Zumba is normally my one hour a week to dance like I belong in a music video and sing like I actually know Spanish. But this week, Zumba went to a whole ‘nother level.

I got to class with a few minutes to spare and there were fewer people in the gym than usual. I took advantage of all the space and found myself a spot in the second row. In the mirror across from me, I was perfectly centred between the lady a row ahead and the instructor’s beaming face. (Zumba instructors are just so happy!) It was like I won the Zumba jackpot and I was pleased as punch. The first two songs were amazing; my victory at scoring this rockin’ spot was fueling funkier moves than I normally produce. I noticed, near the end of the second song, that a woman who usually has front and centre was actually a row behind me. She must have come in late.

Anyway, after song #2 was done, I left my spot to take a swig from my water bottle at the side of the gym…but when I turned back toward my spot, it was taken – by the lady who normally dances up front!

I was livid. The gall! Even the lady who had been dancing beside me noticed, and she turned to give me a half-shrug and a look like, that was kinda weird. I was so mad, my feet were rooted to my spot even as the next song started up and arms were flailing all around me. How dare she? Who did she think she was? And what made ME an easy target for her? I concocted all sorts of reasons why she would personally attack me, then jumped to all the things that had probably happened to her in her life to make her so callous and cruel. I alternated between feeling sorry for her and her insecurities, and being angry at her for disrespecting me.

I knew I had to do something.

And I spent the rest of my class figuring out just what it was I would do. I glared at her side profile once and then felt awful. I don’t glare. It’s just not something I do. Darn, now she was making me be someone I wasn’t! How did she have that much control over me?

Ok, so my first plan was to edge my way back to my spot (which really wouldn’t have been too hard – the class remained less full than normal and I could have found room beside her). But I wouldn’t just quietly take my spot back. I’d say something like, “Excuuuuuse me. You took my spot!” Yeah, that’s what I’d do! I’d make sure she knew I was no pushover!

I imagined all the different ways it could go down. But in every scenario, she ended up being a psychopath who found out where I lived and stalked me. I would have to quit going to Zumba: my one hour a week when I can dance like I am on stage and sing in Spanish. NO!

My next plan was quite clever. I thought, why not go the passive-aggressive route since the aggressive route was giving me heart palpitations? I’d pretend I was a writer for Psychology Today, working on an article about women’s behaviour in female-dominated spaces. And I was looking for correlations between their behaviours in these spaces and how they conduct themselves in other areas of their lives. I’d say, “The way you disregarded my someone else’s space to get what you wanted…is that how you are in your relationships and business?” Basically: are you a b*tch all the time or just at Zumba?

I have to admit, that plan lasted like 3 songs and I was getting some of my pep back. Yeah, that’s what I’d do! I’d call her out but sound all brainy, not whiny, about it.

Ugh, and then it just felt like a really bad plan. It was just completely dishonest. And I have this thing about dishonesty. I don’t like it. It’s the opposite of everything I value. I’ve seen how lies and half-truths hurt people and I’ve also known the disappointment of finding out someone had lied. I didn’t want to be disappointed in myself.

So, there was like 15 minutes left in the class and I was 0 for 2 with my strategies of dealing with The Spot Stealer.

And then it dawned on me.

Today, she was my teacher. There was something I had to learn from her and the only way I could receive what she had to offer me was to talk to her with an open mind and heart. At the same time, I realized that this was more than just about space in a class. I wanted to know things about her: was it her nature or personal circumstances that made it easy for her to claim something she wanted? Did this trait serve her well in other areas of her life? Was this perhaps something I needed to embrace or awaken within me in order to claim what I wanted?

As soon as the last stretch was executed and the teachers shouted out their thank you’s amid all the hollers, I went right up to her and asked her for a few minutes of her time. Her smile and genuine “Sure!” and the feeling she gave off melted any residual negativity I was harbouring toward her.

We moved to the side of the gym and I told her I had observed how she moved forward in the class when there was an empty spot. It was quite simple to her. She likes space. She saw some. She went for it. She said she never meant to intrude on people’s areas but it was really important to her to be as close to the front as possible.

I asked her if she approached the rest of her life that way? Because I felt like she did and I respected that, in a way. More so, I was curious about it. As someone who tends to make things easy for others, bend to their needs and adjust my own desires accordingly, I wondered if this was holding me back in some parts of my life.

Don’t get me wrong. I will always put kindness first. And to be honest, I will always be conscious of other people’s ‘space’ (be it physical or otherwise). That’s just who I am. But I’m realizing that the main block I put up for myself when I think of my aspirations is my belief – a very untrue belief – that I am not capable/deserving/worthy of it. It irks me when I see other people exhibit this belief, but in all honesty, I am annoyed with myself for the same reason.

She gave me examples of situations in her life when she achieved things simply because she believed she could. She knew she would get what she desired because she felt she deserved those things.

“I know what you’re saying. I’ve believed those things about me, too. I’ve just been so off these last few weeks.” I heard myself say.

“What happened? Something negative must have happened to trigger this.”

And I was able to pinpoint the exact moment things kind of went off-kilter for me. I told her about it and we talked about the need to ward off negativity and stay focused on the positive.

Even as I type this, I wonder…did this really happen? Did I really just walk up to a stranger and connect in this way? And I am so grateful and amazed that I was able to turn something around mid-situation and realize the lessons and gifts that were being presented to me in a really bizarre way.

Those few minutes talking to her reminded me of so many things:

1. Don’t judge a person or a situation without knowing the whole story.

2. Even when you know the whole story, look at how it applies to you, and not the other person. What can you take away from the situation? They are free to be who they are, and so are you. Just be you.

3. I know everything I need to know about how to create more of what I want in my life. Nothing she said to me about how she manifests and believes in herself and looks at the positive was new to me. She was saying what was already inside me.

4. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to be the student. It’s actually a really rewarding role.

5. Teachers come in all forms. Even in spandex, a cute tank top and a sports bra.

6. Highly sensitive people need to work hard to disconnect from pain and sadness, but it’s important to do so.

7. There are no coincidences. What happened in Zumba this week was exactly what I needed to have happen.

8. Gratitude and self-love conquer all.

9. You wake up every day with endless possibilities waiting. You just have to be awake in a more spiritual sense to really see them.

10. How you approach something (or someone) can make or break an encounter. With a smile and “I think you can help me understand something,” she and I were able to start a positive conversation. With anger and bad intentions, the whole thing could have gone south pretty fast.

While that was enlightening and probably one of the coolest things I have ever done, I am looking forward to next class, when the focus will be back on my awesome dance moves!