The bass of a hip-hop song thumped in my chest as I hurried into the building. The song’s notes floated in the air, growing louder and clearer as I got closer to the entrance. My legs and stomach buzzed with excitement, my heart beating in time with the music as I looked down to make sure my sneakers were tied and double-knotted.
I walked past two women on the sidewalk as I approached the front door, the music louder than ever now. Wearing thick workout headbands and shirts that read “LIFE OVER FEAR,” these women had that familiar pinkish hue on their faces—all sheen and smiles—when you just finished a great workout class.
I could tell they felt good. Good about themselves. Good about life.
We exchanged smiles as we passed each other, these women returning to one world—a world where our problems exist and cell phones ring and work never ends and the house has to get cleaned— while I walked into another world: A world full of conversations and upbeat music. A world where problems melt away. A world where the people are planets, all different shapes and sizes and ages, orbiting around a sun of a stage where the workout instructor stands and leads us all into an entirely different galaxy.
This world is one of support.
This world is one of empowerment.
It’s a world where Zumba class is not just Zumba class, but a fun night with friends where you can dance your problems away.
It’s a Monday night. And as the saying goes here at Sarah Fechter Fitness, “On Mondays, we dance.”
I didn’t know this world existed. Not at first. My friend Emily introduced me to Zumba at Sarah Fechter Fitness (SFF) about a year and a half ago. Prior to this Zumba discovery at SFF, working out had always been the same to me: repetitious, necessary, difficult. Enjoyable? Yes/sometimes. But very individual. I was a lone ranger running laps or doing a kickboxing class with little interaction with others.
From this first Zumba class, though, I was hooked. The upbeat music and Zumba choreography was more hip-hop and jazz than other Zumba classes that I was used to. I liked it. The choreography and eight-count beats were nostalgic reminders of my former dance days.
This class was stress-relief at it’s finest for me. A place where the music carried the worries away, scattered from your head to your heart to your sneakers, until they are left on the smooth wooden gym floor under the dim blue and red lights.
After a few classes at SFF, I could tell the culture at this fitness studio was different. People were both openly genuine and generous. For example, when I tried out the hip hop step class, a woman who worked out next to me helped me put away my step bench. I didn’t know her or ask her to help me; she just did. Another time, a girl helped me clean my step bench. High fives? Constant. Encouraging shouts and generosity? Common.
In a society that often pits women against each other, it was clear to me that the culture in this place was not one of me vs. you, but rather, a place of empowerment and inspiration. Building up, rather than tearing down. Positivity. Diversity. Acceptance. All present under one roof.
One Monday night at Zumba class, though, I witnessed something so inspiring and empowering, tears welled up in my eyes as I stood on the gym floor. It’s been months since it happened, and I still get goosebumps when I talk about it:
It was a Monday night in March. Hours before the Zumba class’s scheduled start time, a post on SFF’s Facebook page encouraged Zumba-goers to wear pink to class that evening.
“Tonight, we welcome back a dear friend who was gone for awhile, but has won her battle! And what a better way to celebrate than a PINK OUT!” another Zumba-goer wrote.
“Hm,” I thought. Though wearing pink was optional and I had no idea who this person was or the conditions of her battle, I wanted to show support. I dug through my dresser drawer, pulled on a magenta-pink workout shirt, pulled back my hair, put on my sneakers and headed off to Zumba for this Pink Out workout.
As I walked in the door to the fitness studio, the energy was electric. Women wearing pink of every shade—pastel pink, hot pink, magenta—stood side by side. The time read 7:30 p.m. and Sarah started the class per usual. We spent the next hour shimmying and dancing and Zumba-ing like we did every week.
But then, with five minutes or so left in the class, Sarah stopped. She went over to the iPod plugged into the speaker and changed the song. As soon as I heard the first few notes, I recognized the song immediately. A song I loved and danced to in my bedroom years ago: “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child.
Sarah turned to a group of ladies in the front right corner of the room, clapping and motioning to them. “We want to welcome back one of our family members,” Sarah said. One of the women wearing a pink shirt had SURVIVOR written on the back. This was the woman, I realized, we were honoring tonight through this Pink Out.
She had fought breast cancer and won. She WON. She was back. Back at her favorite Zumba class surrounded by friends and strangers who, in this moment, all were family were surrounding her with love and support. Goosebumps prickled my legs. Tears gathered in my eyes. The energy in the room was tangible as I glanced around at this room full of people, some I knew and some I didn’t, all pouring out love and support to her.
Then, after some coaxing, the woman and her friends joined Sarah up on stage for the end of the song. The woman stood there, hugging Sarah and clapping along with the music and us. Now, more than ever, the words of this Survivor song had more meaning. We clapped to the beat of the song’s chorus as Beyonce sung its lyrics one last time:
“I’m a survivor
I’m not gonna give up
I’m not gonna stop
I’m gonna work harder
I’m a survivor
I’m going to make it
I will survive
And keep on surviving”
We all stood there, looking up at this survivor, this warrior of a woman, and we applauded. The sounds of our collective clapping echoed through the room we whooped, hollered, clapped. And clapped. And clapped.
I clapped for her, pressing my palms together hard and fast. I clapped for my grandma who died of breast cancer. I clapped for all of those women fighting breast cancer now, the women I know and the women I don’t know.
It was an amazing moment of connection and community. The fact that I didn’t know her made it all the more real, as it showed me that you don’t need to know someone personally in order to respect them or appreciate their experience and strength.
Battles are hard. We often feel we have to fight certain fights alone. But we all need our people, whether our people are by blood, by roots, by church, by gym. And when that battle is fought and the long trek is over, it’s always great to come back home.