Three mornings a week I shake my hips and shimmy my heart out for a solid hour. Amazingly, I also do this with an enormous smile on my face...for the entire sixty minutes. Besides loving the music and the moves, there is another reason for that smile: Memories.
When I was in college I taught a free Jog-Jazz class at my church at 6am. I am not a morning person and I still sometimes wonder how I pulled it off. When I see my Zumba teacher, Denise, up there on the stage in the “cultural hall” (which is a giant euphemism for a basketball court) I occasionally picture my 20-year-old hard-body self up there teaching a similar class, back in the days of leotards and leg-warmers. And I see the faces of those adorable seniors coming up afterward to tell me how excited they were that their arthritic bodies didn’t hurt as much since they started exercising with me. I got back easily as much as I gave to that class, and I trust it’s true for Denise now. That I am a partaker has such a nice, karmic ring to it. :)
Soon after my aerobics days, I took an 18-month leave from school to serve a Spanish-speaking mission for my church, in Arcadia, California. Because we were in the melting pot of Los Angeles County, we got to teach people from every Spanish-speaking country in the world: Spain, Cuba, Argentina, Peru...you name it, we found immigrants, taught them, and loved them to pieces. I learned that Latinos are among the hardest workers, with the hardest lives I’d ever seen. Yet they still managed to send money to family members back home, where conditions were far worse. They have generous hearts and passionate spirits. Fun-loving and exuberant, they are masters at creating simple joys amidst the hardship.
Fast-forward twenty-something years.
Now when I step onto the Zumba floor, I’m not just getting a great workout. I’m getting great memories. When I dance to "Hay Que Llorar" I'm reminded of teenage girls in colorful dresses folk dancing onstage for a dinner party. I hear "El Amor" and remember Leticia Monarrez giving me her favorite sweater when I was transferred out of her area. When we strut to the La Pantera Mambo I envision Hector Vargas playing the hymns with salsa rhythms and a walking bass in el Barrio Quinto de Burbank. During Fuego I see Gretel Martinez doing the cumbia and the merengue with her toddler boys, Gustavito and Armandito. Every song seems to trigger a memory: La Familia Ordinola. Patricia. The Avila sisters. Big, extended families picnicking in Elysian Park. Best of all, when we danced to "Thriller" on Halloween, I remembered a costume party for El Barrio Arroyo when the obispo dressed up like an Immigration officer...because what could be scarier?!? :)
Sometimes I think about Lupe and her sisters going out dancing on the weekends. Or my friend Allison teaching salsa classes...and staging a Latin dance extravaganza for her wedding. And for just a few minutes I become those people...fun-loving, exuberant dancers with all the right moves and a flair for all things fiesta.
Finally, the music winds down, and I’m just me. Walking to my car with sweat dripping down my face. Feeling great.
Thank you, Denise.