Dances with Ferrets

There are a lot of Zumba classes in my town these days – over 90 classes per week within a five mile radius. They pop up in church halls, gyms, schools, Scout halls, night clubs and community centres. Last night's class was a first for me – it was at the village pub.

There's a small function room next to the main bar with ye olde wooden beams, stained glass windows and a stopped grandfather clock. There's shaggy green carpet with a little wooden dance floor in the middle of the room, so if you chose your spot right you could boogie on down like John Travolta. I picked a carpeted bit towards the front so I could check out my moves in the bar mirror.

It started out like any old Zumba class – a shimmy here; a sashay there. Then halfway though Track 3 a voice boomed from the doorway, "ZUMBAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

An old man wandered in. He might of been quite young actually, 60ish? It was hard to tell from his bright red complexion, the result of a day in the sun with many many beers. He shuffled and twirled around the ladies in the back row as he cried, "Zumba! Zumba Zumba ZUMBA!"

As if that wasn't surreal enough, he was carrying a ferret under his arm.

And not just any ferret – it was a taxidermied ferret, mounted on a log. A lot like this one:

The whole class was in stitches. Maybe he pops in on a regular basis? I don't know. The instructor seemed torn between bemusement and mortification as man and ferret made their way to the front of the room and stood beside her.

"RIGHT LADIES," he said, step-touching from side to side not quite on the beat, "Let's ZUMBA!"

He hoisted the ferret above his head like a barbell, pumped it up and down a few times as his hips shimmed, "Zumba! Zumba! Zumba! ZUMBA!".

He then tucked the ferret back under his arm, and left.

The rest of the class passed without incident. Kinda disappointing, really!

Dance Crack

Dance So far this week I've had three hits of Dance Crack, a.k.a Zumba. I'd do it seven days a week if I could. And I'm not alone in my obsession – the town has gone completely bonkers for it.

It seems every week a new class pops up. I mosey along hoping I'll be the only one who's heard about it, so there's enough space to move without getting my eyes gouged by a stranger's flying arms. According to new research 97.5% of Scots are apparently leading wildly unhealthy lives – surely everyone is too busy deep-frying their cigarettes to check out a dance class?

Nooo. The queues are always out the door and they actually have to turn away some booty shaking addicts.

On Wednesday I cheated on kickboxing to try a new class and it was good, aside from the hysterical gigglers. You do laugh a lot at Zumba – it's the best way to cope with the discrepancy between how you feel when you dance and the actual sight of your dancing in the mirror. But these two dames were insane with their constant, high pitched vuvuzela-esque squealing. They did not let up for the whole hour. I cannot salsa under those conditions!

Last night's class was in a primary school sports hall. The laughter levels were ideal and the pace was furious. It took two hours for my face to return to its normal colour. Definitely a keeper.

The only problem I can see with this evening dance frenzy is that it turns you into a zombie. When I got home I flopped on the couch to wait for my heart rate to return to earth. Gareth flopped beside me, equally knackered after doing a Sufferfest on the exercise bike. We were so powerless against our knackeredness that we could not summon the energy to stop watching one of the crappest movies of all time – Cleaner, starring Samuel L Jackson and Eva Mendes.

Samuel is an ex-cop who now cleans crime scenes for a living. He lands in deep poo after realising he's cleaned away evidence of a terrible murder. The suspense builds quite nicely only to have a bucket of cold water chucked over it by a pitifully dull plot "twist" that makes a Law and Order rerun look like Shakespeare. Then there's an awful voiceover at the end about cleaning and carpet stains as metaphors for the human condition that is so lame you will HOWL at the ceiling.

So the moral to the story is, if you get hooked on Zumba stay away from the telly afterwards. Just have a shower and go to bed!

Who are your self esteem heroes?

Recently I linked to Already Pretty, a fantastic blog by Sally McGraw about personal style and body image. Last Monday she wrote yet another brilliant post about her self esteem heroes.

It's easy to focus on and amplify the memories of those who have given your self-esteem and/or body image a kicking. Family members remarking on sturdy thighs, teachers pointing out chubbiness (so professional), or girls who called you a "red-headed slut" in high school. Despite having red hair themselves.

(Actually that last one made me chortle at the time and still does two decades later!)

Sally wrote:

But let’s talk instead about the quiet heroes of your self-esteem. Who in your life makes you feel gorgeous, powerful, perfect? Which friends and family members are quick with a compliment, or eager to re-route the conversation when you start tearing yourself down?

