Dancing, fun, and lots of attention. Image by Flickr user Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ.

Whether or not you’ve done Zumba, you’ve likely heard of it.

It’s that raucous, party-like workout that combines energetic dance steps with mostly Latin beats, some Reggaeton, and quite a bit of Top 40 hits. It’s overwhelming, and it’s fun, and it’s so much better than doing laps on a treadmill or lifting dead weight.

But have you ever done Zumba in a park? In public?

I found a local Zumba instructor who moved her Tuesday classes outside into parks in the Dallas, TX area.

At first, dancing with a small group of strangers in a very public space was nerve-wracking, but over time I found it to be highly satisfying. I also discovered exercising with others (in a gym, in a dance class, in a sports league) to be one of the best ways to get to know people when traveling.

After several Zumba sessions in the park, here’s what I’ve learned:

Fear Not

When I found out that our regular Tuesday-night Zumba session was being moved from the safety of a studio to a park, I was nervous.

What should I wear?

Would I sweat too much?

Would certain tank tops be considered too revealing?

Would our loud music bring the (negative) attention of the neighbors?

But, as with the majority of new experiences in life, the anticipation beforehand is usually the worst of it.

Once you get going, things work out. Or at least you can dig up one positive aspect!

So lay off the fretting. It only serves to amp up your feelings and doesn’t do anything towards making the experience more fun!

Redirect Your Self-Attention

Despite being in a park surrounded by children playing and parents watching them, with bikers and joggers passing close by, my attention during the first lesson or two was squarely on myself. I even found myself distracted from the instructor because I was too busy wondering how I looked to others.

To counteract my self-consciousness, I focused on redirecting my attention.

Once I realized that I was a strong woman who probably looked like she was having a ton of fun, what others might be seeing didn’t matter anymore.

Image by Flickr user Simon Schoeters.

Image by Flickr user Simon Schoeters.

Dance Hard (Even If You Think You Can’t)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Zumba over the years, it’s that the steps don’t really matter.

Sure, it’s gratifying when you can execute all the moves not just with accuracy but with attitude. But as long as you’re moving and having fun, you’re doing it right. (This should go for all forms of exercise, in my opinion.)

When new ladies joined our outdoor Zumba sessions, and I could sense their apprehension, I tried to remind them to have fun. After all, we were on a stage of sorts, with the opportunity to convey a sense of joy to everyone around us.

Make Eye Contact

Once I became more familiar with my instructor’s choreography and redirected my attention outward, I began to notice people’s reactions to our energetic parties in the park.

Most people just didn’t seem to care. But a few looked interested, circling back around the trail past us or outright stopping to watch.

One such person was a tween girl, who parked her bike and stood staring with interest as we danced. In the middle of one song, I beckoned her over with a hand motion, then asked her if she wanted to join in.

It only took a little encouraging, and she became part of our small but mighty group. She had so much fun and promised to return the following week! I like to think we introduced a joyful side of exercise to her during some of her most formative years.

Sometimes all people need is encouragement, and they’ll join right in. What could be a better way to make friends and share a great experience!

Have you ever done Zumba? What about exercising with strangers, perhaps while traveling? What did you think?