How sucking at Zumba makes me a better teacher

I recently started going to Zumba classes at the local YMCA. I’ve never been a particularly athletic person, and I don’t do very much exercising. I’ve also never been much of a dancer. Nonetheless, my friend was going to the classes so I decided to try it too.

I’ve been doing this for about two weeks now and here is the truth: I suck at it. I have no rhythm, I move too slowly, and I’m always moving my right foot when I should be moving my left and vice versa.  I’ve improved marginally since my first class, but I still look like a total beginner and feel like a dancing elephant.

As I stumbled my way through another class this morning, I realized something.  Throughout most of my school career I was an excellent student; I say this not to brag but to emphasize the contrast between my school performance and my “performance” (or lack thereof) in Zumba class.  The fact is most of my schoolwork came pretty easily to me, especially in elementary school.  Zumba on the other hand is the opposite: I keep trying, but it all seems very complicated and confusing.  I start wondering if I’m wasting my time, if I should just give up and accept that Zumba is not for me, and if I’ll ever improve.

This is new for me–not that I’ve ever been good at sports of any kind, but in most cases, if I tried a sport and sucked (and thus didn’t like it because I sucked) I just didn’t do it anymore.  Because my friend–who by the way is also a 4th grade teacher–has continued going to class and we have “dates” when we agree to meet there, I have pushed myself to keep attending the classes and haven’t given up like I normally do.

Struggling through each class, making sure to stay in the back, trying not to call attention to myself, and wishing the instructor would slow down and give me time to practice before moving on: I haven’t felt this way for quite some time.  Again, I’m not trying to toot my own horn here; it’s not that I’m usually great at everything.  It’s just that I usually throw in the towel when I’m no good.

As I shuffle around in the back of the room looking like a drunk gorilla, I hope desperately that no one is watching me and that there aren’t any moves where the whole class turns around (thus making my row the front instead of the back).  Most of all, I pray that the instructor does not try to give me extra help or special attention.  I probably need it, and I’m sure it’s clear to everyone else in the room that I could benefit from some kind of remediation, but I never understood until now what was so bad about being singled out (for help, not scolding) or why so many kids don’t want to ask for help.  I don’t want the instructor to be thinking “Wow, she’s really not getting it and she should be doing better by now.” I want her to let me keep trying, even though in this context, I am an exceptionally slow learner.  If she would break down some of the moves a bit more for the whole class, that would be good, but if that’s not an option, I would rather continue working at my own pace, even though that pace is traditionally relegated to snails.

So at the risk of stating the obvious: if I, a grown woman with a master’s degree in education, genuinely have these concerns just as a result of a casual weekend exercise class at Y…many of my 4th graders probably feel the same way when they sit in my class every day.  The stakes are much higher at school than at the Y; I’m not legally required to go to Zumba class, I don’t get grades, and there’s no standardized Zumba test coming up in May that I need to prepare for (good thing, too!)

In short, my ongoing Zumba attempts have helped me to finally understand, as I enter my 6th year of teaching, how some of my struggling students must feel about school.

For my part, I think I’m going to stick with Zumba.  While I really am terrible at it, I think with some practice I’m going to wind up liking it for the same reason I enjoy teaching: there’s so much to think about and concentrate on that I don’t have time to get bored.  And like teaching, there’s always more to learn and room to improve.  Although it can be difficult and stressful, and I seriously doubt my abilities at times…in the long run, life is no fun if it’s not a challenge.

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