Bailoterapia in Loja, Ecuador and Zumba in Dickinson, North Dakota
We’ve recently moved to Dickinson, North Dakota for a few months of work. While Keith puts in 70 or more work hours per week, I plug away on my books and business, cook our meals, keep the
house motorhome in order and do my best to keep everything running smoothly.
To prevent myself from completely losing my social skills and only carrying on one-sided conversations with my cat all day long, I also try to find some people activities to involve myself in, beyond the brief exchanges with cashiers at the grocery store. The longer we travel, the more skilled I become at finding ways to quickly integrate myself into a community.
Once upon a time I might have sought out a church, but I’m no longer religious and attending for purely social reasons feels a little awkward for some reason. My two favorites these days: Toastmasters (whenever available) and fitness classes, which give me added benefits of improving my speaking and leadership skills and staying fit while mingling with other humans.
I really hit the jackpot with the gym here in Dickinson. They have a huge (and I mean really huge) new recreation center with a climbing wall, indoor and outdoor running tracks, indoor and outdoor water parks (with big water slides and everything), an indoor lap pool (for a total of three large swimming pools), tennis courts, basketball courts, squash courts, volleyball courts, an indoor golf driving range, tons of state-of-the-art treadmills, stationary bikes and weight machines, and fitness classes galore–plus several community rooms that can be rented out for parties and a nice lounge with a fireplace and free WiFi (which I’ve been making extensive use of while I wait for the internet people to come out to our place and get us set up). Maybe the area has been making a little extra money from the oil work, because it looks like this place really spared no expense–and construction labor up here isn’t cheap (precisely why my electrician husband is working here now).
Month-to-month membership at this fitness paradise costs only $45–a real bargain. I perused the wide offering of fitness classes and picked Zumba and several other classes to jump in on.
I fell in love with Zumba a year ago while living in Loja, Ecuador. Only they don’t call it Zumba down there. They call it “bailoterapia” (dance therapy). It’s the same thing–a dance fitness routine that was apparently invented in Colombia (Ecuador’s next door neighbor), so it has a very Latin flavor to it.
In Ecuador bailoterapia is sponsored by the government, which pays instructors to teach the fitness classes in neighborhoods throughout the country–free to the public. We discovered it quite by accident while out exploring the hills on the southern edge of the city.
As we walked through the last barrio before reaching the wilderness–Punzara Grande–a friendly woman named Mélida engaged us in conversation. When she learned that we enjoyed hiking, she pointed out several trails in the area for us to explore, and then invited us to return to her neighborhood on Sunday at 2 p.m. for bailoterapia–so we did.
The instructor drove up, set up some large speakers on the volleyball court (common in every neighborhood), cranked up music so loud that any north American neighborhood would be calling the cops, and led the community in a vigorous workout. By the end of the hour we dripped with sweat, but wow! It was like a party! The next weekend we came back for more.
When I told our Spanish neighbors about it, they told us that they had seen something similar in our own neighborhood in the morning while out walking their dog.
The next morning we left our apartment a little before 7:00 to investigate, and sure enough. Every weekday morning–and sometimes on Saturday, too–there were two one-hour bailoterapia sessions, each attracting 100 or more people! The dancers filled the street, blocking it off from 6:00 to 8:00 every morning.
We heard the music from several blocks away–not quite all the way to our apartment, but almost! Here’s a video I made about it:
Through our involvement with the bailoterapia classes, we made several new friends in our neighborhood, including Sandra and Maira, later sharing meals, walks, and great conversations together.
The bailoterapia sessions sometimes turned into actual parties. Growing up in Mexico, I learned that Latin Americans love any excuse to celebrate. This seems as true in Ecuador as it was in Mexico. In Ecuador, they celebrate not only Mother’s Day, but also “Woman’s Day” where all women are celebrated. After the workout they handed out a red flower (rose or carnation) to every woman attending (including me!), and the instructor read us all a poem.
The biggest party they had came the Friday before Carnaval weekend, which is somehow tied to Easter and is a huge multi-day celebration in Ecuador (and likely other countries also). Many towns have big parades and events throughout the weekend. They broke out the confetti, balloons and cans of spray foam and put on masks and costumes and turned the workout session into a big dance party, spraying each other with foam and water throughout the whole thing.
Poor little Dickinson, North Dakota. How can anything compare to what we experienced in Loja? But I really have to tip my hat to the fine and talented instructors here.
My first bailoter…er…Zumba class here, which I attended Saturday, was taught by Ben–with all the grace and power of a professional ballet dancer. He is incredible, really. I recognized many of the same songs that we used to dance to in Ecuador, and many of the same moves, too. The workout lacked the sheer intensity of the Ecuadorian sessions–I wasn’t as sweaty when it was over–but I really enjoyed the workout. When it was all over I started chatting with one of the other ladies in the class–who happens to also be named Sandra (I wonder if there’s a Myra somewhere in the class?).
Monday morning I attended another Zumba class, this time taught by a cheerful and energetic instructor named Sharon, who has been teaching fitness classes since the Jane Fonda days. She hoots and hollers all the way through class, which makes my smile bubble out into giggles sometimes.
“Woo hoo! Isn’t this fun, everybody?” she yells at the top of her lungs over the beat of the Latin dance music. How can you not love that? And she mixes in some other music, too–she had us tap dancing to Riverdance music and line dancing to square dance music.
After class Sharon came up and asked me if I had a good workout. I assured her that I had. “Come to class tomorrow, too!” she invited. “We’re having a Saint Patrick’s day party so everyone can get to know each other”–so I did. There were no water and foam fights, but we had a great time–and I had some two-sided conversations! Not that I don’t love my kitty…
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