Tag Archives: exercise

Intentional Friend

By Darbie Andrews

Making friends came easy until I reached my forties. In my younger years, it happened so effortlessly through work, school, and activities. I always had friends nearby who I’d see sad1on a regular basis. All that changed when I moved away from everyone, divorced, became a single mom, and started a new job. My closest friends lived five hundred miles away during one of the most painful times of my life. Talk about lonely. I desperately needed and wanted to find new friends, but struggled with how to go about it since I never had to make such a conscious effort in my earlier years.

I ventured out to the gym.

The first time I saw her I had no idea we’d become friends. I noticed her for many reasons. Unlike me in the back of the room in all black, she wore all matching, bright colored Zumba clothes and she stood in the front row of class. Her ability to follow all of the Zumba instructor’s choreography with ease impressed me. Many of the people in the class knew her and they hugged before class. This woman had style, friends, courage, and great dance moves. With my self-esteem in the toilet from the battles of divorce, I didn’t see us as potential friends.

A few months after I first began going to Zumba, we ran into each other in the locker room. She complimented me on my dancing. Shocked that she noticed me at all, I felt my face turn five shades of red. That’s the beauty of exercise rooms covered in mirrors, no one can really hide. We had a short conversation about upcoming classes and we introduced ourselves. From that point on, we greeted each other before every class – the beginnings of a friendship with Stephanie.


Then one day she took the stage as a Zumba instructor. Wfullsizerender3ow, I thought to myself, how did she do that? Her courage to move from being a participant to a leader intrigued me. I started moving closer to the front of the class and talking to her more about being an instructor. We seemed so different in many ways, but seeing her make this leap of faith helped my confidence grow enough that I became inspired to become an instructor as well.

We chatted about choreography, songs, class size, mistakes we made while leading dances, and anything Zumba. She became a Zumba friend.  I greatly appreciated what we shared, but we weren’t friends outside of Zumba until one day she did somethin10371341_10205379343183963_2529482028241788670_og that no one else has ever has done. She took out her planner and asked me, “When can we do lunch?”  I stood there staring at her with my mouth open for a while before I grabbed my planner and we found a date to meet.

The first time we had lunch together, I realized how amazing it feels to be in a friendship with someone who intentionally seeks to connect with you.  It felt profoundly different than my friendships of the past because it didn’t step1just happen. She made sure it happened. Her passion for connection made me feel special. I felt honored by her attention to our potential as friends.

We’ve filled our planner with many other lunch dates over the years and become close friends. She has supported me through painful dating fiascos and day to day challenges, but the most beautiful thing she’s done is shown me the power of true friendship and the beautiful heart of a devoted Christian. Stephanie loves deeply and much of that love comes from her devotion to Christ.

Called to teach Zumba for God, Stephanie brings her love for others to every class she leads and the people feel it. The genuineness of her caring for others brings people into her life that want love and acceptance. I’m sure that’s why our paths crossed. I stayed in a bad relationship and she prayed for God to show me what I needed to get out and it happened. She stood by me and helped me stay strong through the break up. Stephanie knows my struggles with the Christian church and she has never preached to me. Her love for God shines through her actions.  She lives in love. step

I could go on and on about the many wonderful things Stephanie has done for me and many other friends, but this one occasion speaks volumes. On one of our recent lunch dates, I told her how all of the people I meet and know are devout Christians. She listened. I told her again how I don’t like church. She listened. I told her how I went to this church coffee shop and felt somewhat comfortable talking to the youth pastor about a mentoring program. She listened. I told her that I might go to a service there someday. She took out her planner and said, “I will go with you. When you want to go?” Again, my mouth dropped open. There she sat, ready to go to a church, other than her own, to help me make that step, that very uncomfortable step. She didn’t want me to go alone. My eyes filled with tears.

I would not have gone to church if Stephanie hadn’t offered to go with me. She did what no other person had ever done…again. People have invited me to their churches a



nd I’ve gone, but Stephanie brought it to another level. She and her husband sat there with me. She’s that friend. She’s the one who will go above and beyond. As I sat there in this church, totally uncomfortable, I looked over at her and my discomfort lifted a little. When the pastor went on about the struggles of dating and how people often short change themselves, tears poured down my face. I looked at Stephanie. I knew she knew that message was meant for me. After the sermon, she said, “God definitely called you here today.”

