How Zumba ended my 20-year love affair with Cher
I hate exercise. I really do. I am a member of a gym that I hate going to. It’s filled with gym fascists, like the gang of twenty-something blokes who hog the weight machines or who congregate around the pull-up equipment with their bulging muscles trying to outdo each other with their pull-themselves-up-ability and the tininess of their vests.
The girls are no better. They usually appear in twos or threes in their Juicy Couture tracksuit bottoms, g-strings, tiny vests and of course the obligatory tattoo which I believe in some quarters is referred to as a tramp stamp. They carry 50cl bottles of Volvic and do very little in the way of an actual workout – it would ruin the carefully applied layers of make-up – but they do a lot of giggling when the boys in their vests do their pull-up exercises.
Then you get the proper serious gym bunnies. Now, I’m a 40-something mother of two who said goodbye to an acceptable waistline back in the 90s. I have one fully functioning knee and no thyroid gland, so any kind of workout is a chore. I was in the gym a while back on a treadmill doing around 6.5km per hour, which for me is as fast as I can go without breaking into a proper run. I was focused on not falling off while listening to some pacy tunes on an iPod shuffle that child no. 1 had kindly donated to me. Sweat was forming on my brow and I was breathing hard as I increased my incline to 5°. Phew.
I was impressed with my efforts until a serious gym bunny bloke got on the machine next to me. While I was puffing my cheeks out and gearing up for the move to 7km/ph, this sod immediately went into a flat out run on an incline that was so steep it was about the same as sprinting up Mount Snowdon. As he hammered away at a rate that would have had Superman bent over his own knees wheezing, this bugger’s phone rang. I expected him to either get off the machine or not answer it, but nope, not this swine. Instead he picked the phone up while still pegging it up a 40° incline and proceeded to have a perfectly normal conversation. I doubt that the person he was talking to knew he was doing anything more strenuous than sitting in a nice comfy chair.
I was so exhausted just watching this that I beat a hasty retreat to the hand bike on the other side of the gym where I sat and glared at the guy while I muttered under my breath.
Not long after I fell from a ladder and I bust my knee and was warned by a serious looking doctor not, under any circumstance, to do any exercise at all. I had an operation in June to fix things and I have just this week been given the all-clear. So I’ve been looking around at exercise options.
Between me busting my knee and this week, the world has gone Zumba crazy. My old gym is running about ten Zumba classes a week and every sports hall, community centre and social club within a 5 mile radius of my house has at least one Zumba class in between Fat Fighters and meetings of the Mothers’ Union. Every woman I know who has tried Zumba loves it with an evangelical zeal. I decided to investigate.
But first I have to take you back many moons to the days when I was young and still had a waistline. I used to do Latin American and ballroom dancing. I won medals and trophies and everything. Hell, I even had shoes with suede soles that would make me glide effortlessly across a freshly waxed ballroom floor. I could do the cha-cha and the paso doble years before Mark Ramprakash made it sexy. I used to perfect my jive moves using the living room door handle to practice my kicks and twirls.
There’s something about music and dancing that makes me feel happy and not like I’m doing anything remotely akin to proper exercise.
Back when Jane Fonda was terrorising women the world over, exhorting them to “feel the burn” I bought myself a video (yes, video cassette) called Cher Fitness: A New Attitude. This was the most wonderful thing ever invented in the world of exercise as far as I was concerned. Sure, it was conducted by an Australian fitness maniac who spent a lots of time shouting “Whoo!” and “Ho!” but Cher was there taking the class with me and singing along to her greatest hits while wearing a tutu and fishnets. I could workout while bellowing along to “Love and understanding” and even a bit of “Born to be wild.”
My relationship with Cher even outlasted my marriage. I had my Cher Fitness video before I met my husband and I still have it six years after I left him. It would take something special to part me from Cher and her rock’n’roll dance workout.
I’ll never forget the first time I did the Cher step class; I was a lather of sweat, beetroot-faced and could barely breathe when Cher, knowing exactly how I was feeling, told me to always do this warm up. Warm up!? I was ready to collapse! Over the months and years I got to the point where I could do the workout in my sleep.
But let’s face it, the world, and sadly Cher, has moved on. If I mention her name to my kids they think I’m talking about the X Factor. Plus, no-one has video players any more. So rather than renew my gym pass, I thought I’d take a gander at Zumba.
Being a modern kind of family, we have a wii in our house. My best friend has the wii fitness board and game and swears by its health benefits. So I went on Amazon and found a wii Zumba game with a free fitness belt for twenty quid and went for it. This was so I could try it out at home to see a) if my knee could stand it and b) just how much of a tit I looked flouncing around.
This has opened up a whole new world for me. Zumba is a world where the women who teach it (as opposed to the women who do it) are toned and sculpted to perfection. It’s a world of merengue and hip hop, of calypso and samba, where we all imagine ourselves as Shakira, even if in reality we’re more like a Womble. In my first Zumba session, I lasted 20 minutes, which is twice as long as I made it my first time with Cher. This was a good sign.
So I’m combining my love of Latin dance with my love of musical workouts and I’m in exercise heaven. I’ve still got my old video player and Cher is tucked away safely in a corner for now. It was great while it lasted, but ma chère Cher, I’m moving on with a salsa beat.
I may be in my leggings and baggy t-shirts for now, but maybe one day I’ll be like one of those bra-wearing Zumba ladies off the telly.