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Saying Farewell to Zumba

...at least for now that is. A New Year is the right time for change. Zumba has been a huge part of my life for more than 7 years; I admit reluctantly at first. The first time I took a Zumba class I didn't like it. It was a new style of dance fitness introduced by only a few instructors in the Boston area at the time. I was used to regular dance classes with breakdowns of blocks of choreography that would be practiced continuously and then strung together as a finale performance. Zumba was so different, not much breakdown or instruction, just follow the leader. Ten to twelve different songs, all unfamiliar Latin beats. I tried different Zumba classes but still no likes. 

That's why it surprises me that it has lasted this long in my life, and that I part with it with mixed feelings. I started teaching cardio dance classes around 2008 but Zumba was exploding in Boston. All of a sudden every gym wanted it on their class schedules. At one of my gyms, I was given the option to stay with my dance class or change to Zumba. Since I was already Zumba certified, I took a chance and changed. Fast forward to 2016 and I'm still teaching Zumba in that same time slot. It's a progressive gym with new classes every year including popular dance formats like Body Jam and SH'BAM, but Zumba has stayed put.

My students and employers were bewildered when I asked for the change starting this month (this would also include stopping Zumba Step, which I've taught for 2 years). Why change a successful full class? They asked that I change back to the Zumba formats if my new formats were not successful. I agreed but even if a failure, I needed to try. In my opinion, change is the most important factor for personal growth and ironically also staying young at heart. Think of the flipside: staying in the same situation for too long, especially if not dynamic enough, can kindle complacency and increasing resistance to new ideas. In other words, you get stale!

Today I can honestly say I enjoy Zumba and the effect it has on people. Those who usually hate exercise often tolerate Zumba if not completely love it because it's fun and time flies by. I have great respect for the company, which offers wonderful support to its instructor network. Teaching Zumba has pulled me out of an introverted shell so that engaging a large crowd no longer causes a panic attack. It has helped to take the focus of off me and onto others. To not be afraid of the eye contact that connects me with someone who may be going through a tough time or just needs a healthy escape for an hour. It has offered camaraderie with long time loyal students I adore who are trusting me as I force change upon them as well.  

Because of all these great things, I say farewell for now with gratitude, mixed feelings and a little fear. But I guess those are the stepping stones needed to take one to the next level.




Why I Love Bliss Balls

If you're an Instagrammer and search the hashtags #healthysnack or #energysnack, you may be surprised to see photos of little dough-like balls instead of the expected fresh fruit or protein bars. They have various names—bliss balls, energy bites, energy balls. I find them to be truly blissful for two reasons:

Photo credit: Gimme Some Oven. This site first inspired me to make bliss balls. Click on the image for more recipes.1. They're easy to make, quick to prepare and taste good, my main criteria when trialing a new healthful recipe. Bliss balls require about 4-5 ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen and don't need to be baked or cooked. You start with a binder ingredient, something sticky to hold the ball together, like peanut butter (or almond butter or sunflower seed butter) and/or a sticky fruit like dates or figs. Then add whatever additional ingredients you like. This is the second most awesome thing about bliss balls...

2. They are completely versatile to fit whatever your taste preference or food philosophy. Vegan? Try almond butter, dates, raw cacao powder, diced nuts, wheat germ. Gluten-free? Try peanut butter, chocolate chips, flaxseeds, gluten-free oats. Nut-free? Try sunflower seed butter, honey, oats, coconut. Whether you need high protein or low sugar, there will be a perfect bliss ball for you.

Another reason I love these treats is that they are truly satisfying. How often do you reach for a store bought chocolate chip cookie and eat one, two, three+ servings? It might not be because you lack self-control. Maybe it's because the cookies don't gratify. Many cookies use processed ingredients that strip any real flavor. Sure there are cookies that add a ton of sugar or high fat ingredients to make up for it, but then you get an overly sweet, greasy product. Bliss balls use whole ingredients with distinctive flavors that you'll notice as you savor each bite. And that's the goal with any treat: eat slowly, appreciate the flavors, and experience true enjoyment with a smaller portion. Compare that with gobbling down 10 conventional chocolate cookies, not remembering the taste, and reaching for something else to eat 30 minutes later!

Consider bringing bliss balls to a holiday party this month. You can use festive ingredients of dried cranberries, cherries or nuts and dust with confectioners sugar. You can dip in white or dark chocolate. The options are endless.

Below is an example of a bliss ball recipe. I couldn't remember the exact amounts so I estimated. But feel free to add more or less of whatever you like! Makes about a dozen, depending on how big or small you prefer them.

4-Ingredient Vegan Bliss Balls


1 1/2 cups dates

1 cup raw or roasted cashews

1/2 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup chocolate chips (try Enjoy Life brand if vegan)


  1. If the dates are hard, place in bowl covered with water and soak for an hour to soften. Using a food processor or blender, blend dates into small bits. Add cashews and blend into small bits. 
  2. Remove mixture from blender and place into bowl. Fold in wheat germ and chocolate chips. 
  3. Roll into balls of desired size and arrange on a plate. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before eating. Store in refrigerator for about one week, although I have stored them longer and they taste fine!


Field Trip to Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Kickboxing Class

I feel blessed to live in a time when health and wellness is on people's minds. It has always been my passion and now everyone else seems to agree. Everywhere you look...the successful growth of healthy supermarket chains and restaurants, fitness boutiques specializing in one exercise format, and corporate employee wellness programs are all signs that people are hungry to get fitter and healthier.