I’m not sure about what God calls me to do or not, but I am sure that my prayer to find new friends has been answered. To have friends nearby improves my life on so many levels, but what I appreciate more than anything is the lesson of being intentional. Being treated like I’m important and my friendship is important sends a beam of love into my heart and I want to do the same for others. The message of “I want to know you” is powerful. It’s what we all need and deserve to hear because it communicates that we are valuable.


In these times of full schedules, it’s easy to go months or years without making time for those we love or for potential new friends. We are often caught up in stuff and forget to express how much we value the people in our lives, but it’s a simple fix. Be intentional. Pull out your calendar and pick a date. Make it that important. We all deserve to feel that important. Thank you Stephanie for wanting to know me. I’m so happy to know you. We need to get our next date on the planner.

The first Zumbathon we participated in together!

I Thought I Couldn’t

I’m a firm supporter of believing in ourselves and thinking positively. As an elementary school teacher, I read the story, The Little Engine That Could, every year to my students. engine2We made train hats and throughout the school year, we chanted, “I think I can. I think I can.” The students wrote the words, “I can’t” on pieces of paper and then I had them rip up them up and throw them away. I’ve read the story to my own children many times and we have my very large copy of the book at home for those challenging life moments when my boys doubt themselves. I believe that saying, “I can” is a powerful tool to accomplishing our goals and when we reach our goals, we build our self-esteem and personal strength, but then there was U-Jam.

Over the years, I’ve taken on a new challenges that have helped me improve my life and my personal strength. From college and teaching jobs to learning a new language and motherhood, I’ve always thought to myself, “I can do this.” Sure, there were struggles and failures, but my initial efforts at doing something always began with the belief that I could do it. I kept going because I believed I could. After experiencing success, I’ve delighted in the boost of confidence and motivation that always follows and I’ve been propelled forward to the next challenge.

After a life time of doing what I thought I could, I decided it was time to try something I didn’t think Icomfort    could do. You know, step outside of my comfort zone so I could really grow and learn. Sure, there was probably a small part of myself that thought I could do it or I wouldn’t have tried at all, but mostly I just thought I’d learn to dance a little better.

I’d been instructing Zumba classes for a little over a year and through the new dance fitness network I’d become a part of, I heard about U-Jam. I attended a few U-Jam classes and could barely keep up with the footwork. I loved the music and the dance moves, but they seemed way more difficult than anything I’d done before. Many of the dances were hip-hop, something I didn’t think I could do without looking really stupid.ujam logo

I wavered back and forth about whether or not I should attempt to become a U-Jam instructor. Most of my friends encouraged me to do it since I already taught Zumba, but I had serious doubts and fears. Since we were having a training locally and several people I knew were attending, I decided I’d take the risk. I signed up for the two day training.

Although I know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, I did. I didn’t think I danced as well as anyone else in the room. I struggled with remembering the choreography and hitting every move, but the trainer did a fantastic job at explaining everything. I did learn to dance much better, but I still felt inadequate. During the workshop assessment, I messed up, but not enough to not pass. I wasn’t the only one who messed up, but I still felt insecure about my ability to make it.10003824_710262322329465_1312138754_o

After the workshop, I stressed about learning the three dances required for the video assessment. My first attempts at doing the dances on my own went poorly. I couldn’t remember the choreography at all. Two friends from the workshop completed their videos within a month or so. I couldn’t believe how fast they learned the dances. I reached out to the local U-Jam instructor and my workshop trainer. They helped me with choreography and confidence, but I seriously didn’t think I could ever learn those dances. I did consider not doing the video assessment, but there were people who believed in me and kept telling me not to give up. I wanted to though.

It came time to videotape. I made five different videos and chose the best one to send out. There was an option of asking for an extension and practicing more, but I was spent. I had given it my all and hoped that was good enough. When I sent my video, I didn’t really think I would pass, but I was okay with it. I knew I could work with a trainer to improve. So much energy and time went into making the video, I was happy to be done.

Time passed and I rested in the belief that I didn’t pass. I was prepared to just let it go and not pursue U-Jam at all because it was just too hard for me. Friends asked regularly if I’d heard yet, and I’d say that I hadn’t, but I wasn’t expecting to pass. Then the day came. I had an email from U-Jam. I was afraid to open it. I read it many times to make sure I read it correctly. I PASSED!!!


The biggest surge of energy came up through my body. It was nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced. My smile hurt. I called my very first U-Jam instructor, Rosie, and told her the news. Saying the words to her made me feel even more happy and proud. Accomplishing what I didn’t think I could accomplish took me to a whole new level of confidence. I felt like I could do anything from that point on. It was such a different experience than when I’d done something I knew I could do.

