Tag Archives: Zumba

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.

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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

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Church!

 

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.

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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.

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The first Zumbathon we participated in together!

Bragging Rights

Bragging Rights  12961728_605186556312191_2936564873169789097_n

I felt unsure about how it would go, but when I heard they needed a teacher who wanted to work with at-risk students, I decided to give it a shot. Teaching elementary school for twelve years had become isolating and routine. Earning my Master’s degree and my short experience as a high school and middle school counselor created a hungequestion-mark-1026530_960_720r in me for something different. When I walked inside the building, a nervousness that I hadn’t felt since I first started teaching shot through me. I wondered if I’d made the right decision. My new challenge faced me, teaching teenagers at a continuation high school. What was I thinking?

I hate to admit it, but I was a bit terrified. A tumultuous sea of teens surrounded me all day long. Their attitudes, moods, faces, “eff bombs,” gossip, bullying, and occasional laughter pierced into my being. They seemed so foreign to me compared to elementary children who, for the most part, would do anything I asked of them. Teaching young children has its challenges, but they generally love their teachers. Their little faces light up and they want attention so bad it hurts. “Teacher, teacher,” they’d yell out all day long. They’d depression-1250897_960_720sing and dance, read out loud, and do ten jumping jacks enthusiastically if I asked.  I didn’t experience the same types of responses from these teenagers. They did want my attention and just asking them to work could turn into a huge conflict. Their faces didn’t express joy for much of anything they had to do it school.

Many of them had years of tragically challenging experiences at home and in school that left them feeling hopeless and discouraged, but they showed up anyway. Even though they’d failed in the past, they wanted a chance to succeed. Many people, including themselves in some cases, criticized them, put them down, and looked at them as failures because they went to a continuation high school. Although people told them they couldn’t or wouldn’t succeed, they kept trying. Their strength and tenacity inspired me, but I still wasn’t sure how to reach them.

So we danced.

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I nervously started a Zumba class for P.E. At first, very few students chose the class, but over the years, the room filled with more new faces. When I lead them in Zumba dances, they became those enthusiastic elementary kids who would do anything I asked. They’d shake, jump, clap, shimmy, you name it. Oh to see them smile, knowing what I knew about their lives, created a happiness in my heart like no other. Pure joy.

I had a crazy idea of asking them if they wanted to perform some of the dances in public at a health fair and fundraiser. Surprisingly, they agreed and even showed up to after school events. They returned to the school they were kicked out of and performed with big smiles on their faces. Their enthusiasm and willingness to perform in front of people shocked me. In class their love for movement and music brought laughter and smiles, but to ta792298_10151429665388707_224105806_oke that outside of our safe haven required another level of courage. These moments of pride lifted their heads and expressed their tenacity. They showed people their unwillingness to be invisible or forgotten. Every year each new Zumba class brought new energy and crossed new boundaries.  Then the big moment came – a chance of a lifetime. For the first time ever, teen students from a continuation high school in little Red Bluff, CA would dance Zumba during halftime at a professional NBA basketball game. For me, a dream come true. 12963436_605186506312196_349463721530923816_n

When the day arrived of our performance at the King’s game half-time, I wished all the previous students who helped build the enthusiasm for Zumba over the last nine years could have been there with us. They graduated long before this opportunity arose, but they were key to making it possible. Their willingness to show off their skills during the earlier years changed my thinking. I realized these teenagers still had that youthful enthusiasm and courage. Even though life had pushed them down and took away their smiles so many times, their smiles could be unburied. Their joyfulness and confidence to take healthy risks could be reignited with the power of dance.

The amazing group that made it to the King’s game practiced relentlessly with me for weeks before the big day. They drove two hours to Sacramento the week before the 12973336_605185846312262_1360726372874898236_operformance to rehearse repeatedly with the hundred other dancers. A few were overcome with anxiety so many times at school that dancing in front of thousands of people in a stadium and for television struck a nerve way down deep, but they committed to performing. Before we made our way down to the floor, a few girls expressed their nervousness and fear to the point of wanting to back out, but they didn’t. We ran out onto the King’s floor full of excitement. I looked at the faces of the nine Salisbury students who stood there with me and knew they’d never forget that moment. Neither would I.12932775_605186679645512_4454442459524173230_n

We looked up into the crowds of hundreds of people and waved at the ones who came along to cheer us on. Giant cameras pointed at us. The announcer yelled out, “Let’s hear it for the Zumba dancers!” The crowd roared. The music blasted. We danced for three glorious minutes. Single, single, double. Step left. Step right. Shimmy. I smiled the biggest smile possible. The pride I felt to be dancing there with these incredible students was one of the best moments of my life. They remembered all the moves and they rocked it! The music ended and the crowd roared louder. People clapped and cheered. We ran off the floor, several of my students said, “That was amazing. When can we do this again?”12938304_605186566312190_3257568871448162589_n1

I don’t know when we will have the chance to do it again, but I am driven to find more opportunities for my students to shine. They deserve it and they need it. Their bravery catapults them and future students onto a new levels of accomplishment. They walked away from that experience with something that very few other people can say they’ve done. Yes, they’ve earned serious bragging rights. After everything each of them has been through, they can still push themselves and be amazing. It takes a lot of guts to stand up in front of people and dance your heart out, especially if you’ve been the person who never did things like that before. I hope they brag to everyone they know and meet that they danced Zumba at a King’s game, but even if they don’t, having those bragging rights in their hearts lifts their heads a little higher. Brag on Salisbury Zumba students, you are spectacular and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!