Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 2, 2012

In the struggle to remain heart healthy, Zumba fitness is OK by me

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — OK. I’m a Zumba fitness nut. As a high school student, I dropped out of typing class because the boys called me a sissy. That silly schoolboy reaction to peer pressure stopped me from being good enough at typing to meet the minimum typing speed standard to enter the West Virginia University School of Journalism. The requirement for entering J-18 Introduction to Journalism my freshman year was 25 words-per-minute with three-or-fewer mistakes. I failed on both counts.

My misguided machismo also placed other mountainous molehills in the paths I traveled in life. The dexterity I would have gained from typing might have given me enough training to learn how to play piano or guitar. Instead, I took up the manly instrument — trombone — in fifth grade and rode the slide all the way through high school. Unfortunately, there aren’t many trombonists in rock and roll bands, and the Simon & Garfunkel song “Sounds of Silence” actually requires singing — not just silence as the name would apply.

In addition to dashing my typing and vocal-friendly instrumental dreams, my abhorrence of presumed girlish activities knocked me out of the dancing realm as well. I was actually relieved that my right leg was in a cast from my hip to ankle after undergoing knee surgery a few weeks before the junior prom of my senior year. My dad and mom were chaperones, and mom had to take the stitches out of the inseam of my tuxedo slacks so I could wear long pants. I didn’t have to dance in the only formal dance I attended in my life.

Dancing was different in college. I have always been musically inclined and I have always understood rhythm, cadence and timing. But dancing at nightclubs like the Olympia or the Fox wasn’t really dancing. I never got much closer than that. I used to sway a little when I sang backing vocals with some of my brother’s bands, but when I sang lead, I danced like a short Herman Munster.

Although you wouldn’t know it, I choreograph my performances with Karl Miller and rehearse every step, movement and facial expression and try to do the same thing with each song during every performance. Unlike my brother who appeared to have total recall on every song he ever heard, I often get confused on the lyrics of all songs — even songs I wrote and have performed hundreds of times.

However, that changed on Dec. 29, 2011. Tammy Fleenor and Stephanie Musick approached me at the Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. CD signing event at East River Arts to tell me that Stephanie planned to include a Landau Murphy song in one of the routines of her new Zumba class set to start on Jan. 2. My mind was on a million other things at the moment, but when I heard the times for the classes — Monday and Wednesday mornings at 10:30 and 10 a.m., respectively — as well as the modest cost per class — I started considering Zumba as a possible reality.

In late December of 2011, my vivid memories of the previous two winters were fresh in my mind. During the winter of 2010-11, I couldn’t walk outside for a month due to weather conditions. On Dec. 28, 2011, I fully expected winter to hit any day, and for my outside walking days to be over for a while. With no exercise options a reminder of winters of the past and my weight slowly increasing, I decided to give Zumba fitness a chance. I’m still glad I did.

I took my first Zumba class on Jan. 2, and I haven’t missed a class since. This is no New Year’s resolution — just an effort to regain control of my weight gain. I’m still as awkward as a newborn calf, but I’m awkward on the downbeat. I don’t compare my Zumba dancing skills to my female classmates because my main purpose is to follow Stephanie’s footwork and try to keep up. During the rare moments when I actually know what I’m doing, I close my eyes and drift off into the music if only for a few seconds. Oh yeah, and I sweat as much as I do on a four-mile walk.

On Dec. 28, 2011, Tammy Fleenor told Stephanie that maybe I would write a column about Zumba. I smiled and laughed. I never know when or what will happen to initiate the synapses in my brain to write one of these columns. This one, however, is for Stephanie Musick and Tammy Fleenor’s Zumbathon on Saturday April 7, from 10 a.m. to noon in the Bluefield State College gym.

The event is a fundraiser for TASK and the Denver Foundation — agencies in Tazewell and Mercer counties that aid children and families who suffer from autism. They’re both good causes and Zumba fitness is OK by me.

Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at