I’m so proud of myself for taking on something new. I’ve learned that it’s okay to doubt your ability to do something, as long as you still try and you don’t give up. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to just depend on myself to get through something. There are amazing people in my linever give up_nfe who believe in me when I don’t believe in myself and they will help me through. Without them, I would have given up. I wish that wasn’t the truth, but it is. I’d never tried something I wasn’t sure I could eventually accomplish. The doubt I felt was overwhelming, but nobody let me give into it. I’m so thankful to everyone who supported me, and still does.

I thought I couldn’t, but it didn’t stop me. My friends got behind me and pushed me over the mountain to prove me wrong. Thank you! Not sure what’s next! I’m sure it’s something I’ve never imagined. Here’s to living outside my comfort zone!

A Woman My Size

A Woman My Size

I timidly walked into a packed group exercise room at Xtreme Fitness in Redding, CA where people were talking to each other, smiling, and some even hugging before the class began. As an overweight, reluctant exerciser, I was quite shocked. Being at the gym had never been a pleasant experience for me; I never even grinned about exercising, let alone actually chuckle. Something was wrong with these people.

One of the first Zumba parties I attended at Xtreme Fitness. I’m on the right in a green hat. A few rows back.

A woman dressed in a bright colored Zumba outfit walked up on stage with a big smile, introduced herself, and turned on the music. A disco ball and dance lights spun around and lit up the dark room. The Zumba Instructor, Lisa Reed, started moving and pointing. We all started doing exactly what she did…dance. Before I knew it, I’d danced for an hour. I couldn’t believe I’d exercised for that long without passing out. What a fun time! Wait, did I say that?

The magic of my first Zumba class motivated me to attend as many classes as I could, sometimes even two a day. (This happens to many Zeeps – Zumba lovers.) Every class made me feel better about moving my body. The energy from people dancing was contagious and inspiring. For some reason, I didn’t feel limited any more by my size or my past battles with extra weight. The Zumba choreography challenged me to move in new ways and push myself physically, but it was never humiliating or painful, like other exercising programs I’d experienced.

The music, the dancing, the energy, the magic of the Zumba experience made me feel free. I know that sounds corny, but it’s true. I wasn’t trapped in a fat body anymore. Well, I was still overweight, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t self-conscious about my legs jiggling or my belly bouncing.  I didn’t care about any of that, at least not like I used to.

The Day I Became A Zumba Instructor, June 2012

My thoughts prior to Zumba were, “You’re too fat to do that, that, and that too.” Heck, I even felt too fat to walk down the street sometimes because I’d been “mooed” at and called “whale” by people driving by. I was definitely too fat to shake my butt in front of people, that is, until I found Zumba. With the “fat limits” gone, something strange happened, I mean really strange for me, I decided I wanted become a Zumba instructor.  I wanted to be a part of the group that helped bring so much joy to people like me.

One of the many marvelous things about Zumba is the creator, Beto Perez, has an open mind. He wants anyone and everyone to experience Zumba. Beto doesn’t limit the opportunity to be an instructor to those who are fitness gurus or who have above average physiques. Anyone who is motivated enough and willing to invest some time and money can become a Zumba Instructor. It’s not about having a six pack or the rock hard butt. It’s about motivating people to enjoy their own ability to move to music.

ImageToday I have the pleasure of teaching Zumba at Salisbury High School and at a few gyms. I love that I can do it and that I can help others have fun while they exercise. I’m not a size two and I’m not cut like some instructors. Yes, I’ve dropped some weight, but I’m just an average woman. I don’t want this to be a weight loss story. This is a weight freedom story. My butt is still big and I still jiggle, but I’m moving with pride. I walk up in front of a group of people with a big smile on my face and when the music starts I move and they move with me. We dance. All sizes, all shapes, all ages. I want them to feel like I feel, absolutely free and wonderful.

Lisa Reed and Me.
Zumba Instructors!

Recently, I did a Zumba demonstration and afterwards, a very well dressed older man who obviously worked out said to me, “For a woman your size, you move really well. You surprised me.”  The girl in me who’d been insulted by Neanderthals in her past popped her head up for a second and wanted to retreat, but no way. I stood tall in my bright Zumba outfit (size large by the way) and looked at him and said, “Go to Zumba and you will never be surprised again. Any size person can do Zumba and do it well.”  I walked away and lead another routine with my big smile and my head held high. Woot! Woot! See you in class!