My approach to fitness used to be similar to so many: a dramatically under-utilized gym membership, the occasional grim completion of a workout DVD, a languid walk or yoga class. Then I found Zumba. Zumba has many, many positive attributes in its own right: it’s a dance workout that is joyful, expressive, and creates a female tribe. But when I attended Sonja Zind’s Zumba classes, I further experienced empowerment, inspiration, and off-the-charts energy, and that’s what ultimately changed not only my body composition but my approach to life.
Sonja used to teach Tae Kwon Do, and states when she was first invited to Zumba herself, her response was, “I don’t want girly dancing, I want to hit something!” An ACL injury caused her to re-evaluate her workouts and fostered an empathy and understanding of those who experience injuries and set-backs. Once she tried Zumba, she was quickly hooked and rapidly ascended to certification and teaching her own classes.
Sonja approached the owners of Skateland in 2011 because she realized how fun classes would be in that setting (note: not on skates!), and she teaches there to this day, charging only $3 a class despite easily being able to command 5 times that rate. Sonja does this because she wants women to be able to come to several classes a week so that they can truly experience change as well as escape the stresses of everyday life. Sonja states, “I choose songs that have meaning and then I choreograph for a feeling of empowerment. I want women to feel, ‘I can do this’. I want women to have 1 hour to be themselves.”
I asked Sonja a few questions about health, happiness, and habits.
SC: What does “healthy” mean to you?
SZ: It’s not a body type, it’s a mental capacity. If you’re healthy in your mind, the body will follow. You have to want to change for yourself.
SC: What do you eat in a typical day?
SZ: A protein shake, salad or sandwich, lean meat like turkey at dinner. I rarely eat red meat; if I do, it’s a nice steak. I drink a lot of water and have 1 cup of coffee a day. I love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…what’s better than a pb&j?
SC: In what ways do you incorporate play in your life?
SZ: I don’t want to waste a minute. I water-ski, hike, skydive, and bungee jump. I love adrenaline!
SC: Share a recent accomplishment of which you are proud.
SZ: I am happy about starting Strong (a new Zumba class). I love when someone texts me or posts to Facebook about reaching a health goal; I love the evolution of people. Oh, and I mastered homemade Kahlua! (laughs)
SC: Is there a good habit you are struggling with, or something you think you “ought” to be doing but aren’t?
SZ: I shouldn’t drink alcohol, or eat pizza, but I do sometimes. Life is too short. I ate chips and salsa last night.
SC: If someone was going to change one habit, what would you advise?
SZ: Give up soda. You’ll see results in the first week.
SC: What would you say to someone nervous to try her first Zumba class?
SZ: Come to a night class in the dark. It’s not a bunch of Barbie types. Just sway side to side while you learn the choreography.
SC: Describe your choreography process.
SZ: I start with a song I like, that means something, and then I start making up moves. Sometimes I yell for my daughter to come film me so I don’t forget! I only go online if I get stuck in a certain spot; I don’t want to be overly influenced. I completely make up the Sentao routines (a strength-training Zumba class); I can’t find what I’m looking for out there.
SC: What’s your favorite routine right now? What’s one you didn’t like?
SZ: In Zumba, Not That Kind of Girl. In Sentao, Shape of You. I hated Gangnam Style! That was when I first started. Now I won’t do something I don’t love.
SC: You always bring 100% to every class…how?!
SZ: (simply) Because I love it. I may be frustrated or having a hard day, but once the music starts…I’m transformed.
SC: Name your favorite indulgence.
SZ: Adrenaline! Having crazy fun. Feeling alive and making others happy.
Sonja Zind lives and teaches in Nixa, MO. Her Skateland classes are Monday nights at 7:00, Tuesday nights at 8:15, and Friday nights at 6. Cost is $3. Her Nixa Community Center classes are Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 9 a.m., and Friday mornings at 10 a.m. Drop-in rates are $6/day.