Methods of Research
Zumba dance is a fitness program that is highly popular in American culture. The dance and aerobic movement are done to powerful music such as reggeaton, hip-hop, and samba. It also involves lunges and squats for fitness purposes. I became acquainted with Zumba through a cousin who attended the sessions and praised them as highly productive. She participated in the sessions at a fitness center called . I decided to use this location for my field research due to its convenience and its representative status.
My research first involved reading up on the history of Zumba and its status in the USA. I used books such as Latin Dance by Drake-Boyt and Encyclopaedia of Latino Culture by Charles Tatum. I also watched videos of the dance on internet sources such as YouTube. I also visited the official Zumba website at Zumba.com. After that, I went to do field work.
My fieldwork mostly involved interviews with the participants of Zumba dance and observation. I also participated in some of the sessions to build rapport with the participants. The gym had daily sessions, but attendees were required to attend three sessions a week. I went to five sessions a week for three weeks. I performed five interviews with the trainer. I also conducted a total 52 interviews with the attendees. I spent most of the time observing and interacting with the participants.
One of the patterns of American culture I noted was the attitude towards time. Americans, in general, tend to be view time as a highly perishable commodity. This is unlike other cultures where time is viewed in a more relaxed fashion. In America, time-keeping is considered to be a highly important trait. The trainer informed me that initially, he kept going over the time span he had advertised for his sessions. Clients complained about this and he rad to rectify it. The time span of each activity is now highly regimented. Time is strictly adhered to as is usual in America. During my whole field sessions not once did the sessions go over their allocated time? The clients informed me that the reason they liked time-keeping was that they had strict schedules and could not afford to waste time.
The American culture is highly individualistic. It emphasizes the success of an individual as opposed to the community as a whole. In America, it is seen in traits such as self-reliance, independence, and self-centeredness. The individualistic nature of Americas society also invariably results in negative characteristics such as snobbism and a lack of concern for the welfare of other people within a social group. I observed some of the traits during my field research on Zumba dance.
One of the first things I learned from the interviews was the fact that people did not know each other well. I tried to mostly interview people with good attendance records who had been attending the sessions for more than five months. I learned that most people were merely concerned about their well-being. Despite the fact that the group was relatively small, most people did not know each others names despite being together bi-weekly for months. The ones who knew each other had personal relationships that were forged outside the fitness sessions. The trainer tried to know each of his clients by name. He admitted that his motivation was to keep his clients satisfied by giving each a personal feel.
There also seemed to be a competitiveness about the sessions that is characteristic of the need to get ahead of others. Americans are highly competitive by nature, a cultural trait that is related to individualism. The belief that if you work harder than everyone else, then you will make it also fuels the competitive nature of Americans. The trainer informed me that this was indeed true. He encouraged it subtly because it kept the clients coming back. They competed on who looked fittest, who could go through the sessions with ease and who looked the hottest. The women also competed in who lost more weight since starting the courses. All this information was gained from my interview with the trainers. My cousin also informed me that the competition was real and it helped her remain focused on her goals. During the interviews most of the other attendees refused to admit that they were competing, insisting that they were merely concentrated on themselves.
The Zumba sessions are also characteristic of Americas emerging cultural obsession with keeping fit and staying slim. It is seen in the myriad gyms, weight loss programs and articles on slimming and keeping fit that exist in America. This culture is enforced through fat-shaming and the setting of standards of what it means to be beautiful in America. This culture is not seen in other cultures such African cultures. Most attendees of the sessions admitted they were doing them to keep fit or to lose weight. The trainer informed me that the reason he chose fitness as a career option was due to the popularity of fitness and slimming in America. One woman admitted to me that she was here to lose weight because her boyfriend told her she was getting too fat and she was afraid he would cheat.
