Shaking things up: Zumba on the turf


Caitlin Cowan

Members of the Zumba class pose for a photo on the Whitman track.

By Caitlin Cowan

It’s probably fair to say that much of my time in this world has revolved around challenging strangers to dance battles, forcing random drive-thru workers to wave at my vlog camera, wearing Olaf onesies to school, and pretty much anything and everything that embarrasses myself and the people I’m with. 

I enjoy opening myself up to new experiences and people. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has limited my ability to do this over the past six months. 

So, I decided that my next piece for the Black & White would be dedicated to trying something new. I made a list of potential activities, and quickly eliminated all the ideas that didn’t speak to me and didn’t appease my short attention span, like a meditation session in my backyard or a street yoga class.

Out of ideas, I ultimately decided to just go on a run which took me past Whitman. I heard them before I saw them: a group of older folks dancing enthusiastically on the Whitman turf. It looked like some kind of exercise class, and after doing a little research on the 20817 listserv, I discovered that the group was a Zumba class that met every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

I have a long and complicated history with Zumba. I’m dangerously uncoordinated, and did not do well in the one and only class I took with my friend last winter. But on a balmy Wednesday morning, I decided to go to their Zumba class with great trepidation. 

At first, I was worried about how a group of older people would react to a clumsy teenager joining their ranks. There were about 24 middle-aged women and one man lined up on the turf area, all wearing face masks and standing six feet apart. I explained that I wanted to write a story about their class, and they were just as thrilled to have a visitor as I was to talk to new people. 

Although I explained I was just there to observe, they insisted I join in. At 9:30 a.m., the music began to blare from speakers and the instructor started teaching the class. On the other side of the field, several middle school football players gazed on in confusion. These moms — and one granddad  —  showed no inhibition; they joyously danced and worked out to songs like “Waka-Waka” by Shakira and “Taki-Taki” by DJ Snake.

As a community, they were some of the most inviting people I had ever met, peppering me with questions about school and even this article. They showed such kindness and empathy to a random teenage girl who attempted to dance with them. Being part of this class brought back something I had lost amidst the isolation of the pandemic: connecting with strangers. Many of their kids were Whitman graduates; one woman reminisced about her son, a member of the only Whitman basketball team to ever win the Maryland state championship. Another man told me about his children who graduated in the class of 1985. I even got a business card from one woman who wanted me to spread the word about her son who had just started a medical business on Goldsboro Road. 

I realized how much I had missed talking to new people. This group, who was innovative enough to keep their Zumba passion alive, brought me out of my shell during this pandemic. It’s possible to bring charm safely back into our lives — it takes initiative, but it’s worth it. 

For months, I’ve been stuck at home in the same routine, and I’ve felt our community has been more disconnected than ever. It was time to shake some things up, and to participate in an activity that would bring back a rush of excitement. This group gave me what I was looking for: a sense of normalcy, an ounce of faith in humanity and a new found “talent” for Zumba.