What I Learned About Couples Counseling From My Zumba Teacher

By Dr. Bonnie Ray Kennan, MFT


It was a cruel Monday morning after a weekend of excess that I decided to mix it up at the gym: No mind-numbingly dull treadmill while watching Matt Lauer and crew outwit each other. I’d try the latest fitness craze, Zumba!


Mari was the instructor, (yes, with an “i” not a “y”), a third my age and a small percentage of my body weight. She was the perfect combo of perk and sizzle. Three seconds after she walked onto the shiny, wood floor, the music blared and I discovered that not only did Mari look like a Barbi doll, she could dance!


Now, as entertaining as this was, I began to wonder how it was going to help me with my own fitness. I started marching a bit, waving my arms from time to time, and trying to elevate my heart rate. But the fancy Latin flourishes eluded me. Mari was having a ball, but looking around the studio, she was pretty much alone. Nobody could do what she was doing, or anything that vaguely resembled Zumba.


Never mind, back to the treadmill and Matt, et al.


Fast forward one week: Heidi (do they all have names that end in “i”?) was teaching Zumba. I pride myself for not being a quitter, so I decided I’d try again. Heidi was far less flashy. She started slowly and continually checked with her students for understanding. She taught the group a cool Samba-like step,and we did it for at least five minutes.


Good thing Mari wasn’t there. She would have been bored to tears. For me, however, this was fantastic. I not only learned the step, but I began the process of mastery. I practiced that tiny step in that class and subsequent classes. I noticed how it felt in my body to dance, to move with grace and sass, and to do it enough times to break a sweat. I will probably not be dancing with the stars anytime soon, but I am learning how to get fitness and enjoyment out of Zumba.


Now, to my world: COUPLES COUNSELING. I fear that I have at times been more like Mari than Heidi.


Years ago, like many therapists, personal difficulties forced me to the therapy realm, a place I both found personal comfort and stimulating challenge. I became an excellent “student” of all things therapy and it was natural to turn it into my area of academic study, then my profession. Like Mari, I could do all the moves.


When a couple comes in for therapy, I need to remember that they have been doing other things with their lives and passions, not mastering intimacy -building techniques. Usually, they are beginners and the best thing we can do in our sessions is S L O W DOWN….. Take a tiny piece and master it. Help a husband to just listen, really listen to a simple sentence. Then reflect it back to his beloved wife in a way that makes her know she is cherished. Then do it again. And again. And again. Get good at really
listening curiously and generously to a partner.


I’m going to try the same thing with the new Reggae dance moves at my next Zumba class. Then do it again. And again.