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Queer Zumba: feelgood vibes with an important message

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Zumba. Yes, I’m talking about the Latin dance-inspired fitness-party-turned-workout craze called Zumba.

At Meridian, we’ve been supporting a community member who found Zumba provided her great joy and maintained her mental health as she worked through a difficult personal time.

Now passionately Zumba-obsessed, she wants to share the joy and euphoric relief Zumba has brought her with everyone, and in particular her community—the queer community. And so, she applied for a mental health grant to initiate a weekly Queer Zumba class.

I avoided attending for the longest time. I came up with every excuse under the sun, ignored her emails, and somehow never seemed to be free on Tuesday evenings.

My idea of exercise didn’t include Latin dancing, so signing up to a Zumba class was slightly unnerving. What if I couldn’t follow the steps? What was I supposed to wear? Would people judge me? Who was going to be there? Would it be ok?

What I didn’t know is that Zumba was created so that anyone and everyone can participate, and welcoming newcomers is part and parcel of every class. Not knowing this, I eventually—and grudgingly—signed up for one class. Yes, just one. But I never expected what happened next.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the Zumba instructor’s joy. She calls her business Zumba with Naomi, and her joy is contagious. And beyond that—she was ripped and so incredibly cute! With an enormous smile and welcoming vibe, Naomi instantly made me feel like I belonged.

Turns out I was 30 minutes early. I’m not sure how that happened but luckily, there were many others there already. While Zumba’s mainly thought of as a form of exercise, this class, Queer Zumba, is also an opportunity to connect with community, meet new friends, reduce social isolation, and feel connected—which are all excellent for your mental health.

But even though I wasn’t alone, I still felt a little nervous. So, as more and more people arrived, I was very pleased (or should I say relieved) that I didn’t know anyone. If I were going to make a fool of myself, I thought, I would do so anonymously.

When the music started, I would love to say I caught on to the moves quickly, but I probably didn’t. But it just didn’t matter. I felt totally ok doing my own thing. And I definitely found myself smiling.

I used to love to dance, but only after many drinks (and occasionally other substances) on the darkness of a dance floor of a night club where no one cared. So you can imagine my surprise when twenty minutes into the Zumba class—and sober as a judge—I was elated, euphoric, and wanted to celebrate everything about it.

As someone with limited rhythm, I was dancing to my own song—a song in my head—and making up my own dance moves. But no one was concerned. I didn’t feel judged. In fact, I felt completely accepted, embraced, and in very good company.

This Tuesday night Zumba class, initiated with an ACT Government Mental Health Grant, supports people to attend, and the profits go to Meridian’s Westlund Counselling service—a peer-led, community-based counselling service. The qualified team provides confidential counselling for LGBTIQA+ people, their families, and their allies seeking support to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

The service seeks to actively support the queer community in working toward a greater sense of wellbeing and control in their life, and it helps them explore creative solutions to issues that may seem overwhelming and hard to tackle. Counselling can also help restore perspective and objectivity and contribute to positive change and growth.

So, exercise for good mental health, this is not a new concept. There are many ways that exercise positively influences your mental health. It promotes the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain, like endorphins and serotonin. It helps you sleep better so you can rest fully at night and feel more energised during the day.

It gives you a sense of accomplishment as your fitness improves and you start achieving your goals. And it’s often an activity you share with others (which is certainly the case with Zumba), so you get the added bonus of social connection.

If you attend Queer Zumba, you’re not only supporting your own mental health but also supporting an important community program that’s improving the mental health and wellbeing of the queer community.

Of course, the hardest part is getting started—especially if you’re experiencing a mental health condition like depression, where the idea of just getting out of bed can seem hard enough. But I promise you, it’s worth it. Exercise can play a major part in improving your mental health, and it should be in your treatment or management plan.

If you want to check out Zumba–I can’t recommend it highly enough. And if you identify as queer then there’s a Queer Zumba class on Tuesday nights. See app.gymcatch.com/provider/2551/contact or email queerzumba@gmail.com.

If I can do it, you can too!

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