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100 Lessons, What Have I Learned?

I started teaching Zumba a little over a year ago, and since then I have taught over 100 classes.  That’s over 100 times that I have had the privilege to do something I had wanted to do for a long time, but I thought was beyond my reach.  It is over 100 times that students have come to me, given me their money and their trust, and allowed me to share with them something I am truly passionate about.  I have always loved dancing, but am not “professional” by any stretch of the imagination.  Standing in front of people was a giant leap outside my comfort zone and for the first few weeks, I felt sure the adrenaline would completely overwhelm me.

Gradually I relaxed in to it and began to enjoy it more and more.  I love teaching and it never feels like work.  No matter how tired and sore I am, or how much of a crappy day I have had, as soon as the music comes on, a new energy starts flowing through me.  It has been such an amazing experience so far, and I have learned so much.  I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this and share with you a few of the lessons I have learned.

Expect The Unexpected:  I am a classic over thinker.  In the weeks leading up to my first class, I must have run through a million different scenarios in my mind, desperately trying to anticipate every eventuality.  At one stage I had myself in a state worrying about not having enough €2 coins to give people their change.  I mentioned this to my husband and he said “I can’t believe this is what you’re worrying about,” to which I replied “I think I have already worried about everything else!”

The truth of it is, as much anxiety as I caused myself, you simply cannot be prepared for everything life, or teaching, can throw at you.  All you can do is be ready with your brightest smile if/when disaster strikes.  Laugh it off, even if inside you’re screaming at the universe “why are you doing this to me?”  Over the past year some crazy things have happened, none of which I had mentally run through, but I lived to tell the tale!  I never did run out of €2.  In fact, I am inundated with them and every time I bag them up I am reminded of my own silliness.

Ego is Not Your Amigo: I have read enough philosophy, both ancient and modern, to understand intellectually that Ego is The Enemy (thank you Ryan Holiday) however, that doesn’t stop me getting caught up with it in the heat of the moment.

I wasn’t teaching long when a new student came to my class.  She was a German girl, and I asked her, like I ask all new students, if she had done Zumba before.  I wasn’t at all prepared for her to say, “Yes, I’m a Zumba instructor.”  I can’t begin to describe to you the level of panic I experienced in that moment.  I was convinced she would judge me and worse yet, find me wanting.  In reality, this lady just wanted to come and dance.  She was very sweet and after a little while my nerves subsided.

A couple of weeks later, she was in class and we were dancing to Tip Toe by Jason Derulo.  She was getting really into it and clearly enjoying herself.  I found myself almost competing with her, as irrational as that is.  The more energetic she got, the more intensity I put into my own moves.  I ended up tweaking my calf and having to disguise my discomfort for the rest of the class.  It was a painful reminder of the damage that ego can do!

Don’t Take It Personally:  This particular lesson has been hard learned.  Sometimes people come to class once and never return.  In fact this happens quite a lot.  In the beginning I was convinced that this was some failure on my part.  Truthfully, it is still very tempting to think this way.  When I look at it objectively though, it is easy to see that there are a million reasons people stop coming.  They get busy.  The time doesn’t suit them anymore.  Their friend stops coming and they don’t want to come alone.  Maybe they can’t afford it, or maybe Zumba just isn’t for them?   None of these reasons have anything to do with me or any other instructor.  Simply put, I am not that important!  Ego, again!  All I can do it create a safe environment so people know they are welcome to return anytime.

Some students find it easier to watch another student than the instructor.  This can be because they have positioned themselves in such a way that they don’t have a clear view.  It can also be because the instructor generally faces the class to teach and the students mirror him/her.  Some people just have a hard time following this.  Again, this is absolutely nothing to do with the teacher.  The first time I noticed this happening, I was highly put out!  But I quickly got a grip.  Seriously Arwen, as long as the students are moving, sweating and having fun, it doesn’t matter if they are looking at you, each other or their own feet!