Another cultural pattern is goal orientation and firm belief of control over personal destiny. A lot of other cultures believe that fate results from an interplay between forces beyond your control and the decisions and actions you take. In America, there is a powerful emphasis on personal control of destiny. People believe that you get what you work for. That if you work hard enough, you will make it. This is reflected in the concept of the American dream and the plentiful success stories that are used to inspire Americans. Personal stories of Americans are tales of overcoming hardship through determination and hard work. My interviews showed that the attendees of these sessions were goal oriented. They firmly believed they had control over their personal lives and they were there to take charge of their lives. Most of the attendees of the sessions have personal goals of where they want to be, especially those who want to lose weight. They had goals on how much weight they intended to drop after how long. Most of them were well-motivated and firmly believed that weight loss was simply a personal choice. A lot of the attendees also had smart watches to measure their vital features as they exercised. This showed that they were not just exercising for fitness and to get slim, they wanted to see the results of the exercise. They wanted to see that the sessions were moving them towards their goals.
Another part of Americas culture that was evident was the faith in science and technology. Ever since inventions became a common occurrence in America, science and technology have been trusted to solve problems and make life easier for Americans. Americans hold scientists, investors, and engineers in very high regard. They believe that nothing is impossible with science and technology. This has been reflected by the high dependence on gadgets and technology within America. In the Zumba classes, this love of technology and gadgets was easily observable. Many of the attendees had smart watches to monitor their vital functions and performance during the sessions. The trainer used highly visual videos during his sessions for demonstrations. At the end of sessions, most people rushed to check their phones.
The American culture is based on the concept of equality. This concept was created in opposition to Europes cultural concepts of social class based simply on birth rights. Americans hold the concepts that all men are created equal. This is seen in Americans avoidance of titles. American presidents are simply referred to as Mr. President. Titles such as your Excellency are avoided. Americans also avoid using professional titles in social contexts, preferring to use their first name. During the Zumba sessions, one particular incident stood out to illustrate this. It was a complaint raised by some of the attendees. They felt that the trainer gave too much attention to some of the attendees as opposed to others. They felt that this disparity was based on social class. A heated argument ensured over the matter. Eventually, the trainer promised to take that into consideration. He promised to give the whole class equal attention. Despite differences in income and social class, the attendees expected nothing short of equal treatment.
Application of Course Materials
Gender describes the socially constructed traits of men and women. These characteristics identify one's sex in social interactions. They are taught as people grow up through interactions within the households, in schools and work places. Some societies teach gender roles formally. Gender systems are the processes that give rise to the social distinction between men and women in interactions and actions. In most societies, gender is binary. The binary gender system classifies gender into either feminine of masculine based on sex. Gender binarism has been the dominant gender system in America. It is under assault by progressive ideas of gender fluid system, but it remains dominant in most of America. The gender binary system assumes that men and women will fall into distinct masculine and feminine categories by default in appearance, character, and behavior. The assumption of heterosexuality as an important behavior trait is under challenge.
Brazilian culture has a binary gender system that identifies as masculine and non-masculine. Men must portray masculine traits to be assigned the masculine gender. The men who display feminine traits are considered not-male and fall in the same category as women. In gay relationships, for instance, the men accepting penetration are not-males.
The Yoruba of Nigeria traditionally had no gender system. They had no social demarcation in language between the sexes. The social set up was based on lineage. Most members of the same lineage did work such as weaving together. Women from the same lineage experienced no disadvantage regarding gender roles.
During my field research, I became aware of the gendered nature of Zumba dance. Only two men came for sessions during my time. One only came once, and the other came for five consistently once a week. I interviewed both men and sought their opinion on why more men were not coming for the sessions. I also asked the trainer about this and asked him if the sessions offer the same benefits to men as they do to women. I then asked the women about their opinion on the matter and asked them if they would bring their male partners or friends to the session.
I learned that the Zumba sessions reflect the gender system in America. The aerobic exercises were considered too feminine by most men and women. Men were expected to do more vigorous workouts. The trainer informed me that the sessions would be highly beneficial to men as they are to women; especially for weight loss purposes. He informed me that some men did the sessions at home using videos he provided but were too embarrassed to come to sessions with the women. Most of the women laughed at the idea of bringing close male relations to the sessions. Some felt it was too feminine for their men while others were certain the men in their lives would never accept invitations to the sessions. This shows that gender roles are still prevalent in American society. Zumba sessions are predominantly attended by women despite the fact that the benefits are equal to both genders. Men are afraid to attend because it is viewed as a feminine activity.
Kottak, C. P. (2005). Mirror for humanity: A concise introduction to cultural anthropology. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
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