Zumba, enlightenment, and empowerment

4th September is a day of significance. Oh yes, apart from being America’s national macadamia nut day, it’s the three month anniversary of my Zumba adventure! BTW 5th September is their national cheesy pizza day just in case anybody is interested. On that cold dark Wednesday afternoon, at around 5:15 pm, I fell in love with Zumba instantly in the group fitness mega class. Ever since then, I walked out of that Rec Centre feeling enlightened after almost every Zumba class. I have also been amazed at how my Zumba enlightenment connects so well with my research interests, as well as my reflection on becoming a researcher.

Power of the stage

I remember clearly how mesmerized I was in my first proper Zumba class. The songs the beats the flow and most importantly the infectious energy of that instructor struck me. One thing I knew for sure was that I hadn’t been feeling that happy for a long long time. That grin on my face just couldn’t be wiped off however hard I tried. It was a moment of significance, and that’s what makes it so special. Even up till now, I still feel incredibly nervous and excited in front of that epic Zumba instructor, acting like one of those 13-year-old girls who would pass out in Taylor Swift’s concerts.

It reminds me of a similar experience in my undergraduate days. After suffering endlessly in endless biology classes (no offence here, biologists!), I, for the first time, sat in a proper human geography class and found myself enlightened. All of a sudden, Professor X’s glamorous image was carved into my mind eternally, together with his huge selection of high-quality linen shirts, his neatly shaved head (well, not too bald, not bald at all) and his posh accent straight off Downton Abbey. He, at that time, came across to me as the mighty equivalence of all the existing academic knowledge of human geography. Even back then I knew it was a delusion but I just simply couldn’t feel it.

Entering a new field is just like learning a new track. Journals and books are like that Zumba instructing stage under the spotlight. The unequal power relation couldn’t be more clear when you struggle to understand a new theory and when you clumsily mimic every move of the instructor. In addition, the enlightenment humbles you and makes you so vulnerable that you idolize them— the author of a good book, or the instructor. The idolization then belittles you — it all seems rather surreal that they are actually human.

However, this idolization wouldn’t last long. They will eventually be demystified as we progress. Yet what I have been pondering is how I should learn to appreciate the beauty of my vulnerability in this enlightenment-idolisation-demystification process. Really, there is nothing to be ashamed of. The sensitivity is part of who we are (or perhaps just who I am) and only deserves to be valued. These are the feelings make us know ourselves better and make us feel alive. Well, if you’ve never felt like passing out in some sort of a concert, I hate to say this but either you’ve never lived or you are just too old to remember how it was like being a 13-year-old (just joking, I would assume individuals’ degree of sensitivity varies greatly, and thus it is difficult, if not impossible, to generalize).

Power of acceptance

Let’s elaborate on that ‘enlightenment’. Confession time! Violin and dance classes were my worst childhood nightmares. After five years of weekly violin classes, the violinist finally convinced my poor mom that I didn’t have any sense of rhythm. I don’t even want to mention how out of the place I felt in the dance classes, being the only ‘bulky’ swan in a group of thin slim diminished (any suggestion for other mean words?) Chinese girls. Never in a million years could I imagine myself feeling comfortable in the first row of those Zumba classes. As four weeks went past, I moved from that corner at the back to the front, having to arrive early and rush in to secure my top spot. It just happened, like that, unexpected, but nice and easy. You no longer worry about your moves, or feel conscious that others might be watching you. Apart from realizing they couldn’t care less about you just like you couldn’t be bothered watching anybody else, you finally experienced and understood what devotion and work-in-progress mean. You forget yourself in the beats, and you only get better.

Oh, this is what ‘embodied’ experience of empowerment felt like! When my supervisor whispered the word ‘embodied’ after listening to my grand speech of how Zumba had transformed me, I was enlightened again. Having been reading about it for a year and wondering why academics carry on talking about ‘embodied experience’ like pregnancy as if it’s something matters to the ‘research’, I finally get it. Yes, it matters, and of course it matters. To me, I finally know how it feels to accept, and then feel and appreciate the intrinsic value, of myself, my feelings and thus others and their feelings.

With acceptance, everything just follows. When the beats drop, I feel special, but just as special as everyone else. Oh yes, I am born with the beats in me. It doesn’t matter how move anymore because I’m part of the beats. My body is only expressing that precious beats and rhythm in me. For the first time in my life, I truly value and embrace who I am. I yearn to be original.

Writing, academic or non-academic, like Zumba, is a form of self-expression. The barrier of expression will to a degree disappear when the intrinsic value and potentials are fully appreciated. Of course, you should work on your writing skills just like you should work on your moves, but they are only means rather than ends. What stopped me from moving freely and writing freely were the doubts on the value of what to be expressed — ‘my rhythm is horrible’ and ‘my ideas and thoughts mean nothing’. The embodied Zumba experience has taught me to treasure what’s inside— you, your feelings and your being are priceless for their intrinsic values, let alone the endless potential embedded within.

Power of cultivating subjectivities

One’s being consists of many subjectivities. Through cultivating my subjectivity as a Zumba fanatic, my subjectivity as a research student benefits, as discussed above. Besides I’ve also embraced a new subjectivity — skateboarder. You know, it is one of those things that you’ve always wanted to try but never really did, for so many reasons — safety, gender stereotype etc. So I finally made the move, purchased a board early in the morning after I woke up in the post-Zumba hyper mood, and I’ve hurt my knee my hand my wrist, but never regretted it. As I cruise my way through, still wobbling, I feel the speed and the wind passing my ear and I would just mumble, oh how good, how good that I live.

Isn’t it interesting when you think about how small and trivial many of those moments that print a permanent picture in your head seem to be? However, those are the moments that put a smile on your face whenever you think about them. Or they are the moments when enlightenment is sparked and when transformation unexpectedly occurs. Go and explore. Go and do things. Let’s cultivate as many subjectivities as we can, big or small. The inner growth is never linear. Go and accumulate (and I shall remind myself to be patient with the endless readings), because at one unexpected point all the dots are going to connect, and all the subjectivities are going to transform the being of you.

Well, hopefully by cultivating my subjectivity as a blogger, I will be able to make expressing in writing a habit, and further break through that barrier of expression. I wrote this piece with fond memories of two people I lost to depression in the past year. I wish all my readers, actually all the people, could internalize some kind of joy that will make you jump out of bed every morning, to live. And I thank Zumba for this embodied enlightenment.

So please, drop the beats! Why can’t we party now at 10 am? After all, the night is just young, in Paris.