I arrived at class a few minutes before the start time as I always do, carrying my sneaks to change into so that I wouldn’t track in any dirt or grit from outdoors. However, it was clear from the outset that this would be no ordinary Zumba class.
Welcomed at the gate to the huge enclosed backyard corner lot at the Acton home of Michael and Zuzana Smith, I could see the lushly landscaped areas as well as some open grassy sections. Teenagers lounged by the pool, some sitting at a table underneath a green umbrella, others around a picnic table that was covered in drinks, interesting looking dips, chips and watermelon slices. There was a sprinkling of adults who were chatting, tending to the food or preparing for a dip in the pool themselves.
Apart from the hosts, the other adults were affiliated with Friends Forever, a group whose mission is to promote trust and understanding among cultures in conflict. This group was comprised of ten teens from Israel, five of them Jewish, five Muslim considering themselves Palestinian, and Friends Forever is bringing them to the United States for two weeks where they spend time with each other in a new host country and city. Already in the Boston area for a week and a half, these 15-17 year olds had been on a Duck Tour, climbed Mt. Morgan in New Hampshire, seen the MIT Robotics lab, walked around Salem, and played Bocce Ball with the elders where they are housed during their stay. They were as yet unaware that they would be introduced to Zumba.
Judy Quint, of JRO Fitness arrived a few minutes later in a bright pink Love, Peace, Zumba shirt and matching pink shorts. We had had a brief conversation about the play list, although I knew that the teens would move to anything she chose. More introductions with Judy trying out her Hebrew from years past and she brought her music to a large open (shaded) area. (So much for shoes..barefoot we go!)
Cue music and I recognized Good Time, by Owl City, a warm up song to get us going. We started in a relatively orderly way- straight lines of teens and adults facing Judy. As the set continued, including the Party Rock Anthem, and All Around the World, the teens loosened up and began improvising on their own – sometimes joining hands in a small circle, sometimes turning towards each other or one bold boy strutting his stuff around the yard. There was laughing and giggling, shy smiles, genuine effort to follow Judy’s lead and encouragement from the adults not indulging in the dance.
I have never chuckled so much at a Zumba class. We lasted as a group about 35 minutes before they exclaimed “Enough!” and Judy reminded them that she is usually teaching 55 year old women for a full hour!
I realized that apart from one hijab (headdress), I would not be able to identify who was who, and that, perhaps is the idea. We are all people who love music, who like to dance, relax in a beautiful setting, and eat good food. I have heard it said that a laugh is the shortest distance between two people. Let us hope that this group continues to share many guffaws as an effortless way to forge connections between people who have not often had the opportunity to do so. I hope that I may retain the openness to do the same. Peace, Love and Zumba.
Meg Stafford, LICSW, is a 20 year resident of Littleton, Massachusetts, Zumba enthusiast and author of Topic of Cancer: Riding the Waves of the Big C. She can be reached at email@example.com.