Along those lines, a recent field trip took me down to Seekonk, Massachusetts. I went mainly to visit Tropical Smoothie Cafe, who had invited me to taste their healthful fast food menu and just opened this particular branch last Tuesday. Though they have four locations in Massachusetts, the closest to me is 30 miles away in Seekonk. But I didn't mind because I'm very familiar with the locale, having grown up next door in Barrington, Rhode Island. The strip of stores in Seekonk where I often shopped as a teenager has exploded with new businesses, a great thing to see! Serendipitously, my young niece Alexa (who's a contributor to this blog and now a certified personal trainer) informed me that she recently started teaching kickboxing classes at ILoveKickboxing.com located right next to Tropical Smoothie Cafe. So I woke up early one Friday morning and commuted south to take her 9:00 am class and then refresh at the cafe. Perfect!

First off, at the risk of offending both businesses, I'll admit that I wasn't expecting much from either as I thought the names were cheesy. Now having experienced both, I'll explain that the reason I dislike the cafe name is because it suggests a juice and smoothie bar (a dime a dozen nowadays). But their sandwiches, flatbreads and wraps are out of this world! The "ILoveKickboxing.com" name sounds trite and wishy washy, but the class was incredibly intense and hard core. Though all young women attended my session, I'm sure there are plenty of guys who would not last an entire class!

Walking into Tropical Smoothie Cafe for the first time made me smile. Bright, cheerful, sunny, clean and modern with a warm friendly staff. 

Tropical Smoothie Cafe is a popular national chain, now located at 20 Commerce Way in Seekonk, MA.

One half of the menu boasts a nice selection of sandwiches on seeded or ciabatta bread, flatbreads, wraps, tacos and saladsall with very fresh meats and vegetables. Smoothies rule the other half of the menu: "Classics" like their Sunrise Sunset (strawberries, pineapple, mango and orange juice) or "Superfoods" such as the Avocolada (avocado, pineapple, spinach, kale, coconut and lime). There are add-in "supplements" like vitamin C complex, probiotics, vitamin B12, and whey, soy or pea protein...and more natural add-ins like ginger, whole grain oats or ground flaxeed. Smoothies range from $4.69-5.49 for a whopping 24 ounces. The cafe offers full disclosure of their nutrition information, and yes, almost all the smoothies have at least 300 calories (up to 700 calories) so choose your smoothie wisely! Keep in mind that turbinado sugar is added to these drinks, so opting for Splenda instead of sugar reduces calories significantly...or better yet just request no added sweeteners of any kind.

I ordered all vegetarian, starting with the special smoothie of the day Blueberry Bliss (blueberries, strawberries, banana) with an add-in of powdered spinach and kale. Followed by two sandwiches made with Beyond Meat Chicken-Free strips in place of regular chicken: Baja Chicken Flatbread (green/red peppers, red onions, romaine, lowfat mozzarella and light southwest ranch dressing) and the Thai Chicken Wrap (wontons, carrots, sesame seeds, romaine, cilantro, scallions and peanut sauce). Both sandwiches were less than 560 calories. The sodium was not low; I won't go into details as you can view yourself but sodium is not an issue for me especially after that kickboxing class where I sweated out about 3 pounds of fluid and electrolytes!

Blueberry Bliss Classic Smoothie, made darker by the spinach/kale add-in. Notice how it's so thick, the liquid remains in the whole straw.

My second smile came after tasting. Awwwesomme!! The Blueberry Bliss was thick, creamy and full of real berry flavor. One of the best smoothies I've ever had. The flatbread and wrap were lightly toasted, adding a unique crispness. I devoured the warm Baja Chicken Flatbread...it was such easy comfort food. The Chicken-Free strips had the texture and flavor of chicken and the vegetables were fresh. The Thai Wrap with peanutty flavor was also nourishing and authentic. However I ate most of the wrap before noticing that I forgot to look for the wontons. Don't recall seeing them inside the sandwich so I'll have to reorder another time to check. At $4.60-6.99, these sandwiches are filling and nutritious. The wrap came with one side (fresh orange, apple, kettle chips, fruit medley, or kale & apple slaw). I chose the slaw, yummy with slices of freshly cut green apples and chopped kale.

Thai Wrap (above) and Baja Flatbread (below) both made with Beyond Meat Chicken-Free strips at no extra charge.

Check out this place if you can! I can at least vouch for this location that the staff is lovely and the food tastes amazing. It's affordable and the nutritionals are excellent for "fast food." 

As for the kickass kickboxing classes a few doors down, they are having a special offer for new students: $20 for 3 classes and a pair of boxing gloves to keep! There are morning and evening classes Mon-Fri, and morning classes Saturdays. The workout is performed in socks or bare feet on high density foam flooring. Part One is conditioning with jogging, squats, squat jumps, planks, mountain climbers, etc. Part Two is a series of 7 rounds of different combos of punches and kicks using the punching bag. Part Three is partner work that may include abs or other targeted muscle groups. I think of it as a blend of CrossFit, circuit training and HIIT. The energy from the music and motivational instructors is through the roof. Check out this promo video:

Twenty-four hours later (that included a step class I had to teach that night) I could barely walk. I think of my lower half as pretty strong but my quads/hams/gluts were super sore and tight like never before. My upper back and arms ached as well. I'm leery of HIIT because of neck and lower back pain that can act up with certain workouts, but 48 hours later my entire body had recovered. I'd taught a Zumba class the next morning, which actually further helped dispel the soreness.

The boxing floor and bathrooms were immaculate. The fitness room was wiped down and sanitized after class. Keep in mind that this is a chain, so I can't confirm that every branch is the same quality. If you're new to exercise or have injuries, be sure to chat with the instructors before class starts so they can demonstrate modifications during class. ILoveKickboxing.com Seekonk is located at 20 Commerce Way. Call 401-479-0100 for more info. If Seekonk is too far, check out the web link above to find ILoveKickboxing.com classes closer to Boston or across the country. 

Disclosure: I received gift cards from Tropical Smoothie Cafe, which helped facilitate my restaurant review.