There’s No Way to Speed Up Experience:  I am a very impatient person, especially with myself.  I want to be an expert at everything I attempt straight away.  I don’t have time for the whole learning thing!  When I first began teaching, just remembering the steps was about all I could manage.  Any little thing could distract me and throw me off.  It didn’t matter if it was someone walking in late or people laughing (or grimacing,) it would immediately make me forget where I was.  This frustrated me so much.  I just wanted to get to the stage where it all at least appeared to be effortless, even if it really wasn’t.

As I got more experience under my belt, these interruptions fazed me less and less.  I am now at the stage where I can dance, sing, smile, cue and count all at the same time.  Just last night I had a lady straight up free styling in class, and I was able to appreciate how brilliant this was, and laugh with her, without missing a beat.  I promise you, if you are struggling with something now, as long as it’s something you actually want to do it, stick with it.  It will get easier.  It will happen so gradually, you may not even notice it, but then one day you will be screaming “look Ma, no hands!

Mistakes are a Part of The Process:  There’s a saying in our industry “There are no mistakes in Zumba, just unexpected solos,” and it’s very true.  In the beginning of my teaching career, I was terrified of making mistakes.  When I missed a step or lost my place, I would berate myself, convinced that the students would A. Notice and B. Care.  When, in fact, most times, they do neither.  When I look back on classes I attended as a student, I don’t remember the instructor making a mistake that anyone talked about.

I still don’t like making mistakes, obviously, and I do everything I can to avoid them.  However, just like in all other aspects of life, they happen.  The best thing to do is just to try to get over it as quickly as possible.  Take whatever learnings there are from it and move on.  Nobody is perfect in this world, and I think sometimes it can even help students to see their instructor make the odd mistake.  It takes the pressure of them to try to be perfect.

I have learned so much about myself in the past year, I really can’t put it all into words.  I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me, either by attending a class or by giving advice and encouragement.  It means the world to me.  I have so much more to learn and I am still excited to see where this adventure will lead me.  Be well xxx

Articles

A to Zumba

I was first introduced to Zumba in 2012.  I had finished my accountancy exams the previous December, and by the time the results came out in February, I had watched as many Soaps as I cared to.  I was overweight, unhappy and bored.  I knew something needed to be done.  So, like many others, I joined my local leisure centre.  I had my new runners, my training gear, the whole bit.  What I didn’t possess was any confidence.  I trembled at the thought of looking foolish on the gym floor, when I clearly had no idea what I was doing.  So, I sought sanctuary of the studio!

Within 20 minutes of starting my first Zumba class, I was in love.  My instructor Angela was amazing.  She had the perfect body (when she danced nothing moved) and she was so energetic, confident and passionate.  I had a total girl crush.  I didn’t care that I was hopelessly uncoordinated and was at no stage doing the same moves as anyone else in the class.  I just loved moving to those Latin beats and learning to sweat for the first time.  What made it even better was that the class was on a Friday night, making it the perfect gateway to the weekend.  Before long, I was truly hooked.

I remember thinking how amazing it would be to become an instructor.  However, I quickly dismissed the idea.  How could I ever hope to inspire anyone as Angela had inspired me?  I definitely was not confident, I wasn’t a dancer or a personal trainer, and believe me when I tell you that when I danced, EVERYTHING moved!  I buried that secret dream way at the back of my mind and focused on other things.

Time passed and I moved away from Zumba to try my hand at other forms of training.  I did Crossfit for a while and strength and conditioning after that.  However, a spate of injuries meant I couldn’t get any momentum going and I became increasingly frustrated.  Earlier this year I made the decision (with a heavy heart) to take a break from that style of training.  So, back I went to the same local gym.

This time I felt so much more confident.  It didn’t bother me (as much) to take my place in the weight room or to do my thing on the gym floor.  But, I still loved the classes offered.  Spinning, TRX, HIIT and of course Zumba.  Anything that gets the heart pumping and the endorphins flowing, I found impossible to resist.  It didn’t take too many Friday night classes before I began to wonder again… Maybe, just maybe I could teach this?  Maybe it wasn’t as crazy as I thought it was?  I decided to check it out.

