When I joined the gym last autumn, I had this idea that it would add a sense of glamour to my life. Being able (though hardly) to afford a membership struck me as a very grown-up milestone to have reached. Picking out stylish leggings and trainers was fun, and having evening plans that just revolved around me felt enjoyably indulgent.
If you have ever been to PureGym in Hammersmith (or any branch of PureGym for that matter), then you will already know that glamorous is not the first word that springs to mind when pressed to describe it. After a very short burst of motivation, my interest in being a gym bunny wore off. Evenings spent bingeing on Netflix series at home and staying for one more pint with workmates were just so much more exciting. There was nothing that cool fitness clothes or a sense of bettering my post-Christmas hog fest physique could do to hold my attention.
Cancelling my gym membership would obviously be far too easy and save me more money than I'd know what to do with. Besides, as with every gym dropout, I harboured a foolish optimism that I might one day return.
That is, until I took my first Zumba class.
I was working at a video games retailer when I first heard about Zumba. The Zumba Fitness video game - the cover of which features a very toned woman dancing in a crowd that looks as though it's on fire - didn't really float my boat. In fact, it freaked me out. Fitness for fun? Say what? I wondered who these people were; the woman with her flat and oiled stomach, the maniacal crowd who seemed to cherish being engulfed in flames. It didn't look like my cup of tea.
Five years and one discount voucher deal later, here I am with two months of unlimited access to Zumba classes, just waiting for me to show up. And show up I will - with bells on. Or super cool leggings, at least.
Arriving at Loop Bar near Oxford Circus for my inaugural class, I wondered why the idea of fitness being fun - like, actually fun - hadn't appealed to me before. After all, I love dancing. I'd danced at this very bar a few years previously at an acquaintance's hen party, a memory which had me cringing as we walked down the stairs to the club area, complete with 70s style light-up dance floor.
Zumba was bound to be funner than pounding the treadmill at the gym (I'd been too embarrassed to book an induction, so didn't dare use any of the other machines). Sure, working out gave me time to focus and think, but is that really the best thing to be doing, alone, in a dingy room full of other solitary treadmill pounders? My mind would often drift to concerns over whether or not I was doing it right; I was bored, I was tired, and my half-arsed efforts were becoming more of a waste of time than anything else.
The class before ours was just winding down as we picked out a booth to store our bags in. A loud, sassy Samba beat was playing over the speakers, and the women taking part were engaged in a perfectly choreographed sequence of leg kicks and arm flails, boob shakes and butt wiggles. I couldn't believe how easy it looked. My friend - a Zumba alumni, returning from a lengthy hiatus - smiled sweetly and nodded as I expressed my naivety. Then it was our turn to take to the tiles.
I very quickly realised - mere seconds into the first routine - that this is no piece of cake. Dancing without a drink in my gut and another in my hand is not something that comes naturally to my graceless limbs. There were plenty of awkward missteps, lefts instead of rights and vice versa, before I heeded the advice from the teacher to just freestyle if I got lost, and started kind of jumping and swaying in what looked like the right direction.
Dancing - throwing some pretty sexually charged moves, I might add - in front of complete strangers isn't everyone's idea of a good time. But damn, it felt liberating. A little like putting on my full face of makeup aboard the crowded District line every morning, it was an exercise in simply not giving a shit what people may or may not be thinking about you. And the women surrounding me - ladies of such differing sizes and shapes, not to mention levels of Zumba expertise - certainly didn't seem interested in my dodgy lunging and thrusting.
In moving my body with such energy and abandon, I found a sense of empowerment that I hadn't thought exercise would inspire. I felt in control of my physical self as I worked out my whole being, not just the parts of me that society expects to be skinny or toned. While the treadmill had taught me to adjust speeds and gradients and watch calorie burn numbers amass on its miniature screen, Zumba applied no such pressure. All that was asked of me was to have a good time and, even if I fell behind, to never stop moving.
I may be no closer to cancelling my gym membership (or curbing my incredible ability to procrastinate) but I'm confident that Zumba will become a healthy and fun part of my weekly routine. Because nurturing my body and prioritising fitness need not be a boring or lonely experience.