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What I Learned About Singing at Zumba Class

lesmills view time 2018-01-12 10:27

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When I was living in Santa Cruz during college there was a fabulous afro-cuban dance class downtown, with live drummers. Over a hundred people would show up for an hour of hip-swaying, butt-shaking tribal dance. I’m not a trained dancer and I could never get the moves down, but since I love to dance it was still loads of fun. Going to a Zumba class at my local Nashville gym once or twice a week is as close as I can get now to recreating those Santa Cruz days. The music isn’t live, but the dance moves from different cultures and the array of music from around the world still can make for a great time. The teacher can make or break a class, however. A good Zumba teacher knows lots of routines and can convey them easily, can keep everyone moving, and will look like they’re having fun all the while.
 
When my beloved Zumba teacher of several years switched careers, two different teachers took over her Tuesday and Thursday classes. I went to Marie’s class on Thursday and it was awful: she was clearly new to teaching Zumba and her inexperience showed. She only knew 25 minutes worth of dance routines, so we had to do the same clunky dances twice during the hour. She kept stopping to look at her notes during the routines. The music she chose was too disco-y. I tried her class a couple of times, then gave up and avoided it. That only left one other class I could take, Annie’s class on Tuesdays. She was a trained dancer and knew her stuff. I joined her class and stayed with it for several months.
 
As the months rolled on the classes became less and less fun. I realized that we always did the same routines, and that the moves seemed more militaristic than hip-swaying/African/Latin/Cuban-ish. Annie moved well, but she never looked like she was having any fun. She often looked liked she’d rather be at the movies with her boyfriend. 
 
Other people were voting with their feet, and Annie’s class size was steadily shrinking. I skipped it one week due to another commitment, and in desperation for exercise (this was in the dead of winter) I returned to Marie’s Thursday class. Holy moly, what a difference! She not only had collected a huge variety of music and learned a bunch of routines, she not only had learned how to signal us new fun moves as we all danced, but she exuded enthusiasm all the while. She clearly was having a blast teaching the class. She’d scamper up and dance with different students, and made sure she knew everyone’s name. New students of any level were welcomed with enthusiasm. She even played the quick “Jeopardy” theme twice during the hour, so we could all get water--no teacher had ever thought to add water break music to their mix. Everything about the class said “Whoever you are, come have some fun!” As I danced away I was filled with the sheer joy of dancing, something I hadn’t felt for many months.
 
So what does this have to do with singing? 
 
1) Don’t pigeonhole someone with an initial judgement. I gave a few lessons to someone years ago and pegged her early on as someone who needed lots of help-- and even then would probably never improve much. She disappeared for a year and then returned, telling me that during the year she’d been working with the recordings I’d made for her of our few lessons. She not only sounded fantastic, but she got a record deal six months later. I learned not to make hard and fast predictions about how quickly or how much a singer might improve. Wish I’d thought not to judge Marie so quickly as well!
 
2) Don’t pigeonhole yourself with a judgment about your singing. Just as with athletics, singing is partly mental. If you decide that you’ll never sing high (or powerfully, or in tune, or well enough to go pro, or whatever), you may be setting yourself up to fail. 
 
3) The joy factor is vital. Most people study voice or pursue careers as singers because they love to sing. Singing is one of the great joys of life. It engages you physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. If singing has been no fun for you lately, figure out why and make some changes. Recently I realized I’d been singing the same practice songs for way too long. I recorded some new practice songs and voila`, suddenly I was having fun again. 

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