A Permissive Circle: World Literature and Zumba Dance

by Claire Chambers

Beto Perez and ZumbaIf you've read any of my blog posts for 3 Quarks Daily or columns for Dawn's Books & Authors section, you may know me for my criticism of world literature. But as it's the holidays, I want to write about something more frivolous.

I have a confession to make: as well as being a lecturer in global literature, for the last five years I have also moonlighted as a

Zumba, if you're unfamiliar with this high art form, is a dance fitness programme. Like all self-respecting cults, it has its own creation myth. Godhead and co-founder, Colombian Alberto 'Beto' Perez, began his career as an aerobics teacher in Florida. One day, the story goes, he arrived at his class only to realize he had forgotten his aerobics cassettes (yes, it was the 1990s…). He improvised a class based on the Latin music tapes he had in the car, and the punters loved it. He then teamed up with two more pragmatic and business-minded Albertos — Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion — and Zumba Fitness was born.

A typical Zumba class is built around four main dance styles. Most people are familiar with Cuba's elegant, sexy Salsa. (Less well-known is its offshoot Salsa Choke, which originates in Beto's native Colombia and intermixes Cuban panache with the rhythms of Zumba's next core dance, Reggaeton.)

Perhaps best described as Latin hip-hop, Reggaeton hails from Puerto Rico. Its edgy, urban lyrics and beats have made their way across South America. Some of Reggaeton's most famous musicians, such as Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Pitbull, have an even wider following across the globe.

Merengue is the third style, which most people have heard of but may not be aware that this is a fast march from the Dominican Republic and other parts of the Caribbean. It has an even beat but can become very frenetic, with moves that have names like double hesitations, pretzels, and cradles.

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A Brutal Dance: The Walls of Limerick

by Liam Heneghan

From my autobiography in progress “My Life in Dance – a Motional History of my Body”


The Walls of Limerick: an Irish reel where two couples face one another with the women to the right of the men. The dance involves handholding and swinging in a céilí hold.

Does national dance reflect the national personality? Observe an Irishman at dance. Above the waist he is a vision of equanimity. If he were jigging behind a short hedge you might even pause to chat with him. From the waist down, however, that man is in a frenzy of leaping and knee-swiveling and foot stomping. In political terms this man could be doffing his cap to you, and all the while seditiously plotting your demise. The British in Ireland never learned to read the bodies of Irishmen, perhaps to their cost for those bodies in motion can be a lovely spectacle.

I wish to set out here my own experiences with dance as honestly as good taste will permit. I have a body, one that is a little succulent and that moistly disinclines to perform strenuous acts. It is not a body apt to move all that prettily. For all of that, I have tried to bend it to my will, commanding it often enough to skitter across the floor in a rhythmic and frolicsome fashion and I have witnessed its failure with displeasure. Though I can leap and skip and jump and hop, the sum of these gyrations doesn’t seem to add up to dancing. However, in perverse inverse to my skill, dancing has been a component of several of my more arresting developmental moments. I relate one here.

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