I had such hopes for Zumba Gold. Recommended by LiveStrong, incredible reviews on Amazon, I. . . I . . . I . . . What was I thinking? I was thinking that there WAS A WORLD where I would not be leaving the fitness studio in the back of an ambulance after a Zumba class. Zumba Gold, I was thinking, would help me understand! It would help me get my groove back! I might be an Large Woman, but I could be a Large, Fit Woman. A woman who could move with the sexy, sibilant grace of a plus-size salsa she-devil. Back in the day, I had moves. I had rhythm. I could do this! All I needed was Zumba Gold, a DVD player, a relatively free space to practice, privacy. . .how hard could it be?
A Stroll, or perhaps a Fast Paced Jog, Down Memory Lane
Does anyone remember Jack LaLanne? His television show came on around 9 in the morning, and in the summertimes, home from school, I would follow along doing the jumping jacks and the squat thrusts, the knee bends and all the exercises he would walk through for the housewives at home. (Captain Kangaroo would be on next, and it passed the time). My expectations for Zumba Gold were molded in that halcyon age when self-consciousness was not in my vocabulary. And then there was Richard Simmons, Sweating to the Oldies! *Hey* Amazon actually has this! Richard was the first performer on television where even a twelve year old could identify the flashing pink unicorn over his head that screamed “GAY GAY GAY! Proud and GAY!”
I watched Richard Simmons with my two overweight-in-highschool friends. (Overweight in high school is about 10 pounds over skinny, at least back in the 70s.) Lawdie me, we would DANCE, DANCE, DANCE! after school over at Paula’s house. Once again, a time in my life when self-consciousness and I were not well acquainted. I was, after all, the skinny one in my crowd.
My most recent attempt to reconnect with my dancing/exercise self in a regular Zumba class at the gym Did Not Go Well. I was acutely aware that Rhythm was a foreign language to me, something I may have imagined I once knew. But, sadly, like high school French in Paris, zut alors! It is not a language I speak even un peu. Not after fifty!
In the old Aqua-Zumba class, water hides many sins. I love Aqua Zumba (or any other water-dance class) but I told myself that my complete and total lack of ability to keep a beat in those classes was somehow the fault of the water. The actual Zumba class laid that theory to rest. But perhaps I’m just out of practice. Yes, yes! Zumba Gold would get me back in the swing.
While most parents with grownish children living at home relegate them to the basement, I have claimed the basement for myself. It’s a nice walkout with a fireplace, a kind of den affair where I can have a Room of My Own that faces a sad little patio-that-could-be-a-very-cool-place, whenever I get the time, the money and the labor organized. The concrete floor is overlaid with rugs from Target and like all basements, has a tendency to collect the household effluvia. The television set is down there, giving it an “almost a den” ambiance. Mostly, I watch Netflix or Hulu down there, me and the dachshund. At one point, we had a Wii down there. This should have been the first foreboding. Then there was that Dance, Dance, Dance Revolution thing. Wii was so simple–it took about three months before I became too bored to continue. Dance, Dance, Dance? Well, the music was so lame. My son and I didn’t even finish the first level.
I went into Zumba Gold with a Positive Frame of Mind. I loved Jack LaLanne and Richard Simmons–and this would have much more in common, I was sure, than the rather boring Wii and the overly complicated and poorly orchestrated Dance, Dance. Or, so I hoped.
Um. Do We Even Own a Working DVD Player?
I had the Zumba Gold dvds and their cute little “Shake Sticks” since around April 25th. It’s now June 3. I made the decision to at LEAST get through the first DVD, which teaches the basic steps, TODAY. But for the last several weeks, I had been thwarted by sheer technological requirements. Despite having FOUR machines theoretically capable of playing a DVD on a television, in fact–none of them could!
The DVD player I had down in the basement was so old that it did not have an HDMI cord connection. (I vaguely recall donating those connectors, along with the old television set, to Purple Heart at least a year ago). No problem, there is an old PS3, no, wait, the remotes for that machine got broken and then my son upgraded to an XBOX–no way was I getting access to the XBOX.
No matter, there was a blue ray player, in my son’s room –no, no, the remote for that is lost and it won’t play without it. And then the other old one, back in the office — is that bad dent in the top of it going to be a problem? Actually, yes. It didn’t work either. I had DVD players stacked up, four deep, in front of the television, all equally non-functional. Hooking it up to a laptop seemed…too complicated. I ended up at Best Buy, buying the lowest end, cheapest DVD player they had. (You, dear reader, may have a similar issue. In the last seven years, DVD players have been gathering dust in most people’s homes. Yay, streaming.)
Finally, At Last, Zumba Gold
The cute orange box is very promising. There are three dvds, a “step-by-step” dvd, a “cardio” and a “toning” dvd. Two “shake sticks” — somewhat weighted, maybe half a pound each? — are included in the box.
The step by step video is helpful and very basic. Beto Perez, the Columbian-American Jack LaLanne of the “oughts” (2000s) and the inventor of Zumba, is the instructor–we can’t get more authentic than that, right? His “student” –actually the fitness instructor Joy Prouty, age 71 at the time the video was created in 2012 — plays the part of the clueless, happy ingenue, fluttering her eyelashes and piping up with, “Oh, I love that!” and “Wow, I like this!” while pretending to have a little trouble every now and again so Beto can help her learn. (Please. Oh gawd.) I guess she’s supposed to be our “aspirational peer?” Someone we old, fat ladies can aspire to becoming? She’s extremely blonde, painfully perky, and not really fun to watch. Beto, in his forties, is at least, somewhat hot, but his vibe is so very Jack Lalanne–positive, helpful, clean-cut and earnest, without Jack LaLanne’s directness and connection to the television audience.
The step-by-step video contains four, twenty-minute videos that break down some very simple steps into stupid-simple steps. I believe my dachshund could learn these steps, though mostly he just sat on the couch and watched me, mournfully. Joy prances around, occasionally lapsing into fitness-teacher speak, blathering on about how she loves what this step does for the obliques, and so on. And she is so depressingly thin. Jack LaLanne would focus on his television audience. Beto focuses on Joy, occasionally looking at the camera as if he wishes it would go away, making me feel like a voyeur watching an old lady flirting with her possibly-gay gigolo dance instructor. The dance moves are fun and with practice, I began to feel a bit more in touch with the rhythm.
Moving on to the Cardio DVD, I experienced a terrible sense of Dance, Dance, Revolution deja vu. The music is a collation of generic Latin music which adds absolutely nothing to the dance experience. Beto and Joy are joined by a bunch of youngish people, background dancers that we see very little of–which added to the boredom of watching this. The dance steps themselves are sufficiently fun and gentle. But they will in no way help someone to move “up” to becoming comfortable in a regular Zumba class.
Before the first 30 minute or so set was over, I figured out the best way to do this would be to turn the sound OFF and play some Harry Belafonte over the top of this. The shake sticks, which seemed to be so promising, are not even put to use until the third “toning” DVD. We shall see about that. I’ll revisit this next month, to see if my attitude changes over time. I don’t know if Zumba Gold is going to make me a large, Latin-dancing phenomenon. I will continue to give it a try, with the help of a different music track.
But in the meantime, I bought the 30th Anniversary “Shaking with the Oldies” boxed set from Richard Simmons. Richard is 69 now. He was teaching classes in his studios until about three years ago, when he abruptly retired and left the public eye. It appears that he’s a bit of a recluse now. Still, he has had a long career of doing good stuff. I look forward to the sweatin’. I’m pretty sure I can handle that. I’ll let you know how it goes.