For many years I shied away from any form of physical exercise with every excuse I could think of.

I tried the gym and treadmills and quickly grew bored with the sheer grind and sweat you go through before you can even grow a teeny, weeny, grudging muscle.

Then I tried swimming — I was taught swimming by a bored lifeguard one long summer back in Nigeria ( don’t you dare imagine anything else, it was strictly platonic!). Poor Sam(we will call him Sam as I can’t even remember his name) taught me only one style — the breaststroke and did not encourage me to swim in the deep end. So, I did not, but proudly put my breaststroke to use at every opportunity.

Jernej-gra by Unsplash

In England I signed up for swimming lessons to improve my skills and quickly became the butt of my instructor’s jokes. She just could not believe how I singlehandedly mastered a fusion of breaststroke taught by Sam and the front crawl she attempted to teach me. For I could not separate the two! My beautiful long legs(self-love, why not!) would not obey her instructions. I would do the front crawl with those pesky legs doing the frog movements! Nevertheless, I finished the class and proudly accepted a certificate for completing 25 metres( do not laugh, please!). Then I began swimming in earnest happy to be exercising at last.   And of course  (innocent whistling) I studiously went back to my comfortable breaststroke (I did!). After many months of this I became leaner, meaner and the envy of my non-swimming, non-exercising friends.

Lucas Lenzi – Unsplash

Then came the dreaded British winter — incessant biting sleets with chilly moody darkness that began as early as 4 o clock each afternoon. I stoically(Philosopher Seneca eat your heart out!) continued length swimming in my leisure centre’s cold fitness pool. Then one fateful day I suffered a frozen back brought on by the cold water. It took me a few days to recover. Undeterred( Seneca would be proud of me!) I went back the next week and the same thing happened. I finally gave up and swam only when on holiday in warmer climate. For two years I did not visit a leisure centre and yet continued to pay for membership. Finally, when I changed departments at work, super fit colleagues goaded me so much on my lack of exercise that I decided to ‘try again’!

This time I opted for a fun group exercise – Zumba! It was love at first dance! Angela(not her real name) the instructor was fit and fun. She had some exciting moves and everyone thin, fat, plump whatever, bopped and ground their hips to Soca and South American music.

I also discovered something that I have always known. I am an African with no natural dance rhythm! I avoided looking at my ungainly giraffe moves in the mirror and envied some of the heavy bottomed girls their crunches and grinding moves.

Then Angela the tutor announced she was going away on holiday and that a replacement would take the class for 2 weeks. My dreamy mind as usual promptly forgot her absence and I attended class the next week. The first indicator that should have sounded the alarm bells was that the class number had halved and my curvaceous Soca mates were missing. I innocently attributed it to their loyalty to Angela.

The 2nd was that the instructor looked a cross between Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa Middleton, only she was really tall, straight and fit! This was not my London cockney Angela? Who was this?

Emily Sea – Unsplash

Then I heard the tiny music that issued out of our usually booming loudspeakers. Where was the Soca?  What music was this?  And she had turned it low in order to shout her bootcamp dance instructions which we tried to copy. We swung to moves that was a cross between Soca and Ballet. We leapt, glided, swayed, kicked out but we did not do a single soca grind!

Danielle Cerullo – Unsplash

Her toothy posh voice commanded reluctant sweat out of me and as much as I longingly glanced at the clock each minute for the torture to end I appreciated her effort in the end. Will I go back to her class next week? Why not! But nothing can beat Soca music grind and crunch in a Zumba class!

Originally published at


  • Stella Oni

    Writer, Blogger, Speaker

    Stella was born in Clapham, London, brought up in Nigeria and lives in London.   She has a degree in Linguistics and African Languages from the University of Benin and a MSc in Information Systems and Technology from City University, London. Stella is a writer and speaker. She is the founder of the blog African Britishness where she writes on culture, travel, food, health and wellbeing, As an avid foodie, when she is not writing she is cooking up exotic cuisine or decorating cakes.  Stella’s  dream is to travel to different parts of the world to taste and experience food from different cultures. She believes that her experience of growing within two worlds has given her a unique perspective and she is happy to share this. Stella's crime manuscript, Deadly Sacrifice, a police procedural set in London and Nigeria, was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize in 2016 and will be published by Jacaranda Books Art Music in 2020. Stella is currently working on the 2nd in the series, writing the first of an exciting brand new series as well as doing some non-fiction writing! Get my 20 best Podcasts and Blogs here