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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Zumba, Midterms
October 21, 2010 - 3:49am

Growing up in the south, my sisters and I spent years training in the 'sport' that many middle class young ladies did at the time — ballet. Despite the blister-causing pain of dancing en pointe, I actually enjoyed ballet — the aesthetics, the rigor and the exhilaration of performing for an audience. In college I was introduced to the idea that dance did not have to involve so much pain and damage to my feet, and discovered that modern and African dance are just as rewarding. Twenty five years later, I still pursue new dance opportunities for sport, which is why I looked into zumba.

In case you haven’t heard of it, zumba is the latest aerobics craze sweeping the women’s athletic world, and is probably offered at your local YMCA. It was started in the 1990’s by Colombian dancer and fitness trainer, “Beto” Perez, expanded by two businessmen, and then endorsed in 2003 by the Kellogg company which quickly developed a fitness program for the U. S. Hispanic market.

Zumba means ‘fast moving’ in Colombian, and combines Latin dance moves and music, such as salsa, merengue, and cumbia, which is a fascinating, percussion-based dance style from Colombia that integrates African slave moves and Amerindian tribal dances from Colombia’s Caribbean regions. Needless to say, zumba is a more cultural form of ‘dancercise’ that found its destiny with an American franchise and the growing U.S. Hispanic-influenced population. (So long Jane Fonda…)

My daughter Katie and I discovered zumba together last summer in Chicago as we were trying to identify some form of exercise that we could do together. (Kickboxing did not win…) I have not been as enthusiastic about going to classes since Katie has gone back to school in Florida, but I decided to attend a zumba class at the YMCA last weekend to help me get through my midterm grading. Much to my surprise, zumba class at the Y has become so popular that it was moved to the basketball gym, where no less than 45 women (and 1 man) took over half the court last Sunday. The women in the class were quite diverse, and it was not the white woman with ballet training who could move her hips fast enough…

Zumba classes have been held in Grant park in Chicago (where Obama appeared on election night) for even larger audiences. Grant park is also the site of one of the largest pro-immigration rallies in the country, an historic movement that began first in Chicago in March 2006, continued to Los Angeles and other major cities in April and May of that year with swelling crowds of hundreds of thousands of immigration supporters. The rallies began initially as a reaction against the infamous HR 4437 bill that proposed criminalizing activities of illegal workers and their employers, enforcing more penalties and tightening security at the U.S./Mexico border. (The bill passed the House but not the Senate).

I discussed immigration issues in my Honors class this week and invited in a young film editor, Diego Lopez, who had just finished working on his first documentary, "Immigrant Nation!: The Battle for the Dream" (Esau Melendez, 2010). The film depicts single mother and immigration activist, Elvira Arellano, who sought refuge in a Methodist church for a year along with her U.S. born son, rather than be deported to Mexico and leave her son behind. The separation of illegal parents from their U.S. born children is a narrative repeated in a number of current documentaries that try to illustrate the emotional costs of unfair U.S. labor practices--business owners who employ illegal laborers for higher profit margins and a government that turns its back on immigrants by enforcing complex and expensive bureaucratic practices. Diego discussed his own family's history of illegal immigration, followed by his parents' U.S. citizenship and his completion of a 'first-generation' college degree.

My students had a variety of complex reactions to the film and to the issue of immigration. What about the rule of law? What about high U.S. unemployment? Why didn't Elvira take her son to Mexico? (She did eventually.) But the students all agreed on the demographic data.

The population of the U.S. has changed dramatically in a short period of time. We better move fast to try and keep up with it…


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