Such a cool idea. Here's my list – incomplete for sure, but it's been awhile since posts. No time for dilly-dallying!

  • Colin the Kickboxing Coach – I wrote previously that he deserves a knighthood for services to self esteem. He makes everyone in the team feel welcome, from prize fighter to prize wussbag. Whenever I'm about to punch myself in the noggin with frustration he'll pop up and say, "nice kick" or "good work, keep going!" and that you suck! voice is sent back in its box.
  • Kellie the Zumba Lass – I'm an anonymous number in an insanely crowded classes – she wouldn't know me if she tripped over my beet-faced sweat-basted semi-conscious body. But her classes make me feel so freakin' alive – I'm always there, fully present with shaking booty. Afterward I'm giddy and can't shut up about it all day.
  • Sister Rhi – We dissect our lives in a weekly phone debrief, lifting each other up and laughing at ourselves and our misadventures.
  • Carla – Our podcast calls leave me buzzing and determined to make the most out of my days. Carla makes me see how important it is to be passionate about what you do and not let other's opinions stop you.
  • Dr G – He is very economical with his words – a man of action to my slug with verbal diarrhea.

    "Your eyes look especially blue today" I'll say.

    "Yeah," comes the reply, "Blue EYE BAGS!".

    Or: "You're looking very tan lately, Doc!"

    "It's just dirt!"

    But he makes me feel loved and happy to be alive by making me laugh – half the time he doesn't even realise he's said something funny, which makes it even better. He also knows when to give a hug and can tell the difference between carefree joke and joke-to-disguise-inner turmoil.

    He also always remembers when it's Haircut Day so he can say, "I like your 'do!" when I arrive home even though he can't really see a difference.

How about you?

Review: Zumba Fitness DVD

My latest fitness love affair is Zumba, the hip-wriggling Latin-inspired dance class that seems to be sweeping the world with a swiftness that swine flu would envy.

Alas with my kickboxing schedule I can only make one Zumba class per week, so I'd been stalking these Zumba DVDs for months. I decided not to buy them as my workout DVD collection is out of control… but then I got an email out of the blue from the Zumba PR person asking if I wanted to try them. Maybe they had hidden cameras in my room and caught my longing gaze?

I spent the next SEVEN WEEKS trying to decide whether or not to sell out*. Gareth cackled at the gradual crumbling of my lofty ideals. Finally I caved and said, "DUDE. Surely after 9.5 years of blogging I can get a little something?".

Yes folks, turns out I can be bought for the low price of £39.98 plus postage and packaging – a.k.a. the Zumba Fitness® DVD Kit. It contained:

  • Zumba Fitness® Basics
  • Zumba Fitness® Cardio Party
  • Zumba Fitness® 20-Minute Express
  • Zumba Fitness® Sculpt & Tone
  • Zumba Fitness® Total Body Transformation Guide
  • Two Zumba Fitness® Toning Sticks
  • Zumba Fitness® LIVE! Workout

Zumba Fitness Basic DVD Kit
At first I thought Zumba was a poor man's BodyJam class, but it has grown on me. Most of all because it is very inclusive. There is a genuine feel of "anybody can join this party". In my Saturday class everyone laughs and grins the whole way through. There are people of all shapes and sizes and ages. There is no posing. There is no demand for perfection. In fact there's not even much in the way of instruction – you just kinda bumble along and find your own style and let the music move you.

There is, however, a nerdy part of me that wants to do things correctly. How exactly am I meant to shake my hips? Where are my feet supposed to be? WTF Salsa?

The Zumba Fitness® Basics DVD has quenched that thirst for knowledge. It's an hour long and goes through all the basic Zumba moves, breaking each one down into three stages. You start out basically moving your feet to get the rhythm then they add on the trickier bits. LOVE.

Then you move on to the Zumba Fitness® Cardio Party, an hour long session. If you go to classes you'll recognise all the tunes. The best thing about this DVD is that if you forget how to do a move, there's an option to pause the workout and pop up a little reminder sequence from the Basics DVD. Very handy.

Zumba Fitness® 20-Minute Express is a good cardio workout if you're pressed for time. Zumba Fitness® Sculpt & Tone is great fun – a simple total body strength workout with serious rhythm. I felt like a twit using the Toning Sticks – they're bright green and you shake them like maracas! I just could not get coordinated… doing a bicep curl and shaking my hips at the same time!? But after a few attempts I got the hang of it and now like to shake my butt like I'm in a trashy music video. I can feel my muscles getting a workout when I concentrate and really put my all into it, but I think I could upgrade to some dumbbells in place of the Toning Sticks to get a more intense workout. Then again dumbbells don't make maraca noises!

