For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be some type of aerobics instructor, and I honestly have no idea why. It started brewing in me before I was even what one might call “fitness-y.” I think the longing came from a place of being comfortable in front of large groups of people and from my eagerness to get paid for working out so that I would actually, you know, work out.  Well, as a fitness instructor i am a fan of supplements for weight loss and muscle gain, like who will not love the idea of losing weight and gaining that lovely muscle?But let me be honest here and acknowledge that I know where this desire really came from. It came from God.

Thou Shalt Salsa

My relationship with Zumba likely originated during the time I spent living in Peru, post-college. Zumba was becoming a popular workout then, and I was learning how to properly Salsa, Merengue and Cumbia. My time in Peru tied me into the Latin American culture in its entirety, dancing and music included. In 2010, a year after I returned home, I finally bit the bullet and got certified in Zumba Fitness.

I built my fitness foundation as an instructor at the recreation center on the University of Alabama’s campus. It was there that I first felt the high of standing in front of 30 or more girls (and sometimes an occasional boy), leading them through dances that were not only fun but a great work out as well. I met a community of fitness friends who helped me push past my own insecurities about both teaching and taking classes, encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone. I then started taking classes that involved weights (what?), stationary bikes (double what?) and big, fat medicine balls that I balanced myself on while attempting to do crunches without falling on my rear. My fitness limits were stretched, and it was a blast.

At the beginning of 2012, I moved back to north Alabama for a new job. It had been a while since I had really lived in the area where I grew up, and I struggled to find my footing and place. Finally, one day in April, I got up off my keister and took myself to several gyms, seeking to find a position as a Zumba instructor. Most times, this endeavor produced the same result. Gym managers suggested I leave the application with them and said they would call if a position opened up. And then they didn’t call. I thought that would be the case on this day as well, but instead I got a call back. Not just any call back, mind you! This was a call back from Richard, the guy who would become my boyfriend.

Remember that guy? The one who drastically changed my life in the six months we dated before he suddenly died from an aggressive form of leukemia? Yeah, it’s true. Our relationship started with Zumba.

Eventually I left the gym Richard had been managing and picked up several regular classes at multiple gyms around town.

A Way of Life or a Glimpse of Heaven

I now teach, on average, three to four classes a week at four different gyms. Zumba has become a part of my life in such a deep capacity that I swear it is linked to my inner being. I talk, Facebook, tweet and write about it so much that I’m sure it goes hand-in-hand with people’s description of me. “Oh, there’s Katie Bivens…she teaches Zumba. I know this because she constantly talks about hip rolling and shin splints.”

I’m totally fine with that, too, by the way, because Zumba has changed my life in more ways than one. Now, not only am I healthier in both mind and body, but I am happier too (endorphins, duh). It’s my favorite workout because, honestly, where else can you shake what you’ve got without offending others? Unless you’re dancing alone in your bathroom, the answer is “nowhere else.”

Although being able to gyrate (sorry mom) free of judgment on a regular basis is one of the best reasons for teaching Zumba, my favorite motive for teaching is the opportunity I have to get to know the women I have the privilege to teach. Every week I genuinely look forward to seeing my participants. They are mostly women (with an occasional husband thrown in the mix) of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities. They are 20, 36, 52 and 85. They are Caucasian, African American, Asian and Indian. They are teachers, doctors, stay-at-home moms and college students.

These classes provide us all the opportunity to come together and celebrate one another and ourselves. During the one-hour Zumba class, it is inevitable that every person will smile at least once. A lot of times it’s because I force them to yell out “Woo!” when they roll their hips, or maybe it’s because they feel ridiculous doing a certain move. They laugh together, encourage one another, empathize with each other and genuinely have a good time. It’s just the absolute best seeing people of all ages, races and backgrounds celebrating life together. It’s a glimpse of Heaven, really.

My People 

Not only are these women my class participants, but they are also my friends and supporters. I can always count on them to help me shake off (pun intended) the worries of my day, even if just for an hour. Many of them have been in my classes for over a year now, so they were in my life when Richard died, and I needed to take some time off. They gave me cards of encouragement, words of advice and offered to interview any future suitors I may have before a relationship starts. All that time, I believed I was there to change their lives, their bodies and their thoughts about themselves, and here they are changing mine. Isn’t that how it always works?

God plants a seed deep within our hearts to go out and make a difference in some way. I encourage you to find something that will not only feed your physical health, but also your emotional and mental health. Go to that yoga class you’ve always wanted to try. Start a walking club with a group of people in your neighborhood. Then, sit back and watch how God uses those opportunities to change your life for the better and make a difference in others.