On my way out the door to attend my first-ever Zumba class at the Webster Groves Recreation Complex, I scoffed at my boyfriend when he wished me luck. "It's just a dance class," I told him. "I've taken a dance class before—I think I can handle it." 

Famous last words.

I should have been more concerned about my Zumba experience from the get-go: I rarely exercise and I've never been able to enjoy 'fun' dancing. While everyone 'gets down' at a wedding, I can be found at the cake table. In the face of an uncomfortable boogie, I once shook the hand of a man who started dancing with me, then spent the evening texting from the powder room. To sum it up: I'm awkward, my hips do lie—and that's fine. So convincing my body to do music-video-type moves while flexing my abs and moving my arms was nothing short of awakening—you know, like how you wake up from a nightmare, sweat-drenched and screaming.

Instructor Rocio Tumialan started the class with… well, she actually just started. This wasn't her showing you what to do; it was simply time to do it. Was there a Zumba prerequisite I missed?

Ten minutes in, and I was ready to tap out. Thoughts about how mad my editor would be if I ran—followed by an ill-thought-out plan to quit my job and leave the state—rolled through my head much faster than my legs could salsa. At one point, I may or may not have just been standing, clapping and plotting my escape while the other students gyrated their calories away.

Instead of focusing on positive thoughts, my internal narrative was this: Is this song by Adam whatever-his-name-is? I can't stand that guy. Did the instructor just tell me to go faster? How could I go faster? I'm going to pass out and crack my head on the floor and die listening to Adam whatever-his-name-is, and I forgot to tell someone at work what to write in my obituary.

Apparently, I didn't run away—although it was such a shock to my typically lazy system that even if I had, I probably wouldn't remember—and by the time only 10 minutes remained, I'd really found my stride. I was keeping up, I was having fun, and I was too sweaty to care about how un-sexy my hips looked.

Post-Zumba, I was downright exhausted. I went home and may have fallen asleep with a light on. 

By 2 p.m. the following day, my calves were throbbing. My coworker noticed me hanging off the side of my wheelie chair, trying to figure out how to sneakily elevate my feet without leaving the desk. When she asked what had happened, there was little I could do but whisper, "Zumba."

Ah, what seven days can do… A week later, it was time to attend Zumba again, and all signs of cockiness were out the door. I was obsessively drinking water. I made myself think about what I was eating. I searched out, washed and wore the best socks I could find in my house, as if they'd make my feet move faster. 

There were more people in this class than the previous week, so I had a better view of how the other students were doing. My spirits were instantly lifted when I realized that none of us looked like the instructor, and that was OK. 

I made it a solid 25 minutes before my brain started to ask—rather, beg—for mercy. That's progress! By this point, I could see in my mind what I should be doing, which was a huge step up from the previous week's general confusion. We tried a sequence that involved lunging to the side, swinging your arms to the ground, moving back to center and shimmying. Physically, I was doing pretty well with this one; the Lorna Jane 'Lana Sports Bra' from Dimvaloo kept everything harnessed tight enough to keep the move from being uncomfortable. Mentally, it was a whole different story, as my subconscious started dissecting the fact that I was shimmying on the clock… and I was getting pretty good at it.

The following day my calves felt fine, but I was a little sore all over and one arm was aching—only the one.

I wasn't sure what I did wrong to said arm, but I had always assumed that arms could only be worked out with free weights and the like. Not so. Dave Reddy, Webster Groves Recreation Complex head personal trainer, says that this type of muscle engagement could occur from keeping your arms lifted, a common Zumba occurrence. He refers to Zumba as "fun cardio," and says it—like other conditioning courses—should be balanced with strength and flexibility training. "No. 1, it's fun; and No. 2, you're getting together with other people…If you can burn a few calories and get your heart rate up, all the better," Reddy says. "If you do Zumba [and] get your heart rate up, you'll feel better…But if you want to pick up a bag of mulch—or your child—Zumba may not be helping you bend over, squat down and pick up something like that, so I complement that with strength training."

Other major benefits? I felt good after the classes—I was sore, and you bet I complained, but it was that kind of sore that makes you want to do it again. I felt more alert; I'd always heard working out gives you energy, and this was comparable to a triple-latte. And I was in a better (still snarky, but arguably happier) mood. Now that's a breakthrough.

LN Wishes to Thank:

Dimvaloo Active Living (dimvaloo.com)

Webster Groves Recreation Complex (webstergroves.org)

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