If ever there was an assignment where I was happy the only camera in the room was the one around my neck, this was it.
The Insider caught wind of a Zumba toning class offered by Mariann Puopolo at the General Services Department twice a week at noon, and as has been our standard reply over the last year, we responded thusly: Keith'll do it!
So I did it. Well, I did something resembling it.
And by that I mean anyone trained in the art of Zumba would have seen me in the room with other attendees, but the words used to describe my movements wouldn't have included the name of the class. In fact, an innocent bystander would likely have assumed I was marching to the beat of a different song entirely.
Here's the thing: Zumba is a fast-paced activity. The instructor can't describe every movement, so the onus is on the students to study and learn, to watch and activate their body parts at the same time. And unfortunately, I'm not a magna cum laude graduate of the pat-your-head-and-rub-your-tummy school.
Also, there's the complicating factor that, as we've mentioned during several of my other adventures in guinea pigging, I am among the world's worst dancers.
Up-tempo music, fast-paced dance steps and little verbal instruction? My terror was difficult to mask. It was the perfect storm for failure.
Alas, failure is in the eye of the beholder (is that a phrase? It should be). For while I am certain I spent most of the hour zigging while everyone else was zagging, it didn't in any way detract from the goal of the class, which is to force rivers of sweat from as many of your pores as possible in a 45-minute span.
I was all kinds of clunky, sure, but I was always moving. And Puopolo was a fantastic instructor, tapping parts of her body in anticipation of upcoming movement changes so newbies - read: me - could focus and prepare appropriately.
Puopolo was a great instructor for a rookie. She kept the pace moving but provided enough guidance for those who needed it. She also pushed everyone to reach back for a little more while letting people go through class at their own pace. It was a low-pressure, high-enjoyment environment.
And it's a heck of a workout. I exercise four or five times a week and consider myself a fairly fit person, but this was a challenge. It's essentially 45 minutes of continuous cardiovascular calorie burning, with muscular toning movements mixed in. And your breaks consist of the 10 or 15 seconds between songs.
In the end, my performance was hardly a masterpiece (I'm pretty sure the poor woman next to me was certain I was going to go spin the wrong way and kick her at some point or another). But that's not the fault of Zumba or Puopolo. If I took the class two or three more times, I'm sure I'd put the steps together (that's not true. It's just what I tell myself).
But regardless of my skill level, it was an exhausting and satisfying workout. It's not difficult to see why instructors like Puopolo and dedicated students appear to be made of granite. Body fat doesn't stand a chance in a Zumba studio.
I left the General Services Department satisfied, if not a little sore. Even if I'm still happy that the only photographic evidence was shot from my vantage point.