I admit it’s been kind of a while since my eighth-grade graduation from the Santa Fe Waldorf School and, even then, it had been some years since the school employed a regular eurythmy teacher.
My in-crowd acquaintances tell me that eurythmy is once again a regular offering at the Waldorf School and its associated high school, meaning that all the budding hippy teenagers can continue to learn how to express themselves through what is, at least in part, a sexless dance.
To be fair, there are some exquisite practitioners of eurythmy in the world (mostly in Europe). The fundamental principle of movement that mirrors the sound and syllable structure of language, the emotions of living, and the tone and timbre of music is all well enough in theory. But there’s something incredibly disturbing about seeing (or, for that matter, being one of) so-many-odd hormone-imbalanced adolescents, garbed in bright pastel colors, flowing across stage like the New Age cultists of the Kool-Aid Queen.
Having come from that background, it is, I sometimes think, a miracle that I came away with as much love for dance and kinesthetic expression as I did. And when SFR asked me to report on the Zumba fitness phenomenon, I—with my 13-year social dancing background, uncomfortable eurythmy training and 50 percent Latino heritage—smugly thought I had the situation under control. I was wrong.
I wander into Santé Fitness Studio’s new home at The Gym at Eldorado on a Thursday afternoon, and find my way to the studio at the back—a smallish, but not unpleasant, dance floor with a wide bank of mirrors and an overhead rack full of inflatable exercise balls. I am, not surprisingly, the only male in the room, and the dozen or so attendees range in age from the teens through late-middle age.
A few minutes go by before instructor Jackie Camborde enters. Camborde is Santé’s founder and the group exercise director for The Gym at Eldorado. She’s a high-energy, muscular woman, and she wears pink workouts and a headband.
“What’s the first thing I tell everyone about Zumba?” she asks the class.
“Have fun,” assorted participants reply.
“What’s the second thing?” Camborde asks.
Muscle tone, she says.
As it turns out, this isn’t just hyperbole. A full Zumba workout burns between 350 and 800 calories an hour, Camborde tells me later. That’s quite a range, but the key, she says, is keeping the muscles toned and moving them deliberately.
As she starts the music, a jazzy Latin-pop tune with a regular beat, the class spreads out loosely to fill the space.
“Try to follow the moves,” she says. “But if you can’t, just move to the music.”
With that, she launches into warm-ups. These consist of a 15-minute series of stretches and gentle extensions, turning the torso opposite the waist and reaching with the arms. Even the warm-ups follow the music, assorted movements and simple steps that loosen muscles and prepare the body for the activity ahead. Each pre-choreographed sequence matches a full musical phrase, and each sequence is repeated four or eight times before moving on.
This repetition is important, Camborde explains sometime later. She uses each Zumba playlist—which consists of official Zumba-licensed music as well as Camborde’s own selections—for a full month’s worth of classes, so her students can familiarize themselves with the patterns and choreography rather than encountering a new set of moves each time.
But for now, aside from the occasional reminder of “right” or “left,” there is no conversation. Each sequence flows seamlessly into the next. The only indications that the warm-ups are over are faster music and more complex choreography. Watching our reflections in the mirror, I am struck by how our movement mirrors the music.
Granted, I don’t think Rudolf Steiner had pelvic circles and arm pumps in mind when he first conceived of eurythmy in 1911. And even the thought that—were he to see me now—the progenitor of my childhood education might, quite possibly, turn over in his grave isn’t enough to dissolve the impression that the lot of us look like something out of the mambo scene in West Side Story.
The structure of the choreography is unmistakably Latin in origin, but the addition of hip-hop, tango and Middle Eastern styling gives it a very un-Latin feel, too: like watching the Sharks and Jets go at it with choreographed jazz routines that are meant to look Latin, but aren’t.
The story goes that fitness celebrity and Zumba program creator Alberto “Beto” Perez forgot the music for his aerobics class one day, and improvised with the Latin dance music he was carrying around in his backpack, according to the Zumba fitness program’s official website:
. Consequently, Camborde tells me, the basic Zumba formula builds from a foundation of four Latin dance rhythms: cumbia, merengue, reggaeton and salsa.
By the end of class, we have been dancing for essentially 55 minutes straight, without a break longer than the 10-second cross fade between songs.
“This is an endurance class,” Camborde says, and compares it to a high-energy spinning class. “When I first got into the industry, it was all high. You taught high-low, or you taught step, and that was it…Then we stopped doing that when yoga hit.”
As a result of the move away from cardio, she says, “There are a lot of obese people nowadays.” But, she adds, “would you rather lift weights for an hour or dance?”
Santé Fitness at The Gym at Eldorado
7 Caliente Road (in La Tienda at Eldorado), Eldorado
Other Zumba classes are available at:
720 St. Michael’s Drive
BODY of Santa Fe
333 W. Cordova Road
Genoveva Chavez Community Center
3221 Rodeo Road