By Leota Harriman

It was loud. I mean real loud—big fans and air conditioning, a ceramic-tiled floor, loud music, a few boisterous kids. Once the music got going I couldn’t think about anything else. And that’s one of the things Shauna Kusnetz likes about her Zumba class, which she teaches several times a week at Alta Mae’s in Edgewood.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m shy about dancing. So as I was waiting for Zumba class to start, I had a bit of a knot in my stomach. I saw lots of friendly faces, but as usual I was the largest person in the class. That can also make me feel self-conscious.

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Shauna gave me some tips to start, including telling me just to relax and have fun, along with a few pointers on not hurting myself by doing moves wrong.

Once the music starts, Shauna is a blur of movement at the front of the class. I felt a bit like I had walked into a Broadway production of some kind without knowing the choreography. Many of the people in the class wore scarfs with coins around their hips, and the rhythmic sounds of those coins in time with the music was both soothing and intimidating. Everyone around me seemed to know the choreography, which involves a ton of fancy footwork, a lot of shaking of your groove thing, Latin dance steps like cumbia, along with squats, turns, jumps—and was that twerking I saw?

A few years ago I would have walked out, shed a few tears in my car, and never gone back. In fact, I counted it as a victory that I didn’t cry Monday when I visited this Zumba class! I felt lost. True to form, I zigged when everyone else zagged, and lifted my left foot when everyone else lifted their right. The moves go by in a flash and I never felt like I caught on to any of them. Many of the moves I felt like I would never get, even if I went to Zumba every day for a year. In short, it was intense!

However, I will go back.

I’m going back because that hour went by in a flash. Because I really do love dancing as exercise. Because I’m tired of being defined by my comfort zone.

I’m almost 50 and I’ve let fear of looking foolish stop me from having fun dancing my whole life. And it is fun! In those few moments that I let go enough to just move my body with the music, I really enjoyed myself. I will also go back because while it felt deceptively easy as a workout, I really felt it last night, and I am really feeling it this morning. I’m sore, and I’m pretty sure I “torched some calories,” as fitness magazines put it.

The class is offered Monday through Thursday at 6 p.m. at Alta Mae’s in Edgewood, and Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30 a.m. (This week’s schedule is different because of the holiday weekend). It costs $3 a class if you buy a punchcard of 10, or you can walk in for four bucks. Like most classes I’ve tried around here, the first class is free.

Not only that, kids are welcome. They can either join the class (free if they are 12 and under) or they can play in the enclosed and grassy courtyard at Alta Mae’s.

“The choreography is intimidating,” I said to her.

“It comes,” she tells me, assuring me that after about three classes I would be more confident. I’ve done a few dance classes and I’m skeptical. However, I’m working hard not to let my preconceived ideas about what I think I can’t do rule my life. I was pretty sure last week I wouldn’t be able to climb a wall at the rock climbing gym, either, but surprised myself when I could.

A cool thing about the class is that there were people in it ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s, and of course all of the moves can be modified, by taking fewer or slower steps, and in other ways. There were other people there who were new, and some who looked like they just made up their own moves sometimes. It was fun.

“If you can get past your own mind block, it’s easy,” Shauna said, adding, “Being sedentary is the worst thing you can do.” And for that one hour, she said, you can’t think about anything else, “so you focus on yourself for one hour.” Most of us never do that. I know that for myself, even now, with no kids in the house to care for, it feels like a radical and selfish act to focus exclusively on myself, even for one hour. She’s right: We don’t do that much.

Last weekend, something awesome happened. After going to the climbing gym, and wearing myself out there, I picked up my grandsons and another boy I call my honorary grandson. I had three boys, ages 4, 9 and 13 for most of the weekend. I had bought three playground balls at the grocery store, and we went to the park to play. I played with them, and didn’t just find a shady place to sit while they played. And I thought, “Yes! This is it! When getting exercise isn’t a chore but just part of life—that’s what I’m after.” It felt great. Anything that I can do to move my body around is a good thing, whether it’s crazy dancing in my bedroom, or crazy dancing in a Zumba class, or playing with the kiddos, or taking a walk. And the thing I never knew when I was sedentary is that the more you move, the more your body wants to move. How cool is that?

If you offer a fitness class, or have an interesting story to share about living an active and healthy lifestyle, get in touch with me at 286-1212, or join the ongoing conversation in my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!” I’d love to hear from you.