The Fat Lady...Dances

Recently I discovered the joy of Zumba classes. One cannot live in South Florida, as I did, and not develop a certain love for Latin music and dancing. Now here in the corn-fed Midwest, salsa dancing is not quite the muy caliente rumba of Miami, but at least it involves decent music.

A Zumba class, for those who may not know, is a mix of Latin and Middle Eastern dance moves, combined with some more traditional aerobics steps. Every instructor brings something different to the classes; Irene teaches Saturday mornings and her classes are pretty traditional - a Latino Jane Fonda would feel right at home. Michelle teaches Monday mornings and her classes are heavy on the salsa and merengue. Dominique teaches Tuesday evenings, and befitting her young age, her classes are heavy on more street and hip-hop type moves.

Typical of gyms and dance studios, we do our classes facing a mirror. Seeing myself gyrating while wearing exercise clothes is about as appealing as cold, congealing spaghetti, so I rarely look at the mirror, and when I do it's more often to see some of the middle aged Midwestern women around me doing their comical variation of Latin dance. But one thing has become clear to me, and it is something for me to keep working on: I don't trust my body.

Eleven years ago this September, I had what an engineer would call a major catastrophic failure of my left leg. In a dance class as part of my graduate training, my leg gave out. I had a complete separation of my lower left tibia, as well as tearing almost every ligament in my ankle, tearing my MCL, and tearing the medial meniscus in my knee. A year ago this August, I re-tore my MCL. To say I don't trust my body is an understatement.

I used to be fairly good at dance. I went into it with my whole heart. I was the fat girl who could move, a sort of graceful hippo. My Zumba teachers have been impressed at how quickly I pick up the dance steps, and I credit living in Miami rather than a couple years of dance training and classes where, even as an opera singer, we had to learn 60+ counts of a dance sequence for a mock audition. But in my post-injury years, I've gotten to the point where I just don't trust my body.

It's not a conscious choice. Favoring my leg is still an unconscious decision. I'm working regularly to get past that, with gym workouts and making the conscious decision to do something that my gut would say "Your knee! Your knee!," such as going for a hike. Sometimes I come home and have to ice my knee or take an Advil. But I had to do the same thing while in therapy and know this is an extension of that. I watch professional athletes on TV come back from considerably more catastrophic injuries, so I know I can get past this, and continuing to drop the weight will help.

Meanwhile, don't question your Geiger counters. It's probably just this fat lady dancing off the weight.


Swimsuit Season: Ready or Not, Here I Come!

So in my last post, I talked about returning to the gym after a work-induced hiatus and blah blah blah. 3 times a week doing 30-35 minutes of intense cardio on the elliptical for two weeks is a start, but nothing to write home about, and then I was out of town again gigging. While out of town, I had fun. I went to the beach, lounged around the pool at my homestay. We had a kitchen, so I cooked. I came back from Florida with two obvious tan lines and 3 additional unwanted pounds.


Three days after returning, tax season officially ended and I was furloughed from the IRS. While I'll miss my friends and the steady paycheck, I'm ready for summer vacation. I'm breaking out the sunscreen and my summer reading list and spending quality time "holding down a lounge chair" by the pool, although given the temps I spend much of that time sitting IN the pool instead. And yes, I'm back at the gym, more intensely than ever.

Many sources state that one way to stay on track with a workout regimen is to vary it up. Previously, my way of doing that was by mixing up the tunes on my workout playlists and/or varying what I watched on the TV attached to the elliptical machine. I would also challenge myself to better my stats from my previous workouts in increased time, resistance, strides, or calories burned -- tapping into my own competitive drive. But now that I have the time in my schedule, I'm starting to explore some of the classes my gym has to offer, and am loving the rewards so far.

My newest love are the Zumba classes. If you aren't familiar with Zumba, it is Latin dance meets Jane Fonda, basically. It combines salsa, merengue, cha cha, etc., with some Middle Eastern belly dancing moves and a few things reminiscent of power aerobics of the late 80s. The music is generally Latin and infectious. Each of the classes at my gym is taught by a different instructor, so every class I go to reminds me of Opera Workshop at Rice when we were learning to do dance auditions: a very short period of time to pick up a series of steps. I love the dancing and I love the challenge. And, judging by the soreness of my muscles, I'm getting a great workout, too.

So now my plan is Zumba 3 times a week, plus returning to Yoga classes 2-3 times a week. Friday is the only day where my gym doesn't offer a class that interests me - hey, it's summer after all! - so on the days where there's no Zumba class (or no cardio class at all I want to do), I'm gladly returning to my elliptical. Of course, all this exercise doesn't do a lick of good without changes, or more accurately, a return, to better eating habits. I dropped $140 at the grocery store a couple days ago, and unless being social demands it, I'll be eating in and eating better again. Regular breakfasts, more veggies, smarter choices.

Which brings me to the last thing I'm dealing with: caffeine detox! I figured out that while working nights, it was not uncommon for me to consume 64 oz or more of Diet Coke or Coke Zero. That's a half gallon, or 3 ounces short of a two liter bottle of soda. It also comes to approximately 184mg of caffeine. Now according to the Mayo Clinic, that's within the acceptable limits, if not technically below them. (They state 200-400mg is "safe.") However, the sheer amount of soda I was consuming had effects on other aspects of my body; let's be honest, it tastes yummy but it's full of chemicals that we can barely pronounce. So I'm cutting back my caffeine intake, down to one cup of iced coffee in the morning (still 108mg of caffeine) and hope to gradually dwindle that to a few cups a week. I just feel better when I'm not requiring caffeine, but until I get to that point I have to do something otherwise the headaches during detox will debilitate me.

I have a goal, a certain number I'd like to be at before I go on my first vacation in about 24 days. If I don't make it, such is life; it's a pretty lofty goal to be honest and right at the edge of what doctors say is a healthy amount of weight loss. Still, it would be nice and certainly a great encourager. Until then, there's a lounge chair calling me, and Zumba at 5:30 followed by Yoga at 6:30.