I didn't really look at the Zumba Fitness® Total Body Transformation Guide beyond a quick flick – it's basically a booklet with a workout plan to help you incorporate all the DVDs. There's a total beginners plan and a more advanced one. There's meal plans and some recipes and has a generally upbeat and not bossy diety tone.

My favourite DVD is probably the Zumba Fitness® LIVE! Workout because it's a live class. The crowd has svelte ladies in little outfits, old ladies, little kid and a few token blokes who seem to be going the wrong way – it captures the all-inclusive, hyper party, bordering on cult-like atmosphere of a real Zumba class. It has the best energy of all the DVDs so I seem to get the most intense workout out of this one.

Requirements: A good pair of trainers. A fluid pair of hips. And not a huge amount of space – you mostly travel side to side movement rather than forward/back so I'm doing it in a patch of living room about three metres wide (let me measure and get back to you!). 

Woman Criticisms:

  • I can see me geting a little bored with the music as it's the same tunes from the class and some of the DVDs have the same tunes as each other. But will live with that for the novelty of being able to do Zumba in my own home.
  • The female instructors are lovely and their instructions are pretty clear. However I cannot stop looking at their abs. Honestly, there is one woman with this gorgeous curly hair and the most amazing stomach and I spend half the workout shouting at the telly "How can you exist? How do you DO that with your hips?". I should hate her but I just want to audition to be her adoring and slightly pathetic sidekick. She's very distracting.

Recommended for:

  • beginners looking for FUN cardio – but you need to be patient while you learn the steps. You have to let go of perfection and just enjoy the music!
  • Zumba veterans – if you want a backup for when you can't get to class and/or you want an encyclopedic knowledge of the steps.
  • anyone who likes to shake their booty!

Overall verdict: A great set of DVDs that I will be using for years to come.

Zumba Fitness® DVDs are available from I received a Zumba Fitness® DVD Kit and was under no obligation to review but decided to do so of my own free will. I received no other compensation. Blah blah blah legal schmegal. This is why I don't sell out too often 🙂

* N.B. This is just my own view – I'm not against giveaways and bloggers getting free stuff! I just personally find the whole process really uncomfortable!

ETA: Here's a USA link for the Zumba DVDs.

Mojo Rising

I feel like a bear emerging from my cave after a long winter, rubbing my eyes and trying to adjust to the light. It's only mid-February but it's Spring in my brain. In my day job we plan things months and months in advance (we're already thinking about 2011), so I'm ready for bare legs and buckets of berries, dammit.

For awhile there I was stuck in the skankiest depths of the Big D, when you don't care about anything and just truly soak in it. But I think I've finally turned a little corner these past couple of weeks. It's been about 100 years since I've written a proper entry after all that selling out, but the internet curfew approaches so I'll blast out a few dot points!

  • I'm exercising regularly again. Doing less at the gym and more at home was a brilliant idea. Much less running around.
  • I did a Zumba class! I've been pining for Body Jam since I left Edinburgh five years (!!) ago and while it wasn't quite as zingy as Body Jam, it was ace and I can't wait to go shake my butt again. We danced to Spice Up Your Life! How can you go wrong!?
  • I've maintained my weight for the past month and that feels like a triumph, I tells ya.
  • I know a few people are going to email and say But What About Your Fat. It would be quite easy to throw all my attention into losing 20 pounds. Obsessing over weight would be much easier than tackling the bigger issues. Especially when you're 32 years old and any weight gain causes people to jump to conclusions. Dude I may have been eating for two for awhile there, but not for the usual reasons!

  • But being 32 also means I am too old and curmudgeonly for that dieting crap. I don't want to swing from the extreme of not caring about my body to freaking out about it. I just need to work back up to my healthy habits again, the sane and do-able ones that kept me happily in size 14 jeans for a good long while before it went to pot last year.
  • So as well as working on the big issues I'm working on my health one meal at a time. First I got my breakfasts back on track and now lunch has been reformed! No more cheesy baked potatoes and back to the kickarse salads. Currently on a puy lentil bender!

Dudes I have to insert some cheese here. I feel like I've been on ice for years, stowed away from society in a tube like Mel Gibson in that movie. Except marginally less annoying. Now I'm defrosting and the world has colour again. Friends and family and blogging comrades are lighting things up at every turn. I need to cut down on the Chunky KitKats but overall things are on the up. Thank you for sticking round!