Sweat is dripping from my face and body, my heart is pounding and I can feel the adrenaline running through me.
It’s 8pm and my last class of the night, but I don’t feel tired. I’m raring to go again.
See, teaching Zumba is my passion. It makes me feel energised, stimulated and alive – but people often ask me how I have the energy.
Being an exercise instructor isn’t light work, and certainly not at 63 years old, but I absolutely love it. I’ve been teaching for over 30 years, and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
I’ve always enjoyed exercise from a young age, especially dance. As a little girl, it was always a dream of mine to be a dancer.
Except, we grew up quite poor. My mum and dad couldn’t afford to send me to dance school, so I picked up other sports hobbies instead.
In school, I was on the running team and ran in county competitions. I haven’t got a lot of speed, but I have a lot of stamina, so long distance and cross country were my feats.
When I left school, exercise took a back seat. Life got in the way with having to juggle work and other commitments, so I struggled to find the time to prioritise sport.
One day, I was sitting in the cafe at my local sports centre and could see an aerobics class through the window. I was 28 at the time, and hadn’t exercised properly in a while.
I couldn’t help but stare at the class as the barista was taking my order. I loved how fun it looked. Everyone was enjoying themselves and bursting with energy. It was back in the 90s too, so they were listening to some great dance tracks.
Noticeably infatuated, the barista told me to come back tomorrow and join in as the class would be running again, so I did.
I enjoyed that first class so much that I became a regular.
Some months later, the instructor came up to me. ‘You’ve got great rhythm and have no trouble keeping up with me,’ she said – adding: ‘Have you thought about getting into teaching?’
I was working for a fruit machine company at the time, emptying all the machines at local pubs.
I enrolled at a course up in London where I could take my exams to be an instructor. They carried out practical assessments to see if we could choreograph routines, had a natural rhythm and could keep up with the assessor and at the end of the course I found out I’d passed – I was over the moon.
I taught my first class at 30 years old and haven’t looked back since. I now teach nine a week.
I’ve only had one break from teaching, when I was pregnant with my son at 36. Five months into my pregnancy, I had a procedure to drain fluid from around his brain.
Luckily, he was perfectly fine, but I wasn’t able to exercise for an entire month until I received the results.
It was the worst month of my life.
The combination of not being able to exercise, coupled with the worry that my baby wasn’t well, caused me to spiral into a dark headspace.
Once given the all-clear, I went back to teaching. Then shortly after my son was born, I separated from his father.
As a single parent, I didn’t have as much time for exercise as I would have liked, but my parents were amazing at supporting me with childcare so I could still work and do what I love.
Now, at 63, I experience a lot of judgement for teaching at my age – especially from younger pupils.
I was covering a Zumba class at a gym some years ago and there was a new group of girls that looked me up and down as if to say: ‘You are really going to teach us?’
I picked the hardest tracks and they were flagging after 20 minutes! I sure showed them that they shouldn’t have judged this book by its cover.
I’ve been for interviews at gyms where managers have judged me in a similar way, too. I thought one interview went really well, until I was asked what age group I teach. ‘Young as well as old,’ I explained.
I never heard from him again. I think he thought I was too old to be a good teacher.
I felt like saying: ‘Don’t look at the face – give me a trial and let me show you what I can do’.
I want to help women battle the deep-rooted fear of judgement when it comes to exercise. This Girl Can has found that fitness levels and self-esteem issues are two key barriers preventing women in the UK from exercising over the summer, with nearly half thinking that they’re too unfit – and two in five feeling not good enough.
We need to empower women and girls of all shapes, sizes and abilities by showing that there’s no ‘right’ way to get active.
All of this judgement used to really upset me. But the older I get, the less I care.
It sparks something in me to want to prove everyone wrong. Even though I’m 63, I can still teach just as well as the 30-year-olds at my gym.
And when someone asks me how old I am, I tell them loud and proud – it’s certainly not something to be ashamed of.
I want my story to serve as a reminder to women – of all shapes, sizes, ability and age – that nothing should hold us back from enjoying exercise.
In fact, I hope I’ll still be teaching when I’m 90!
Denise is supporting This Girl Can to empower more women and girls to get active this summer as part of its Make Your Summer Move campaign. Find out more here.
Age is Just a Number
Welcome to Age is Just a Number, a Metro.co.uk series aiming to show that, when it comes to living your life, achieving your dreams, and being who you want to be, the date on your birth certificate means nothing.
Each week, prepare to meet amazing people doing stereotype-defying things, at all stages of life.
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