Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Zumba Class -- Dance and the Legacy of the Enslaved

Abstaining from work this past weekend, I took myself to a Zumba class. I'd only been to a couple of these classes, but was pleased to see a different teacher. Pat, a mature, well toned woman with bleached blonde hair and a somewhat gritty style worked better for me than the ingenue who seemed on the silly side. Plus, this teacher gave us some info on the dances, which shifted when the music did.

Dancing to salsa music is relatively new to me. My dance history is tied up with live African drumming and styles from African, to Afican-Brazilian, and African-Caribbean. But salsa music brings the same invocation to move in joy, to be in and alongside the rhythm, to let hips roll free, everything in communion with the beat. Dancing makes me smile, and when I can go fully into the movement, claim it, I am in endorphin city. When the cha cha music came on, Push Push (I've got to get it), I got head on in it, switching back and forth between the cha cha beat and the half steps I learned to throw in there, doubling the steps. "I was killing it," I later told my girlfriend, still riding the high from the class.

Dancing is therapeutic, and yet the therapy field offers little recognition of this.

Pat, who shared that she is half Latino, with a Puerto Rican father, taught a dance I'd never heard of -- Cumbia -- from Columbia. She related that it is believed to have come from those enslaved (a term that avoids the objectification of slaves). You generally move only one leg, the one that is not shackled, or so the story goes, and the arm movement is one of cutting chaff in the fields. Imagine. I had to touch the floor with both hands, when the dance ended, as I do before the drummers at other classes, signifying my gratitude and reverence for their contribution.

What a legacy my enslaved ancestors have bestowed. Dance dance dance -- however, whenever you can!

Photo by thandiwe


  1. “Dancing is therapeutic.” How true. I say this, and I’m not a dancer. Shame on the field of therapy. It isn’t just the “therapy” professionals who have missed the boat about dance. I am a recently retired physician with a passion for community health education that emphasizes lifestyle changes geared toward chronic disease prevention and chronic disease management through self-care and self-management. Two critical components of lifestyle are eating habits and physical activity. I was the diabetes consultant for >30 programs that provided diabetes care for >25,000 American Indians with diabetes mellitus. Several of those programs had sophisticated, state-of-the-art exercise facilities. Many of the exercise leaders complained about underuse of the wonderful equipment. I always made a point of asking each of them how often do you ask the clients about other physically challenging activities they enjoy that do not require or involve gym equipment. A blank stare was the universal response. Dancing is an extremely important and enjoyable component of cultural and community activities of many American Indian tribes. I had a lengthy discussion one day with an American Indian administrator (my boss) about the popular dance activities of his tribe that had therapeutic potential. He was amazed.
    We all know that there is a huge segment of the population that truly enjoys dancing. Efforts to channel those dancing pleasures in a therapeutic way to slow the epidemic of chronic diseases are too few. We not only don’t know, from a scientific perspective, the value of dancing as therapy we don’t know how much the need for therapy has been averted because of dancing.

  2. Thank you for your comments. I have to wonder if the therapeutic effects of dance and other creative arts remain largely invisible because they are 'soft' as opposed to 'hard' like the human sciences are viewed, even if not as 'hard' as the physical sciences. In addition, there is such a premium on words in therapy that we overlook how valuable the non-verbal can be.