48: Have Fun. Be Silly. Dance Crazy.

48: Have Fun. Be Silly. Dance Crazy.

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Have Fun. Be Silly. Dance Crazy.

What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.

~Vern McLellan

I was a serial New Year’s resolutioner. I’d show up at the gym each year on January 1st with a newfound enthusiasm to tone up and shed the pounds. And then I would quit. Every year. It was an endless cycle that lasted most of my adult life — post-undergrad through my late twenties — until the year of my thirtieth trip around the sun.

After an impromptu move to a new city on my thirtieth birthday, I joined a nearby gym. It was July, not even New Year’s, but this time I meant it!

I’d always wanted to join the Zumba classes at my previous gyms. I would hear the music from the main floor and dream about sneaking into the back of the class to let loose. I’d press “Play” at home and, in my twenties, I even participated in filming a dance fitness DVD. All of this led to obtaining a Zumba teaching certification. But there was no way I was going to walk into a dance class. Everyone in the classes always looked like professional background dancers — smooth, fluid, and on the beat. Certainly, most were nowhere near my own size — well over 200 pounds and 5’9”. And if they were, they stood awkwardly in the back of the room as if they wanted to remain invisible.

Just a few weeks after joining the gym, I thought long and hard about my reticence. The fate of my commitment to this new gym relied on mustering up the courage to take the Zumba class — and that courage really paid off. Not only did I find the strength to take the class, but I knocked down an existing no-new-friends wall in order to connect with four other amazing women (resolutioners who found love in dancing, too). We were front-row Zumba fanatics.

The four of us were regulars. Accountability partners. Friends. Each week, we texted each other and made sure we were en route to our favorite weeknight dance party. All of us, unique in our own rights, let down our hair and danced like there was no tomorrow. Personally, I was really proud of myself for finally having a regular routine. Almost a year later, I was still holding strong.

After seven months, our Zumba instructor quit without notice. Apparently, she left to open a dance studio in her hometown. The fitness manager alerted our class that Zumba would be cancelled indefinitely until she could find a replacement, which could take a few months. A few months with no classes?

Knowing that I had a certification collecting dust, I told my dance crew in jest that I’d be willing to teach the class so we could continue our weeknight parties. “We can’t wait a few months!” I joked, but the ladies were serious in their support for me teaching the class. Me? Teach the class? Yes, I had the certification, but was I ready to actually teach an entire class? I don’t look like a fitness instructor. Will anyone even come to class?

Reluctantly, and with convincing from my tribe, I submitted an application to the manager. She’ll probably never admit it, but in response to my application, her eyes said, “Are you sure you’re applying to be the instructor?” But the words that came from her mouth were, “Great, Tonya. I’ve scheduled an audition for you next Tuesday. By the way, you’ll be auditioning in front of a live class.”

I walked into my audition with confidence in the routine, but I still wasn’t confident about my physical appearance. I’d never seen (in the flesh) an instructor who was a size 16. I loved to move my body to music, but I had a loose tummy and thighs that jiggled. Against my better judgment, I wore Spanx underneath and all-black compression leggings — an attempt to appear a smaller size. I was slightly discouraged when I heard a woman whisper from the back of the class, “Is she teaching the class today?”

The manager handed me a headset and turned on the music, but no one was prepared for what happened next. I froze. Not because I was nervous, but because I couldn’t breathe from all the shapewear I had on. “Can I have a minute?” I ran into the bathroom where I stripped off all the uncomfortable clothes. The little voice — the same one that consistently popped up during resolution time — whispered again, “Be the exception to the rule this year. Just have fun, be silly, and dance like crazy.”

Jiggly thighs and all, I went back into that room and showed the manager (and the class) why she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hire me as a Zumba instructor. I knew there were other women who felt like I once did — too afraid to walk into a fitness class because of insecurities or feeling too shy to dance their pain away. By teaching the class, I could show women how to have fun during the process of getting fit, and I’d be able to give an hour of hope to someone who needed it. I’d not only empower other women, but I’d be able to fuel my own confidence.

Needless to say, I got the Zumba instructor job on the spot. The same woman who was hesitant about attending class would now be teaching others. Strong, influential, and leaving it all on the dance floor. Now that’s a resolution to be proud of.

~Tonya Abari

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