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Jo Fitton - Zumba Queen

I want to write about my passion, of which I am also thrilled to call a 'job' - although it has never ever felt like work to me!

I first discovered Zumba around 12yrs ago when looking for an exercise class to get back into after the birth of my eldest daughter Gracie. My new friend Michelle and I tried a BLOODY awful Body Combat class at our local Leisure Centre - don't get me wrong, we had both taken a lot of fantastic Body Combat classes before our babies were born (Michelle and I met at the ante-natal classes and had a LOT in common - not only living around the corner from each other, but both expecting girls at the same time, and both being very keen fitness fanatics) - but this class was not very inspiring, and neither of us felt as if we had even HAD a workout (maybe we were so worried about our pelvic floors to throw ourselves into it!). After the class we happened to see a poster on the reception wall advertising this strangely named, but exciting new exercise class to their timetable - Zumba. On speaking with the staff at the reception desk we were informed that Zumba was in fact a dance-based, aerobics-style class using predominantly Latin and World Rhythms - it promised to be 'Exercise in Disguise'. Well, we HAD to try this......!!

We arrived to our first class a few days later...apprehensive, excited, and a little scared to be honest...! This first class was relatively small as Zumba had only just taken off in this country, and the Leisure Centre had only just introduced this class to their timetable. So, as you can imagine, we felt a little conspicuous and embarrassed - there were a lot of dance moves that I had only ever executed after copious amounts of cider in my wilder youth, or in the mirror as a kid when going through my Madonna-awed stage, but never under strip lighting in bad gym gear, with a post-natal body, in the presence of a few ladies and a very camp guy, and in front of an AMAZING and inspirational instructor. But we threw ourselves (literally) into Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia, Reggaeton, Quebradita, Bollywood, name it, we 'did it'. Needless to say, we laughed a lot and actually loved it. Not only did we promise each other that we would attend again the following week, but we told ALL of our friends, sisters and mums!

Very quickly, this exhilarating and energising class became busier and busier. Michelle and I still hid at the back, giggling like kids at our lack of co-ordination, lack of sexiness in some of the hip-gyrating tracks, and lack of rhythm in MOST of it - but we were obsessed with it and never missed a class. A second weekly class was soon introduced to the timetable due to the growing popularity of Zumba - we dragged our mums & sisters along with us to this class, and with growing confidence and someone to show off in front of with our 'skills', we migrated to the front row of this new class. Go, us....!

And then one day, Michelle told me that she fancied training to become a Zumba Instructor, and asked if I would attend the training session with her. I have a background in Fitness as an Aerobics instructor and a Level 3 Matwork Pilates Instructor, and Michelle felt that she would feel more confidence if I were able to co-teach the first few classes with her once she gained her Zumba license. At first I was not keen on this idea - I adored Zumba and really did not want it to become a 'job' that I may grow to just tolerate, rather than enthuse about. I really did not want my love and excitement of Zumba to diminish, and wanted it to remain my fun and relaxed time away from being a mum, wife, Fitness Instructor and Dental Nurse (my OTHER job!). But I have the breaking strain of a Kit-Kat and hate letting people down, so I reluctantly agreed - fully intending to obtain my Zumba license to add as another string to my bow, help Michelle out with her first few weeks of classes until she finds her confident feet .....and then go back to being punter rather than teacher. Well, that WAS my plan....

We did our training day together and planned to teach our first class. We secured a venue, printed some flyers, spread the word, created a playlist...and practiced, practiced, practiced. Wow, learning 7 tracks of choreography each for our first class was intense! But Zumba HQ provided us with all that we needed in terms of music, choreography DVDs and other resources so we felt as if they were securely holding our hand throughout the whole process. Our first class was surprisingly well-attended - 27 friends, and strangers-soon-to-be-friends, came to join us. We were both IMMENSELY nervous, despite my instructor background - we both has copious amounts of Bach Rescue Remedy to calm our nerves, so much so that I think we were actually slightly squiffy on the alcohol-based stuff - but the class went without a hitch and was SUCH a buzz!

And that Buzz has never dampened - in fact it is re-ignited every time I see an exciting video of Zumba choreography on YouTube or Facebook... or when I am planning a new warm-up or a new Salsa or Swing track... or creating choreography or playlists for a charity class... or attending another instructor's class where I am so inspired and enthused by a different style of character in teaching...... or attending a training and discovering a new style of rhythm....or when I create a track that I can use props such as scarves to whip, skirts to shimmy in, or maracas to shake....or when I create a fancy-dress themes to my class and match the songs to the theme......... I have found my creative, flamboyant side that I think has always been bubbling away, but maybe had been dampened down in the past.

In the past few months, particularly due to lockdown and the temporary end of my 'live classes', I have discovered a whole new audience of participants via my livestream Zoom Zumba classes. It has allowed my classes to be accessible to participants in all areas of the UK, and all over the world. Having had lots of time on my hands (with furlough from the Dental Clinic), I have been even more creative with dressing-up, I have held themes such as 'Rainbow Week' and 'Summer week', and a VE Day class involving big-band and 40's music. Now I share lot of my own choreography onto my Zumba YouTube channel and onto a Zumba Gold Instructor FB page for other instructors to use or to get ideas or inspiration from, all of which I have gained extremely positive feedback, a growing amount of followers, and has led to friendships all over the globe. I have had instructors and their participants from the US, Egypt, Singapore, Australia, Bermuda, Ireland, Scotland and more joining my Zoom classes to dance with me, and I have recently co-taught an 80's themed Masterclass with another instructor from Denmark, and we are in the process of planning a Disco-themed collaboration. It has been such great fun, and really heart-warming!

This year will be my 10year anniversary since my training (in the Zumba world it is known as a 'ZINversary'!), and I now teach three Zumba Gold classes a week as well as three Zumba Fitness - and I still co-teach two classes a week with Michelle. We have SUCH a party!!

Although I still love the energy and the exuberance of Zumba, I have to say that I absolutely adore Zumba Gold - perhaps fractionally more. Gold is lower paced, lower impact, less intense, and was originally created for the older adult - however, I find ALL age groups and abilities within my Gold classes. It is a little more inclusive, I find - the slower pace allows a little more accessibility to everyone, from pregnant mums-to-be, those who are new to exercise, those who cannot jump about too much anymore due to injuries or issues, and those who just prefer a slower class! My Goldies are amazing - they have all become firm friends - in some case like a family to each other. We have been for afternoon tea, have WhatsApp chat groups, share news and photos, and they are very loyal to one another, to me, and to the class. I am very blessed to know and have met each and every one of them!

I will be 47yrs old this year - but I am absolutely convinced that I will still be teaching Zumba in 40yrs time (maybe seated version, within my care home, but nevertheless......!)

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