting like one.

And I thought that since I’m so dedicated to Zumba and since I’m already doing it at least twice a week that I might as well get paid for exercising and motivating people.

But then I had my doubts.

I thought that I may be too fat to be a Zumba instructor. All of my instructors were young and thin. When I would watch the instructors on the DVDs, they all bared their midrifts with their flat abs and toned bum bums. Even Beto (Zumba founder) has a six-pack. I would Google “plus-sized Zumba instructor” and the search returned only one relevant result. I thought that my future students wouldn’t want to take a class from me because I wasn’t “fit” enough and therefore not good enough. I thought that they’d want to take a class from someone whom they’d like to emulate — someone ripped. I thought I’d end up like Jennifer Portnick. I thought that gym personnel would take one look at me and doubt that I could keep up, let alone teach, and therefore not want to hire me.

I was afraid of being the fattest future Zumba instructor at the B1 training. I was afraid of standing out among a sea of lithe and slim twenty-year olds.

Of course I’d often neglect to remember that I have always kept up in my Zumba classes and I lead an active lifestyle (swimming, walking and, of course, dancing). Never mind that I texted a friend in the fitness industry as well as my former personal trainer and they were supportive. Never mind that there were people like Roz the Diva and Whitney Way Thore and other plus-sized yogis out there killing it. I was still intent on limiting myself.

A lot of you wonderful readers might read this and think, “But Simone’s not even fat.” Whether or not that is true, I have spent my life being boxed in and doubted and told what I could and could not do because I didn’t look like everyone else. It’s funny how comments spoken to me when I was a little girl still have a residual impact and affect the way I perceive myself and my abilities. But I digress.

And then I thought about the many women who look like me but never step into a gym because they never see bodies such as theirs represented. I thought that maybe if they saw someone like me teaching, I can motivate them to get active.

Then I thought about the children. I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside… Give them a sense of pride, to make it easier… Okay. I’ll stop with the Whitney Houston. But seriously, children especially need to see plus-sized people in movement, because for the most part, kids are taught that fat people are slow and unhealthy. I’ve had children that I’ve taught marvel that I can run fast. I remember one of my seven-year olds wanting to challenge my 25-year-old self to a race on the field because she was certain she could out-run me. I had many of my students tell me that I was fat, or that I needed to lay off of the chocolate, or think I couldn’t go on the diving board because I was too heavy. Being a teacher and a summer camp counsellor was oddly enough a flashback/déjà vu of my elementary school years. I was receiving the same mean comments as an adult and a person in authority that I received when I was a little kid.

I think about the chubby girls and the husky boys. I think about how they need to be taught to be proud of their body, to love their body and to take care of it.

Zumba has a speciality program called Zumba Kids, which teaches children how to do Zumba. Once I get into the groove of being an instructor, I’d like to also be a Zumba instructor for kids. They need to see that bodies such as mine can do a plethora of things, and that fat bodies can be fit bodies and that fitness comes in all shapes and sizes.

Plus I have a little nephew who I can try my moves on and who would love to help his auntie practice. :)

If I had plus-size athletes as role models growing up, I’d be so much better off today, body-image wise.

As Marian Wright Edelman once said, “You can’t be what you cannot see.”

(If only my past gym teachers could see me now. The chubby kid — the kid who was always last during the morning runs in high school and came last in the Mustang Marathon in middle school, the kid who couldn’t shoot a lay-up to save her life, the kid who was always tripping and falling, the kid who was content to just turn the ropes because she wasn’t all that confident that she could skip well, the kid whose worst mark was always in gym class — is now a Zumba instructor. Life is funny.)

So, even though I knew it would cost me an arm and a leg and that I’d have to travel all the way to Montreal to go to training (Montreal was the only place that was offering training on Sunday; the other cities only seemed to have training on Saturdays), and that it would thus be in French, I decided to do it. Steve Harvey recently “preached” about jumping. That was the confirmation I needed. I jumped. And, so far, I’m so glad I did.

Our instructor, Karine Opasinski, was super engaging and funny. I love how the course was structured. To make a long story short, we basically did Zumba for 8 hours. Yes. It was an eight-hour training session where we learned the science of Zumba, the psychology of Zumba, as well as the four basic steps: merengue, salsa, cumbia and reggaeton. It was time well-spent. All throughout the day I was thinking, “So that’s why my instructors always did that…”

Well friends, I was right — there wasn’t a whole lot of body diversity. There were a lot of lithe twenty-something year olds. But they were all nice. And what was most refreshing was that I saw some people with rolls and folds. And I saw some with grey hair. Most of the participants came from Montreal, but some came from Ottawa like me and one lady came down from New Brunswick just to attend the training.

Some people could dance. Some struggled a little more than others. We all made mistakes. And ultimately, I felt comfortable.

One person who I met (and who ended up driving me to the metro [aka subway] station) is a 50-year-old mother of 6 and grandmother of one. Thing is, home girl doesn’t look a day over 45. Her hair is thick. She is fit (in the typically way that we’d describe fitness). She races cars as a hobby. She used to be a classical ballet dancer with the Montreal Russian Ballet Company. Her husband — a mechanic no less — thinks she’s crazy. And she took this training in order to motivate and encourage women her age to get moving.

Talk about #goals.

Her secret to her youthfulness? A glass of red wine every day, drinking lots of water, and a positive outlook on life. She said, “If there’s something in your life you can’t change, say ‘F*ck it’ and move on.”

The serenity prayer asks for the wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change. That’s not to say there aren’t things in life we can’t change. We can change our level of fitness. We can change our self-limiting attitudes.

So here’s to getting my B1 license and canvassing gyms to see if they’ll hire me. :) I already have plans and ideas about who I want to teach and where I want to teach and what my music playlist will look like (best believe it will be beyond ill)…

…and I can’t wait to wear cool Zumba swag to my classes. :D

I’ve learned that sometimes we need to just get out of our own way and do the damn thing.

Check out my classes and profile at simonesamuels.zumba.com. Please note that since I only got licensed yesterday, the site is very much under construction.

Photo credit: Karine Opasinski

Originally published at simonesamuels.wordpress.com on January 18, 2016.

Written by

I like big stories and I cannot lie. Authentic, transparent musings & connecting with others so we can all feel less alone. https://linktr.ee/simonesamuels

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store