On Monday night, I was the New Girl. You must know that feeling... Walking in to an unfamiliar place, introducing yourself not by name but by saying, "I'm new, this is my first time...", scoping out your surroundings, standing somewhere inconspicuous and safe like the back of the room or in a corner, reluctant to make eye contact with anyone, quietly giving thanks for the arrival of smart phones in our lives to give us something to do other than stand there looking awkward...
On Monday night, I started a new Zumba class.
Big deal, I hear you say, it's only an exercise class! Perhaps, but this normally outgoing and chatty extrovert likes her routine. I like familiarity and security. Change can turn me into a bit of a wallflower. Yes really!
I have been doing Zumba for about 2 years. It stemmed from my original Rosemary Conley classes, when my lovely instructor Emma left the RC franchise and set up her own healthy living business. She absolutely loved Zumba, she was made for it and sometimes it seemed like Zumba was made just for her. Each week she would turn up in bright pink trousers, her hair crimped, glitter on her eyes, and jangly bracelets on her wrists. Emma was a walking party, and it is thanks to her that my love of Zumba began (along with the 21lb she helped me lose). When I was on honeymoon I got a text from Emma's husband to say that she had had an accident and hurt her back and that Zumba was cancelled indefinitely. Later Emma emailed me personally to tell me that as her son was having a fairly serious operation soon she needed to give her time to looking after him and so Zumba was finishing for good. I totally understood her reasons but I admit to being devastated. Perhaps I had grown too attached to her and the classes, but that was normal considering what a positive and life changing effect they had had on me. Perhaps I was using them as too much of a crutch and felt I couldn't possibly lose weight without Emma's help. Anyway, to my credit (and it really is, I am not known for my perseverance) I took the brave step of joining a new class.
This one was in a local leisure centre. My friend from church went, which made it easier and was a nice opportunity to spend time with her. The atmosphere wasn't the same though. Emma's classes felt homely, where we would all chat together before the class and she would welcome people as they came in. With this class we just turned up and got on with it. Our instructor was excellent, enthusiastic but there was no chat, no getting to know us personally. In addition to this it was a small studio and being a leisure centre who no doubt had targets to meet and quotas to fill they crammed us in. And if you have ever done Zumba you will know that you need a bit of room to move around! On top of all that, for the last 4 weeks the class has been full when I have tried to book online. Whether it is a case of New Year's Resolutions which will soon die out, or if they have simply had a recruitment drive to get more people through the door I've found myself unable to go along, settling instead for a run or, more likely, doing nothing at all.
So I went online and found a raft of classes on at the same time, made enquiries and ended up at one in the sports hall of a local private school, surrounded by strangers and feeling very much The New Girl. As I was standing awkwardly at the back of the room I was approached by a woman in bright pink combats, yellow Zumba vest, with pink streaks in her hair. The instructor. She instantly recognised me, in a room of about 40 or so women, as being new. "Hello!" she said, "I haven't seen you before, is this your first time?" and held out her hand to me. As I shook it, I could see and hear jangly wristbands, just like Emma's. "Yes. I'm new. Well, not new to Zumba, but new to here..." I was nervous and waffling. We chatted a bit about my previous classes and she introduced herself as Jayne. She knew Emma from Zumba events. She then took my arm and guided me over to a group of girls standing next to us. "This is Lauren. She's new. Look after her!" and went to chat to someone else, embracing them in a hug. The girls chatted away to me, asking me if I'd done Zumba before and telling me how much fun the class would be. And it was. It was great fun. Jayne and her sister lead the class together and they are a hoot, cracking jokes and making fun of themselves and each other, their enthusiasm infectious. In between songs the other girls would ask me how I was getting on. And the space - oh the space! A massive school hall with room to move around and work up a real sweat.
By the end, when I said goodbye to Jayne and my new friends, I was no longer The New Girl. And I was definitely coming back.
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