Fitness Class or Dance Party?

By Caroline Betik – January 1, 2020

“I wish we had Zumba every morning at 9:30, because that would start my day off great. It’s kind of an attitude of gratitude,” says Zumba enthusiast, Holly Chacona. “Obviously, the look on Jacque’s face — it is almost like [she’s reached] Nirvana. It’s like when you say, ‘out-of-body experience.’ In a previous life, I wonder if you were not somewhat of a risque dancer.”

Chacona laughs as she jokes with her Zumba instructor, Jacque Cotrell. Cotrell and Chacona bonded over their appreciation for Zumba, the opportunity to exercise and the feeling of being able to be free to have fun and be silly with others.

Zumba Fitness classes are still flourishing among the Austin fitness community. Founded in 2001 by Colombian, Alberto Pérez, Zumba Fitness is described as a “fitness party” — a total-body workout available in varieties for all ages. Incorporating Latin dance moves including merengue, salsa, cumbia and samba, this upbeat exercise has impacted the lives and fitness routines of many.

Cotrell taught her first Zumba class in May 2017. While she says she was pretty active all her life, as she got older, she had to have her hip replaced. Once her doctor cleared her for physical activity, she began to look at classes offered at the YMCA.

“I started hearing about this Zumba thing and Latin rhythms,” she says. “I was like, ‘Latin rhythms? That’s all about the hips right? So, I’ll go check that out.’”

After taking regular Zumba classes and losing 45 pounds, Cotrell says she was having such a great time with Zumba that she wanted to share it with her peers. She attended training and received her Zumba Gold certification, which allowed her to teach students 55 and up. Then, driving down Lamar one evening, she saw the Lamar Senior Activity Center and volunteered to teach a class.

Chacona began attending Cotrell’s classes in March 2019 after she retired from her job. She says since she began, she has received many benefits from Zumba.

“As you get older, every day is a new day of something going wrong,” says Chacona. ”And honestly, just moving the synovial fluid in my knees has been incredible. And even things like the little hand movements helps me, because we all get stiff joints. Everything we do in this class is something.”

For an older adult, moving rhythmically and practicing ranges of motion from simple lunges to raising the arms and circling the wrists helps loosen the joints and build strength and balance. Additionally, the act of watching and replicating the moves of the instructor stimulates the mind and has been proven to slow the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Chacona says the other reason she began doing Zumba is because she did not want to lose interactions with others in retirement and become depressed, something her primary care provider was worried about.

“Part of the reason I’m doing this is because my mom was not only sedentary but isolated and homebound by kind of by her own will,” says Chacona. “I just saw her becoming more and more isolated and getting depressed, and the people that you see here are the opposite of that — just completely alive.”

Michelle Gonzales, a certified Zumba Fitness, Zumba Gold and Zumba Kids instructor, started Zumba as a means of getting healthier when she moved to Austin in 2006. She says, however, becoming fit was not the only way Zumba changed her life. It is the joy that Zumba brings, too.

“When you come into a Zumba class, you are joining a Zumba movement and a family,” Gonzales says. “You’re acting silly and shimmying your shoulders. A lot of people look in the windows and think we’re crazy maniacs. But we’re bonding in that moment. We are laughing together. We’re dancing together. And we’re enjoying that moment together.”

Gonzales teaches classes for all ages. She says each class is unique from the music and movements to the class structure. She currently teaches kids classes at the Northwest YMCA in Austin.

“In a regular Zumba class, the music starts and you kind of just hit the ground running,” Gonzales says. “It’s a faster pace class. So, you don’t want to make it too complicated, because you want everyone to have fun and move.”

One reason many people come to regular Zumba classes is for the good, fun exercise portrayed as “the workout in disguise.” For Zumba Kids, however, the motivations and takeaways from class are much different.

On top of developing a routine of doing something good for their body, Gonzales says kids are learning teamwork, respect and listening skills.

“I think what they take from it will be something that they carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Gonzales says. “Whether they continue their Zumba journey or not, they have a confidence level that they may not have coming in to class, and they’ll bring that into their everyday life.”

Gonzales says while Zumba is a total-body workout, it has changed her life in more ways than helping her get fit. Since she started Zumba, she has seen how the exercise can bring the community together for a greater cause.

The most recent way Zumba has made a difference within the community is through its partnership with the Northwest Austin YMCA.

Over the course of the year, the YMCA raised money for scholarships for families who cannot afford a membership. In October, Gonzales was a part of hosting a large Zumba party with the YMCA. People dressed in costumes in the spirit of Halloween, and 100 percent of the funds went to the scholarship campaign to help families in the community.

“Zumba is a platform which brings people together for the better,” Gonzales says. “They call it ‘Zumba love,’ which sounds maybe corny to an outsider looking in. But in Zumba, everyone is welcome, and most people are happy they did it once they tried.”


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