Sweat your way to community

Sometimes you build community by talking, finding common interests, and slowly building trust.

Sometimes you find community by…sweating.

That’s what I did this past weekend in my Zumba (dance-fitness) instructor training. I almost didn’t make it. Life’s been a bit rough recently, and it was hard to imagine myself spending a day doing high-energy, Latin-inspired moves, while feeling burdened by some unexpected problems.

I tried to picture myself among the clientele I thought might be attending this training: nubile, super-buff, exercise-freaks in their twenties, their butts thinly coated by tight, designer stretch pants. Would there be other 67-year-old women, with aching knees, vulnerable ankles and other physical limitations? Not likely.

However, the idea of chickening out made me feel worse than the prospect of feeling out of place. And, thanks to a couple of handfuls of ibuprofen, I did survive all the high energy movement. It was fun, but what I really loved was taking a deep dive into a diverse community.

The participants didn’t fit any stereotypes. They came in every color, and even from some different parts of the world. I danced next to a woman wearing a Hijab and form-fitting pants, and boy could she wiggle!

Yes, there were some crazy designer leggings and tank tops. But it turned out that the insanely cool black and white tights I saw came from Walmart.

Moving together connects us across different experiences, backgrounds, and countries.

Great dance music is democratically distributed around the globe.

Zumba was started by a man from Colombia who started life poor. He danced in the streets before he stumbled on a formula for dance-fitness success. Two Latin business partners joined in, and soon they had created a multi-million dollar empire of instructors and participants. You can find Zumba today in two hundred countries. No longer limited to Latin rhythms, Zumba now draws inspiration from music and steps worldwide.

What stood out for me last Sunday, apart from the fun of dancing, was how fast our little rainbow classroom started feeling like a supportive community. I wished that my pale, winter-white skin could borrow some color from the beautiful Indian woman who was dancing next to me. (She, too, had the moves!) Participant ages ranged from 17 to 67 (yours truly).

Did I tell you we came in many shapes, from finely chiseled to, well, big? What we had in common was that we could all shake (or try), laugh, and enjoy letting our hearts beat with the music we were hearing.

No introductions needed.

We started the day with no introductions, no sitting around a circle discussing our goals, no check-in opportunities for me to give the instructor my list of physical limitations and tell her why I might not make it through the class, Nope. After sharing a few words at the beginning of class, the instructor got us up on our feet. Then she revved up the music and we were dancing.

The instructor was a high-octane bundle of crazy-wild energy, whose might exceeded the size of her well-sculpted 5’4″ body. With a lingering Puerto Rican accent, she shouted out encouragement for us to follow her as she demonstrated some basic variations of core Zumba moves.

The intense beat of the music seemed to bond us.

At lunch, I noticed how easy it was to share with my new Zumba buddies, who no longer felt like strangers. Where else could I ask a dancing friend how many women in her Muslim community dance in Hijabs? (Some do, some don’t.)

Movement, like storytelling and other arts, is a gateway to community.

I’ve written before about forming community through the amazing Story Bridge process. Expressive arts like storytelling, music, and dance encourage us to make connections with each other independent of our intellect or opinions.

We open up for a moment, and enter a truer part of ourselves where we are free to move with less pretense, and, in the case of Zumba, more sass!

Don’t hold your breath–I have no immediate plans to teach Zumba. Trying to do the angular hip-hop inspired Reggaeton moves was still beyond me. (My back agrees with this verdict.)

I kept thinking that dancing is such a cool way to build community quickly, and span differences in backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. On the island where I live, the Zumba community is an amazingly supportive bunch.

The core elements that bond us are so simple:

Sharing joy together.
Engaging our minds together with our bodies (It takes brains to do those moves!)
Laughter. Smiles.

Especially sweat.

Maybe we don’t always need to talk through our problems.

Maybe we should just dance the heck out of them. 


Why I Need a Tribe and Why You Might Want One Too

2014 - 07.24 - #14 tribe pic

How would you like having a group of people on your life who:

  • Share interests
  • Have similar values around respect, openness, sharing, learning, etc.
  • Cheer you when your work’s going well
  • Remind you of your greatness when things aren’t so hot
  • Point you to resources, ideas and people
  • Share parts of your dream
  • Are helpful personally and professionally
  • Help you stay current in the areas you’re passionate about?

I do – and I call them my TRIBE.

My tribe members aren’t just networking connections (I don’t like that word – but we’ll talk soon!) I want my relationship with tribe members to be whole-hearted, mutually supportive and sustainable over time.

Because my tribe is my best business asset.

Years ago, I didn’t know I needed one.

When I joined a university faculty, I gained an abundance of great colleagues. We shared (mostly) similar values around adult learning – and a save-the-world ethic around our work. We were creative, caring, and carried the zeal of missionaries! We saw almost too much of each other (I don’t miss our faculty meetings) and I took my easy network of colleagues for granted.

But as Joni Mitchell sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone.”

Now as I’m navigating the creative world of solo-preneurs, I NEED a tribe. It’s no fun being out there alone, using the Internet as a place for community. I like my virtual networks, but they’re no substitute for folks I can call up, Skype with, visit when I travel, or, better yet, join for a cup of tea.

Even if you’re safely nested in an organization, you might still want a tribe, especially if your specialty, your expertise, or your passionate interests aren’t easily shared with the folks around you.

A tribe is more than a network.

The most contemporary definition of tribe I read is “a group of people, or a community with similar values or interests, a group with a common ancestor, or a common leader.”

Sometimes followers of a guru or blogging star are called a tribe. Or folks who have a similar pattern of lifestyle and buying habits. But in my tribe, it has to be more than that. I want us to know each other and be interwoven.

A tribe isn’t a club – e.g., no dues or requirements. But a tribe requires regular tending because what gives it juice are the exchanges – the ways in which members reach out and support each other.

When you look for a tribe, you want to know who you’re looking for, and I am pretty picky.

My criteria for my tribe:


In my tribe, members are open, non-judgmental and willing to share both personally and professionally. Nobody needs to wear those masks you often see at “networking events.” Folks are willing to “get real” and share the real scoop about what’s happening for them – no elevator speeches allowed!

Mutual support for our professional passions

We don’t all share the same professional interests. But I’d say everyone is interested in a new, wholehearted way of leading – and making this world better. So we respect each other’s interests and share the stories of what we’re up to. And some folks in the tribe do share my passion for organizational storytelling, improv, and performance, and that’s really cool!

My tribe members have reviewed my website, talked strategy with me, and shared resources. I’ve read their books, listened when their practices were growing and waning, and shared new business ideas with them. We’ve been raw and real together, supporting each other when things were tough, and applauding when we’ve had successes.

I think of my tribe as my safety net when I’m launching a dream.

Willingness to dig deep and ask some big questions

Most are up to making a difference, in their family, their community, their art, their work or the world. Some friends are into social justice, some business, some healing and spirituality. We’re each tackling a piece of the puzzle. We’re all searching.

We value long-term connections

My tribal friendships grow as they’re nurtured across time. I met my colleagues Liz and Margaret casually at a training more than eight years ago. But we’ve kept our connections rolling, and they’re now in the first circle I call when I need to talk a new idea out.




Bold dreams and


Who wouldn’t want that?

Next blog post, I’ll share tips for finding and building a tribe. In the meantime I would love to hear about your tribe in the comments below.


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