Being the only guy in the Zumba class has given Jed Diamond an insight into gender trends.
When a friend asked me to support her new business by coming to a Zumba class I agreed try it out. “What’s Zumba?” I asked. She told me it was an aerobic fitness program featuring movements inspired by various styles of Latin American dance and performed primarily to Latin American dance music. Remembering the embarrassment of trying to dance in Junior High school, I had second thoughts. She assured me I wouldn’t have to dance with anyone. We just stood in lines and followed the leader. Following the maxim I learned growing up, “I’ll try anything once,” I went to my first class.
That was three years ago. I’ve been doing Zumba three days a week since that first class. It’s fun. I love the music and I get a good work out. Over the years I’ve tried to get my guy friends interested in joining. Every once-in-a-while one will agree to try it, but they never stay and I remain the only guy in the class. I joke that its tough work hanging out with a bunch of hot, sweaty, women, while we bump and swivel to hot, Latin music. But someone has to do it and my wife, who prefers Tai Chi, sends me off with her good wishes.
Working in the field of Gender-Medicine and Men’s Health, I’m always attuned to trends, both positive and negative that I see emerging. Here are a few important trends I see emerging from my Zumba experience that impact men and women:
1. Women exercise more than men.
Although the Zumba videos show lots of men, it seems to be a workout that appeals mostly to women. That would be OK if it was a trend that simply showed that women get their exercise in certain settings, while men get them in others. However, it seems that men exercise less than women and its impacting their health.
In his book Dying to Be Men, researcher Will Courtenay says,
“Among those aged thirty-five to fifty-four, far more men than women engage in little or no physical activity. Men who are active are more likely to be “weekend warriors” who engage in infrequent but strenuous physical activity such as jogging, playing tennis, shoveling snow, or mowing the lawn.”
2. The boys play video games/the girls dance.
Often women will bring their kids. In a recent class there were four boys and three girls between the ages of eight and ten and the sex differences were dramatic. The girls watched and usually joined in with the exercises. The boys sat by themselves, each with his own electronic devise. The girls were engaged, smiled, and seemed to be enjoying themselves. The boys had that glazed look I often see with addicts who are zoned out on their drug of choice.
3. Women and girls socialize. The boys are wrapped up in their own private worlds.
What struck me was watching the girls and women socialize and interact with each other. The boys were wrapped up in their own separate worlds. They didn’t look at each other. They didn’t play with each other. Their thumbs just played with their own little video screens. They seemed disconnected and depressed. I remember being a boy and playing rough and tumble games with other boys (and sometimes girls).
Psychologist Philip Zimbardo, begins his TED talk on “The Demise of Guys,” by saying,
“guys are flaming out academically, they’re wiping out socially with girls, and sexually with women.” He concludes, tongue in cheek, “other than that there’s not much of a problem.”
I could see the young boys in the class experiencing these kinds of problems and the young girls wondering,
“Where are all the good guys?”
4. Movement brings joy.
I’ve always found the movement brings joy and we’re moving a whole lot less than we did in the past. As we focus more on academics in school, play, athletics, and movement are falling by the wayside. When I was growing up there was plenty of time to be active, socialize, and let off steam. We even had fun dance classes for boys and girls. Zumba is pure joy and I’m sad that there aren’t more guys who can enjoy it or other ways young people can stay active, engaged with music, and moving their bodies.
5. Weight loss is big deal.
A number of the women are in class to lose weight. They see Zumba as a fun way to exercise and dance off the calories. We’re living in an increasingly sedentary society and more than 2/3 of us are overweight. Contrary to what some people think, men have a greater weight problem than women. Further, belly fat is more common in males, which is the kind of fat that is most unhealthy.
A study funded by the National Institute of Health indicated that 7 out of 10 women over 60 were overweight. And 9 out of 10 men over 60 were overweight. That’s a bad trend for everyone. When so many of us are overweight, we begin to see overweight as being “normal.”
6. Latin music is for everyone.
One of my current favorite Zumba songs is one called, “Vivir mi Vida.” For me it’s an anthem of freedom, life, and joy. The song is sung by Marc Anthony, the two-time Grammy and four-time Latin Grammy winner. He is the top selling salsa artist of all time and has sold 12 million albums world-wide. The refrain, translated from the Spanish, says,
“I’m gonna laugh, I’m gonna dance. I’m going to live my life.”
These are words that would enhance all our lives. Here’s Marc Anthony singing at the Latin Grammy’s and here’s one of the Zumba routines that are popular. May we all live our lives more fully. Have you tried Zumba? What trends do you see with males and females, movement, health, music, and dance?
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