I went on line and saw that there was an instructors’ training course taking place just a couple of weeks later.  Was it a sign?  Not knowing how regularly the courses came up and terrified of missing my chance, I booked it!  Almost immediately panic set in.  Who the hell was I trying to kid?  I am an accountant FFS.  I have no business standing in front of a class.  I would be immediately exposed as a fraud.  Eventually, however, I convinced myself to go to the course.  I talked to my instructor and she assured me that I would emerge unscathed (thank you Audrey!)  I figured I had paid for it, so I may as well go, and sure what’s the worst that could happen?  GULP!

So, off I went and honestly, it was amazing.  I had such a brilliant day, met lots of cool people, learned so much and generally had a blast.  #Zumbaislife!  Until Monday.  Inevitably work and the day to day took center stage again, and all thoughts of embarking on a new adventure were relegated to the realms of pipe dreams.

The problem is, I have this friend.  Every time I saw her she would ask me “so, what’s happening with the Zumba thing?” and every time I would offer some lame responses, “I’m still looking in to it” or “I’m just so busy at work right now.”  Seriously though, she was relentless.  It got to the point where I agreed to contact my local community center about holding a class there, as much to satisfy her as anything else!  Imagine then, my horror, when the community centre agreed to host me!  I was completely overwhelmed and daunted.  Not only about the actual class, but also the logistics of marketing it and even getting people to show up.

As luck would have it, work got crazy and it looked like I was going to be spending a significant amount of time travelling.  I wasn’t going to be able to commit to teaching a class at least until things settled down.  There was no choice but to cancel it.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little relieved.  No sooner had I emailed to cancel the class, when the work situation changed again.  Just like that I had neither the exciting work adventure or the Zumba class to look forward to.

I was flattened, and horribly conflicted.  One side of me is Arwen the accountant.  Who has spent a long time building a career and doing a pretty good job.  But the other side of me wants to be writing, teaching and coaching.  I had always assumed that this conflict would eventually resolve itself.  One side of me would naturally become dominant and that would be that.  At this particular time both personas had suffered a huge blow and I really struggled to know what to do for this best.  I felt utterly lost and confused.

I was still in this state of mind when I found myself at The Better Life Project’s Empowered Women Workshop.  During the course of the day Sarah spoke about feelings we often have.  Voices in the back of our minds saying “who am I to do such and such a thing?”  This really resonated with me.  It was the exact question I had been asking myself for so long.  “Who am I to try to teach Zumba?”  “who am I to assume I can coach people?”  I don’t have the perfect body, I don’t have a dancing background, even after two training course and hundreds of hours of practice, I still trip over my feet at times.

Sarah advised us to re-frame these questions.  Instead of asking who am I to do it, ask who am I NOT to do it.  Oh wow, talk about a light bulb moment.  She was so right.  Who am I not to use the training and education I have gained to try to help others on their fitness journeys?  Who am I to take the motivation and inspiration I have gotten from my own instructors and not pay it forward?  Who am I to sit on the sidelines of my own life, waiting for something to happen?

The drive home that Saturday was long, and I had a lot of time to think.  I mulled over the events of the past months and began to realise I had missed a golden opportunity.  I had been standing on the precipice of my dream future and backed away from it.  What an idiot!  Resigned to the fact that I couldn’t do anything about it and determined not to dwell, as I parked my car I decided to put these thoughts away too.

The very next Monday, I received an email from a woman looking for a Zumba instructor.  Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I replied with an emphatic yes!  I feel so blessed to have been given a second chance to pursue this.  I appreciate how fortunate I am, and I am determined to not let anyone down.  The count down is truly on and this day two weeks, I will be pressing play on a long awaited adventure.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

So many people have influenced, inspired and at times even bullied me into making this happen.  I am so thankful to each and every one of you.  If I could offer one small piece of advice to anyone who wants to take the first step towards their dream, it’s this.  Get after it!  Be well xxx