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The Reluctant Adventurer: Nightclub Zumba

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Night Club Zumba

I’ve spent most of my adult life avoiding exercise. In the Pacific Northwest, this is a lot like avoiding breathing. 

“We’re going hiking in Forest Park. Wanna come?” 


“Snowboarding on Mount Hood this weekend!”

I have The Consumption.

“It’s only 10 blocks. Let’s just walk.” 

How dare you.  

I did a pretty good job of it, until last year, when a health scare forced me to make a change. I walked into urgent care with persistent chest pains and walked out without my gall bladder, which peeved me a bit because I was pretty sure I was using it for something. 

But on the plus side, it terrified me out of my complacency and into what strangely looked like a healthy lifestyle. I ate whole foods, reduced my stress, but knew that wasn’t enough. I needed to…freaking exercise.

Enter my friend Lisa, who has the energy and attitude of an elven sprite on Adderol.

Lisa suggested I try Zumba. 

I know what you’re thinking. For a person both averse to exercise and generally annoyed that other people exist in the world, Zumba might not be the best place to start, exercise-wise. (It’s a fitness class that incorporates hip-hop, Merengue, salsa, samba, mambo and even some martial arts movements). Additionally, I was still about 40 pounds overweight, and staring at myself in a mirror in comparison to a bunch of graceful, thin Zumba cougars was not the least bit appealing.

But what Lisa suggested wasn’t regular Zumba. It was something called “Nightclub Zumba” at a studio on NE Sandy called PulsePDX. I was skeptical that it could work for me, mostly because the only way I’ve ever been comfortable dancing with other people in the room is when I’ve had enough vodka to shut down the “good judgment” area of my prefrontal cortex. That technique didn’t seem feasible in a fitness situation. 

Even so, nudged on by Lisa’s persistent, borderline-infuriating enthusiasm, I went to my first class.

Pulse PDX

 The First Try

Checking in at Pulse was much like checking into any studio – I walked into a standard lobby where a healthy and very perky person checked my name off the list. (I registered and paid ahead of time, which significantly increased the chance that I’d actually go to class instead of watching “Bring it On” on Netflix and convincing myself that counted as exercise.) 

When I walked into the studio, however, is when I immediately saw the difference. It was exactly like walking into a nightclub, but without the sticky floors and overabundance of bros. There were no mirrors, no bright fluorescent lights — just a giant room with blacked-out windows, nightclub lighting, a raised stage and a deejay with rhinestone-encrusted headphones. It took a minute to be comfortable in this environment without an Appletini in one hand and a stranger’s ass in the other, but I got used to it.

I found a spot deep in the middle of the room, and the class started. It was taught by Julio, a 5-foot, 10-inch, lithe, muscular ball of joy who used to be a salsa teacher. Julio is, I think, Pulse’s secret weapon. My pessimism and desire to mock earnestness of any kind runs as deep as my frown lines, but Julio broke through all that with his giant smile, sense of humor and abs like a glistening packet of root beer-flavored chiclets. 

Julio made the steps surprisingly easy to follow, indicating with every move where he was about to go.  And as I began to dance, I remembered something I’d forgotten because this was supposed to be an “exercise” class: dancing is FUN AS HELL. And it’s easier to remember that when you’re in the environment where you first learned that was true: a darkened club.

Yes, the tiny lycra-covered ladies who sometimes “woo!” far too much for my taste could attempt to watch me screwing up every step, but why would they? They’re too busy trying not to screw up themselves. 

A bathroom wall once told me, “We’d care a lot less what people thought about us if we knew how seldom they do.” This is key to remember in a dance class. Additionally, when people say they’d be bad at Zumba, they’re forgetting the best thing about dancing: that it’s one of the few things in the world you can be truly terrible at, and still enjoy. I’m proof of that.

I attended a few more classes, and I was hooked. It goes against everything I thought I knew about myself, but I loved Zumba. Loved shaking my ass to Katy Perry in the dark. I even wore lycra and didn’t break out. Yes, it will hurt my cred as a curmudgeon-in-training, but I’ll just have to wait a little longer to get my Competitive Scowling Badge. 

Recommended for: people normally self-conscious in dance classes, those who can handle a moderate amount of “woo!”ing, people who want variety in their dance moves and are ready for a hard workout (you can burn up to 600 calories in a Zumba class.)

Not recommended for: people who hate exercise classes of any kind, those who think sweating is “grody” (you WILL sweat) and hardcore “woo!”ers (I just don’t want you there).

Details: PulsePDX, 3602 NE Sandy Boulevard. 503-985-8355 Single class ticket: $12 pulsepdx.net


Courtenay Hameister is the Head Writer and Co-Producer of Live Wire Radio, a syndicated radio variety show distributed by Public Radio International. She is currently working on a book that will be released through Audible.com in 2015. Follow Courtenay on Twitter at @wisenheimer


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