Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

This week’s Throwback Thursday piece is “Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone”, written by Acea Theroux in November 27, 2012. 

Back in November 2010, I was invited by fitness icon Josie Gardiner to attend a charity event in Boston. The fundraiser was organized by the ECA World Fitness Alliance’s Boston Balance to
raise money for autism research, and would be in the form of a two-hour group exercise class called Zumba®. The event would highlight a slew of very talented dancers and fitness professionals including the host of this event, the fabulous Ann Saldi. I have to admit that my initial assumption of Zumba® was probably similar to that of many others, in which I formed an option solely based upon what I’d heard or seen in a brief 15 second glance. I remember saying to myself, it’s just dancing right? How much of a workout could it really be? We make assumptions when we don’t fully understand a situation. It’s a natural reaction to instantly fill in any missing information by making things up.

We do this because we like to try to make sense of things rather quickly. However, as a fitness professional I pride myself in making sure that I gather all the information regarding the newest programming, classes and equipment. So, in short I needed more information!

I remember seeing people dressed in some of the brightest, non-matching colors I’d ever seen, with a bunch of flat rope-like material dangling from their pants. Never did I imagine that what I thought to be the safest color in the world to wear (BLACK), would actually make me stand out. So there I was standing in the back corner of the room, wearing my all black athletic warm-up doing the side-to-side, two-step shuffle, a little uncomfortable and still thoroughly confused by the swinging pocket ropes. Yet, there was one common but rather powerful theme that still to this day stands out in my mind about my first Zumba® experience. As I scanned the room from one song to the next, I noticed that just about every person in the room was smiling and having a blast! That to me is the definition of “PURE WELLNESS”.

Now, please keep in mind that to say this would be completely out of my comfort zone, would be the understatement of the decade for me. Yes, I’d been in the fitness industry since 1996 and had taught many forms of group exercise (Spinning®, Boot Camps, Plyo Power®, Muscle Conditioning, etc.), but I had never taught a choreographed class. I had very limited knowledge and understanding of programs and classes with choreography, and had zero dance experience (well, beside mimicking Vanilla Ice’s “running man” as I watched MTV in the 9th grade). However, even with all of those things working against me, still by the end of the event my mind was made up… Zumba® would be my next wellness challenge and continuing education training!

For those of you who don’t know much about Zumba®, let’s cover a little background of what Zumba® is and how did it start. It is a Latin dance fitness program created by dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez.[1] In 1986, Perez forgot his tape of aerobics music for a class he was teaching. He took the tapes he had in his backpack—consisting of traditional salsa and merengue music—and improvised a class using this non-traditional aerobics music.

The beauty of Zumba® is it involves dance and aerobic elements. Zumba’s choreography and music incorporates a variety of styles like, salsa, merengue, mambo, soca, samba, belly dancing, flamenco, cha cha and tango. I have found over time that my personal favorites include cumbia, reggaeton, bhangra and hip hop. There are also eight different types of classes for different levels of age and exertion. These include Zumba®, Zumba Gold®, Zumba® Toning, Aqua Zumba®, Zumbatomic®, Zumba® in the circuit, Zumba Gold-Toning® and Zumba Sentao®. With approximately 14 million people taking weekly Zumba® classes in over 140,000 locations across more than 150 countries,  Zumba® has become a powerhouse in this wonderful industry that we get to call our profession.

The intent of this article is to primarily focus on the benefits of challenging yourself to step out of your own comfort zone so that you can develop new skills and to continue to grow as a professional. We all have skills that have not been fully developed or we may be in a position currently within the health and fitness industry that only has us utilizing a small portion of our skills and/or abilities. Are you allowing those skills to remain dormant or are you continuing to fine-tune your skills and uncovering new skills or interests you may have? Sometimes when we get too comfortable with a particular style or training/instructing, that is the perfect time to seek out a health and fitness conference. Stepping outside of this comfort zone isn’t easy, but when we stop learning or when we think our way is the only way, then we have stopped growing as a professional.

Another important piece to remember is that even after we have stepped outside of this “zone” and challenged ourselves with a training, class or workshop, it doesn’t mean we are the masters of this new way of thinking or moving. It is still a work in progress and now we must PRACTICE WHAT WE PREACH! After finishing the Zumba® Training, I wasn’t ready for “Dancing with the Stars” and I definitely wasn’t moving like “Fred Astaire”, I still had a lot of work to do. In fact, I recall many nights, being on the verge of quitting. I was stomping up the stairs, pouting like a 5 year old that didn’t get their way, because I was tripping over my feet trying to learn how to do this ridiculous crossover salsa move. I had to practice, practice and practice!

That was a great opportunity to learn from my peers and network in an area of my field that I hadn’t experienced before. I could have just watched the DVDs and gone onto YouTube to learn more moves and routines, but I wanted to learn organically through the live experience of watching instructors and their participants. I not only expanded my knowledge, skills, abilities, and social network, which made me a more complete person, but I became better at my job and overall more marketable to a larger group of prospective employers. I grew.

After a few months of practice, I felt that I was ready to try and strut my new found dancing moves by participating in a live class. No more two-step shuffle for me! I’m a superstar dancer. Or so I thought. One of the first live Zumba® classes I took was taught by a young lady who moved her hips in a way I’d never seen before and will likely never be able to do myself. I did my best to keep up, but by the end of that class I was humbled once again. We all could benefit from moments like these on a consistent basis because they keep us grounded and ensure we always remain teachable.

AceaZumbaToday, I LOVE TO DANCE. It has become a huge part of my life and my favorite activity. I work on choreography almost every day (sometimes on the subway or as I dance down the street… seriously), and I teach anywhere from 3-5 classes each week. I also try to teach at a charity event once a month, happy to give back and hopeful of inspiring anyone who may have that dancer living within them like I discovered two Novembers ago. Long story short (I know, I know… too late), if I hadn’t stepped outside of my comfort zone and challenged myself, there would be missing pieces to the puzzle that defines who I really am. I never would have found my hip-shaking Zumba® mentor Heather Fletcher (who is just an amazingly talented, caring person and my BFF) and I definitely never would have known that I had this immense passion for dance. It has not only re-energized me as a fitness professional, but it also re-instilled the importance of never judging a book by it’s cover and always remaining teachable.

Acea Theroux

“Athlete Turned Dancer”


Zumba brings the dance party into the health club, USA Today, 10 October 2011

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The FPO Crew is made up of a number of skilled, fit, intelligent, and beautiful people who love overall wellness as well as helping people. Everyone in The FPO Crew has a true passion for working with Fitness Professionals all around the world to help grow the industry and thus help more people on a larger scale.
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