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Dance, Depression, and re-Discovery: Conversation With Celebrity Zumba Instructor Sucheta Pal

  • IWB Post
  •  June 29, 2018

From Ranchi to Mumbai, Sucheta Pal had already climbed the steps that probably 50% of Indian youngsters dream of. An electronic engineer landed into one of India’s top IT companies with a handsome salary. But it was not what Pal’s soul searched for.

The job triggered excessive stress which induced severe attacks of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in her, eventually leading to depression. She quit the job, sought therapy, and found her solace in Zumba. A decade later, she is India’s top celebrity Zumba instructor and India’s first Zumba Education Specialist (ZES). In the year 2010, she became a licensed instructor in the US and earned the title ZES in Miami in the year 2012.

Dance, Depression, and re-Discovery, we uncovered the three Ds and more from her life in an insightful and interesting conversation.

Read excerpts:

Sucheta, IBS is quite common in women but also much ignored. How do we bring more attention to this?

First, there has to be more conversation about it. We shy away from talking about things related to excretion. About one in four women have the syndrome. Let’s be more open to discussions around it with less disgust. Our gut is our second brain!

IBS triggered in me from stress. When I worked in the IT company 10 years ago, it made me rush to the loo too frequently. Having to leave meetings in between made me embarrassed.

And Zumba was a major step in winning over it. Is it true?

Zumba majorly helped me in finding the happiness but what really worked was the change in lifestyle. The job I was in easily is any youngster’s dream job but I was not made for it. We have a habit of stressing ourselves by exerting our bodies more than they can take. During the age of 20-25, our bodies seem to be adapting to everything but it’s past that age when it starts to react. So, we need to keep track of our lifestyle.

Hmm, a point to be noted. Also, despite several public figures, including you, opening up about depression, a lot of people still struggle to talk about their mental health. How does one deal with that?

Foremost, families and friends have to be supportive and free from judgment. Stop saying, “It’s all in the mind.”  Arey, we know it’s in the mind but the mind needs a torchlight to come out of the dark tunnel. And, psychiatrists are the torch. I used to get anxiety attacks and although I had my sister, husband, and friends there for me, it was them who pushed me to seek professional help. I underwent therapy for a year and it helped me immensely. From being awkward to opening up to my cousin a decade ago to now traveling and talking to different kinds of people, it is a big step forward.

Another thing is that while the therapist does their work, you also need to look forward to a hopeful future. There are so many people ready to share their experiences and help other people going through it, just reach out to them.

Couldn’t agree more.

Sucheta Pal

Sucheta Pal

So, Sucheta, you have trained over 3000 instructors to date, but will you take us back to the time when you were a Zumba student?

I took dance lessons in Mumbai but the sense of self-rediscovery kicked in when I discovered the Zumba studio in Connecticut, USA, in the year 2009. The first day of the training session I was with 80+ enthusiastic people and one amazing trainer, who was plus-size as we call it. Neither was she judged for that and nor were the students judged. All of us in there were pumped up with the energy in the room brought by the trainer and joined by the students. I learned not to be judgemental and definitely, my perspective towards fitness changed since then.

Is the experience of Zumba different in the US and India?

No, not at all. There’s no difference. Every year we attend a Zumba convention in Orlando where trainers and instructors from across the world meet up. We share stories of our students which makes us realize how Zumba has created a global movement. The stories are similar, be it the issues of body or mind and Zumba is the universal language of connecting them to their happier versions.

You were the first Zumba Education Specialist in India. Tell us about the struggle that came along with the title ‘first’?

Before me, our country had International Zumba instructors and there were a good handful of licensed trainers. One of the big challenges was for people to accept an instructor based in India. They were quite used to foreign faces. Things take time and India being an open country, just about in a time period of six months, things started to build up.

The fitness lifestyle is widespread in metro cities but how are you planning to move this to smaller cities?

This, actually, is the focus of the year 2018. We are going to every city, bringing opportunities to them and creating a chain of empowered people, especially women. For example, Raipur now has 55 licensed instructors.

Speaking of empowerment, one of the best examples remains your 65-year-old mother-in-law joining the training. How has your relationship evolved with her through Zumba?

Oh, she is a rockstar. She is so cool and supportive, totally opposite of the perceived persona of a mother-in-law. She gets trained from one of the licensed trainers. I think the mutual respect for each other has intensified now. When she goes back home, she is proud of my job. She promotes my work amongst all our family members.

Sucheta Pal

Sucheta (left) with her mother-in-law Reshma Abhichandani (right)

And, she is totally enjoying this. She is now friends with 20-year-olds, clicks selfies with them, is active on social media, and also follows me on Instagram.

A proof of their supercool camaraderie:

Zumba in the Club with Sucheta Pal (ft. Reshma Abhichandani)

“The only rock-star who can steal the limelight from me on stage.” Hoping at 65 I can grow as young as her. My mother-in-law killing it ‪‎Zumba in the Club‬ at Playboy Club Hyderabad.

This is so cool! What is your personal fitness regimen like?

I wake up at 8 which is followed by Yoga from 9-10. I have to tell you how much I love it. I have been doing this for the past 6-7 months now. It’s amazing, it’s a way of life that helps me to connect with myself.

I do weight training twice a week. I am very particular about diet and my food habits are very strong. Protein is my main nutrient. My bag always has a Nutribar. I eat ghee (in moderation, of course).

A Zumba class to remember?

The Zumba cruise that I am heading to tonight, I went for the same two years ago too. Last time, my space was on the top of the deck so when I gave my session we were in the middle of the ocean. It was beautiful!

Sucheta Pal

Sucheta Pal on the Zumba cruise two years ago

Before we wrap up, any steps for aspiring Zumba instructors?

The first is to be fully aware of it – how it started, where it started, what is it all about and you can get all the information on Zumba.com. A lot of people don’t know Zumba is a company started in the late 1990s. Get trained, get a certificate and just like other certificates, it’s upto you how you use it after getting one. It demands an equal amount of dedication, sincerity, hard work, and patience like any other degree job.

Sucheta Pal

Sucheta felicitated with ‘First Ladies’ award.

This article was first published on April 6, 2018.

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