Human beings in a group seem capable of a behavior similar to the flocking of birds, shoaling of fish, and swarming of insects.
Or at least we’re capable of something that feels a little bit like it.
I think it accounts for why group exercise is more effective than working out alone. It also might explain why being in a marching band is such a popular human activity.
On nights when I don’t have Zumba class I will sometimes go over the routines that I’ve managed to memorize at home on my own. It’s still fun, but it really isn’t the same and I know I’m not working as hard. Before joining Zumba I used to just turn on the radio and try to dance for an hour, because I have always loved to dance, but inevitably I found myself watching the clock or just doing knee-lifts because I’d run out of interesting movements. Yet I’ve never had any difficulty dancing for hours at a wedding or in a club setting.
In class there’s this phenomenon that occurs where I feel as though I’m picking up the energy of the other people in the room and using it. It can hit like a sudden jolt during a particularly cool song or simply thrum like an undercurrent throughout the entire session. I know that other people feel it too because more verbal folk than myself sometimes let loose with a, “woo!” when it happens.
It’s part of what makes my workouts so fun. Aside from my happiness in discovering that I’m actually not bad at picking up simple choreography quickly, there’s something about performing an activity in coordination with a bunch of other people that feels inherently cool and good. Even though we’re all working at our own pace and different fitness levels, even though most of us might not even know each other’s names, we’re all connected through this movement that turns us into one big, energetic dancing machine.
It feels amazing. And when it comes to physical activity, doing something that feels amazing and fun is incredibly important. Humans are hard wired to conserve energy instead of exerting ourselves, so deliberately burning a lot of calories doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Perceiving this activity as a fun reward at the end of my day makes it possible for me to change clothes and head back out into the cold after an hour long commute home from work. I never thought I’d be motivated enough to do something like that.
My teachers check in with us during class, looking for verbal participation to indicate that everybody is okay (read: not hyperventilating quietly in the back of the room) and my shyness makes it impossible for me to whoop or woo or make any noise whatsoever. I tend to give a thumbs-up with maniacal grin that probably looks totally bonkers combined with my disheveled, sweaty face.
It is, however, quite heartfelt. I may look like I’m melting or dying there in the back, but I’m having a fantastic time with the flock!