What Moves You, Ladies? Zumba: A Fresh Take on Fitness

Christina M. Castro on Zumba and the need for Natives to stay fit

Summertime is definitely upon us; here in New Mexico we are feeling the heat. By now, I bet you’re a nice shade of brown as you rock those sundresses, shorts, tank tops, and cute sandals and maybe even a body-baring swimsuit. Yep, I said it. The word itself strikes fear into many a woman. If you’re one of those lucky, genetically skinny Indian chicks, then this article is not for you! I’m talking about women like me, who fight an uphill battle when it comes to managing their weight; who face anxiety over the annual swimsuit hunt. Some of you don’t even bother, I know. I’ve been there. Some years I’ve just skipped it altogether and opted for the “Indian swimsuit.”

It doesn’t help that as I get older, it’s harder to keep the weight off. As a former quintessential “fat kid,” I’m predisposed to “commod bod,” making the subject of the swimsuit all the more precarious. For some Indian gals, the swimsuit consists of shorts and a tank or t-shirt, for others it’s a classic one piece, and for a few brave or blessed ones, the skimpy two-piece. I’m somewhere in between. I like the idea of wearing a swimsuit but it’s hard to find one that flatters my short, curvy figure, or at least feels comfortable enough for me to wear in public. Though mostly confident, the timid Indian girl in me surfaces now and then, mostly when I feel exposed, literally and metaphorically.

With discipline and educating myself about food, I was able to turn my chubby youth into a relatively healthy adult life. How did I do it? What you already know: diet and exercise. Sometimes I falter on the diet part as I believe I should be able to eat what I damn well please, albeit in moderation, therefore I know I have to compensate with exercise. This year, my summer stay-fit strategy includes as much Zumba as possible, laps at the local public pool, walking, hiking, vigorous sex with my new husband (I just threw that in there to see if you were still with me) and whatever other calorie burning opportunities come my way, even if it’s as simple as taking the stairs or walking to a local restaurant instead of driving.

The Zumba craze is currently sweeping through my region of Indian country. Most of the local Pueblos are offering classes through their health and wellness programs. I recently attended a Zumbathon in San Felipe Pueblo where I shook it for two solid hours of butt kicking dance inspired fitness! There were at least 30 Native women of varying ages and sizes, with a few men sprinkled in for good measure, working their hips without inhibition in a muggy headstart auditorium to pulsing Latin beats. The instructor was a young, gorgeous; ridiculously in shape tribal member who wore red lipstick, let her luscious long black locks hang loose the entire time and shook it like it was nobody’s business. If that ain’t inspiration ladies, I don’t know what is!

What is it about Zumba that makes it so popular amongst us Native peeps, particularly women? I’ve come to the following conclusions:

First, we love dancing to our traditional drums but we also like to get down to some hip hop, Latin or a good ol’ two step. Zumba is perfect for us because not only are we are a dancing culture, we’re used to doing it communal style. Secondly, Zumba is also unabashedly fun and sexy, a concept we don’t always associate with Native women -- but why not? By the looks of it, we’ve been waiting to show off our sexy! Third, what better way to get in shape and exercise than a way that doesn’t feel like exercise? Zumba is definitely working for us!

After trying on more swimsuits than I care to mention over the last few weeks, I was at it again. I had tried several and hadn’t been sold on any of them -- when an eye catching one-piece beckoned to me. It reminded me of what the African jungle might look like, minus the wild, bloodthirsty animals. I decided to try it on. What the heck? I didn’t get my hopes up but proceeded to take it to the dressing room along with another far less attractive but significantly less expensive one. To my delight, it fit well -- really well. The colors complemented my skin tone and it captured my voluptuous shape in the best way possible. Finally! I had a private dance party right there in that lil’ dressing room I was so happy, busting out a few Zumba moves in the mirror as I checked myself out. Not bad girl, not bad. I didn’t even bother with the other one. It was a total splurge, yes, but I’m worth it!

There’s no big secret to staying fit. We have to start by taking ownership of our bodies and health. This is not something IHS or anyone can do for us. We have to look for new and innovative ways to keep ourselves in balance. Start with finding activities you actually enjoy. If you have kids, take them for walks or bike rides in the evening, after it’s cooled down. Visit the local public pool or swimming hole. On the weekends, pack a picnic and take a hike somewhere scenic; the possibilities are endless. The important thing is to do it, and not just here and there when you have time. If you have time to watch tv, go to the casino, or get your nails done, you have time to exercise.

I don’t know about you but I’m not ready to throw in the towel. There’s plenty of years to be a round, happy elder but as long as my looks are holding up, I’m going to try to keep relatively fit and fly. As an admittedly prideful individual, I feel that looking “good” shows the world a positive representation of my people. I may never be able to erase the cruel taunts of “Two Ton Tina” by the boys in the block, nor will I ever be as lean and mean as my pre-colonial predecessors, but I can certainly be healthy, active and confident! Surely, I still look good in spite of a few extra pounds. Besides, most Natives don’t seem mind some meat on the bones.

Christina M. Castro (Jemez/Taos Pueblo) is a newcomer to The Thing About Skins and will provide some much-needed female energy to fold. She is a writer, educator and community organizer. With degrees in English, Creative Writing and Education, she has worked with predominantly Native American students at schools throughout the Southwest. In 2008, she had the opportunity to work for Barack Obama’s Campaign for Change as a Field Organizer in the eight northern Pueblos of New Mexico. The invaluable experience and training she gained has only strengthened her resolve to continue her work for social change. She currently teaches English at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.