ZUMBA® and Writing: How They Compare

By Milli Thornton

THIS WEEK I decided to try a ZUMBA Fitness® dance class at our local fitness and wellness center. From the official website:

Zumba Fitness® is the only Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music, created by Grammy Award-winning producers, and contagious steps to form a “fitness-party” that is downright addictive.

Being the loner type, I don’t usually join classes. Most of my exercise involves walking in the park, or the occasional stint on my jogger trampoline or exercise bike. I’m also 51 (turning 52 next month) so getting a little self-conscious about my age—at least when it comes to being around beautiful young things who can move their bods. But I ended up loving it!

Thinking about the word ZUMBA®, I wanted to find out what it meant to see if I could apply it to writing in any way. It’s such a snazzy, high-spirited word, it just begs to be used for inspirational purposes. On the official site, I learned that it doesn’t mean anything. Even better. Talk about a flexible word—I can make of it what I want.

Here are a few of the ways I’ve applied it to writing.

There’s No Stereotypical Model

Just as writers come in all ages, shapes and sizes, so do ZUMBA® enthusiasts. There were women of many ages in the class, and nobody was wearing the kind of dance fashion I thought you might need to look like you belonged. The dancers were mostly dressed for comfort, with some dashes of fun (a few were wearing belly dance-style coin scarfs on their hips). I felt like I belonged the instant I showed up just looking the way I already look.

As a writer, I always want to be the real me. The times I’ve tried to live up to some image of how it’s supposed to be were the times I was the unhappiest. Trying to force myself into a mold never works for me.

You Don’t Have to Know What You’re Doing to Forge a New Path

Everyone was very friendly and I was told by at least two people not to worry about getting it right. Just try it and have fun. So I did. I threw myself into it and tried all the steps, even though I was several beats behind everyone else. I tried to just let my natural rhythm emerge (even though I would normally protest that I don’t have any) and this really helped.

I had no clue when I got there even what to expect, but just trying it showed me how much I can already do right from the get-go. When I took up screenwriting, I found out the same thing. I refused to intimidate myself with thoughts of everything I didn’t know about screenwriting and just went ahead and wrote the first draft of my first screenplay. It’s amazing how much you can do when you don’t know what you’re doing.

Too Much Instruction Can Make Jill a Dull Girl

Before the class started the dance instructor, Ali, came up to welcome me. She was very relaxed about how I should participate. She explained that she doesn’t explain the steps—she just dances and everybody follows.

Once we got going, I quickly understood why Ali does this. Every time I stopped dancing to watch her do one of the harder steps, I got more confused, not less. Whenever I was in motion and trying my best to reproduce the steps, I felt more in sync with what was happening.

The same thing happened with my first screenplay. After I finished my first draft (which was achieved purely by relying on story and just three basic formatting rules), I got serious about studying how to get it right. If I’d started out with the study, I never would have finished my first draft in 29 days. And then I wouldn’t have had a rough script to rewrite. I’ve now completed two screenplays and I’m really glad I did it ZUMBA®-style.

Keep It Fun!

You can tell Ali enjoys her work. She was wearing black gym pants, a pink tank top that said PARTY! and a jingly coin scarf. She had a smile on her dial the entire class and often whooped to the music. She may have to teach the same dance routines in every class, but she does it with passion. Is she the best dancer in the whole world? No. But with her levels of passion and fun, who cares? She’s doing a job she loves.

ZUMBA® Dance: Check It Out!

I couldn’t find a professional video of what it’s like to be in a regular class. The amateur video below will give you a glimpse of how inclusive the classes are. Although most of the video focuses on the young instructors onstage with their perfect bods who know all the steps backwards, occasionally the camera pans over the dance floor to show you the students in action. If you watch all the way to the end (2:56 minutes), you’ll see women of all body types—as well as little girls, young men and even an older man.

Milli Thornton



Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Screenwriting in the Boonies and Milliver’s Travels and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching.

6 Responses to ZUMBA® and Writing: How They Compare
  1. JM Merchant
    Twitter: jmmerchant86
    December 2, 2011 | 4:35 PM

    Sounds like you had an awesome time Milli, and I couldn’t sit still watching that video.

    Love the comparison to writing, and you’re right, sometimes ignorance is bliss 🙂


  2. Lois
    December 5, 2011 | 10:21 AM

    I’ve been wanting to try Zumba. I should have added it to my Christmas list. 😉

    Speaking of screenplays, I finally had a chance to re-read my first one yesterday! 😀 Now, I’m going through PlotWriMo (at Martha Alderson’s Plot Whisperer blog) to revise the storyline. 🙂

  3. Robin
    Twitter: Zumbalicious_
    December 8, 2011 | 8:24 AM

    I love this post, Milli!! When I became an instructor, my Columbia mentor said Zumba means “to buzz like a bee.” My favorite line in your post: “It’s amazing how much you can do when you don’t know what you’re doing.” You are spot on!

    Like you, I love that Zumba is for everyone. (Btw Zumba Gold is geared for an aging population, pregnant women, and people recovering from injuries. Great Zumba tracks, but gentler on the body.) As a single mom, I sometimes bring my kids to my evening classes. When I’m on stage, I can’t help smiling even more seeing them dance at the back of the room. The rhythms are so irresistible… you just have to jump around no matter what age you are! It’s so wonderful to be in the moment, FEELING, rather than judging; the same applies to the writing process. Thanks for sharing your wonderful insights! xo

  4. Lena
    Twitter: helenaritchie
    December 16, 2011 | 8:39 PM

    Awesome post Milli! I love Zumba too, although I do it alone at home with my wii instead of in a class right now. My jiggly bits jiggle a little too much for public consumption these days. LOL

    Totally agree with you too much instruction can get in your way. I’m always thinking I need to know more before I sit down to write, and yet when I do actually put pen to paper I amaze myself that so many words can flow without the benefit of hours of research beforehand.

  5. Brenneth
    December 20, 2011 | 6:17 AM

    I have been dancing Zumba for 5 months now. It started when I was watching you tube. It caught my attention right away. It really helps me in toning down my body excess fats. I love doing it!

  6. Terri
    January 1, 2012 | 2:40 PM


    I’ve surely missed something being so late to read this one! I’d never heard of Zumba before now. I LOVE ZUMBA! The irresistible music and pace compelled me to jump up and dance! This is incredible, Milli! Zumba is a total workout, so creative.

    Perhaps like jumping into your screenwriting and Zumba, not knowing “the rules” is more creatively productive!

    An exciting life really is all about trusting enough to go into the unknown. Repeatedly, bountiful results happen every time I’ve done something unknown making it up as I go! It was easier to do when I was a bit younger. I’ve been thinking about that lately for a while now. Your article incites me to try it, take huge risks with some of the things I am pushing through.

    “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

    (I forgot what movie that line comes from, it just came to mind. I’m not about war or war movies, but the line fits my current situation perfectly! I think I’ll make a sign and hang it to remind me!)

    I love your FUN, assertive rebel spirit!

    Zumba, even if it is at home in front of my computer and You Tube, is now part of my day starting today!

    Thanks so much for this spark!

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