“It brings so much joy, and happiness, and friendship into my life.”
Zumba instructor Rachel Terry says the benefits of Zumba can keep going during quarantine. Her free online classes are a way to do that.
Terry is a powerhouse. A licensed Zumba instructor for six years, and a mother of four. With no formal dance training, she worked her way from the back of the class, to front and center, leading up to 50 dancers of all abilities at various fitness locations around Seattle.
The Latin dance craze turned exercise phenomenon known as Zumba, kept pace with the current socially distant times by morphing into “Zoom-ba.” Virtual Zumba classes taught through the online broadcasting platform Zoom.
Instructor Christina Noakes, a mother of three, and Zumba-licensed for the past nine years, says the move to online learning is as beneficial for her as it is for the students who tune in.
“As technically tricky as it was, as difficult as it was to find time, find a place, with the craziness that’s going on all around us…
"For me personally the fact that I was just able to move, and get out some of that extra energy of uneasiness and uncertainty and everything like that, it just felt so good.”
That “energy of uneasiness” is real. A common feeling during this pandemic. Beyond worries for safety and the physical health of loved ones, experts predict mental health will be a pandemic of its own, once the world recovers from SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as the coronavirus.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) issued a special notice about an upcoming research project claiming, “this [pandemic] experience will likely have a negative impact on people with existing mental health conditions and will produce wide-spread distress.”
"Why do I dance? It's for my own sanity!" says Noakes, whose fluffy white German Spitz is just as eager to hop back into the car, and make more outdoor videos as soon as the parks reopen.
Terry, Noakes and licensed Zumba instructor Rachelle Hrncirik, herself a mother of four, believe their best way to fight back, and keep sane, is to offer their classes to the public, free of charge.
Nothing new for these women. Except for there being no studio, and no students sharing the dance floor. So, they've shifted online.
Terry and Noakes teach Zumba at 425 Fitness in Issaquah and Redmond, 24 Hour Fitness in Redmond, and the YMCA in Sammamish. Noakes also teaches at Gold’s Gym in Kirkland, and opened up a live Instagram class after the gyms were shut down. Hrncirik is a substitute Zumba teacher at the YMCA in Sammamish, and together with Noakes, leads a Zumba class for Bridge of Promise, a local non-profit for teens and adults with developmental disabilities.
“People [at Bridge of Promise] come from Bellevue, Redmond, Carnation and Kent,” said Hrncirik. “It’s so fun. I love teaching them.”
On top of those classes, all three women offer Zumba for free, rotating instructional days three times a week at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Issaquah, known as the Duthie Hill building. That location in particular, is what brought the women together.
“It was a really small group of women at the beginning [and now] people from Bellevue and Redmond are coming,” Hrncirik said. “I think people can feel comfortable coming because there’s no risk. They don’t have to buy a membership and feel like they have to come every week, or they’re not getting their money’s worth. It reduces all risk, and you just feel like you can try something.”
Noakes agrees. It wasn’t long after the shutdowns began before she made the switch from classes in the gym, to classes on the computer screen. She cites extra benefits, such as the ability for students to try “Zoom-ba” classes in a home environment, at their own pace.
“I think a lot of people are taking that leap, of being like I would never set foot in a Zumba class, whether they feel embarrassed or intimidated or overwhelmed. Now they have the opportunity to check it out, kind of see what it’s all about, without feeling like there’s other eyes on me.”
Technical difficulties abounded in setting up their online classes.
“You would laugh at our setup,” Noakes said. “It was a moving box on top of an apple barrel. We’d have my coat over us so we could see [the screen] without the glare.” Hrncirik needed to buy new connector cables, to join her iPad, cell phone and a speaker together.
But they pressed on.
These women embody the spirit of Zumba, which at its core aims to lift up and empower women, and men, through the community of dance. They build upon each other’s energy and encouragement.
“What’s so great about [Hrncirik]’s videos is they’re so high quality,” Noakes said. “She’s a phenomenal instructor. Also, the movie and the music are totally in sync, you can take it anytime. I think they’ve been a huge, huge asset and help for people looking for a means to be able to exercise and dance anytime they want to.”
Noakes has a background in dance. For ten years she worked as a professional ballerina in Utah and Arizona. She continued until six-months pregnant with twins, when she was put on bed rest. It was a friend who brought her to the world of Zumba.
“I was up to my head in diapers and bottles and burp cloths. And just didn’t know day from night. And a girlfriend of mine said, ‘You should go try this Zumba class.’ And I’m like, ‘Zumba? What’s that? I don’t do ballroom.’” But her friend gave her the push a new mom can need to get out of the house. She said she lasted five minutes in her first class before the childcare workers came to get her, to attend to the needs of her kids.
But Noakes didn’t give up. Her years of dedication to dance kept bringing her back. She said the second week she lasted six minutes. But two years later she had her ZIN (Zumba Instructor Network) license, and was back on stage, and back in her passion of dance. This time, as a teacher.
“Zumba” is a brand name. You need to take the training and be officially licensed to teach under the Zumba name. Though it began primarily as Latin dance exercise, it now includes movements from Salsa to Hip Hop to Bollywood. Zumba is taught for adults, for children, and even in aquatic form.
Terry, with no professional dance background, never envisioned she’d be a licensed Zumba instructor.
“I had not even heard of Zumba before [my first class at Duthie Hill]. I’m the opposite of Christina. I had my fourth baby, and then began dancing.”
Terry brought her two-month old daughter, in a baby carrier, to her first class. And her son, too young for preschool. She says she didn’t have the money at the time for a gym membership, so was excited to try out a free class. At the end of that first class, her son jammed one of his fingers into a door, and Terry had to leave immediately to take him to the emergency room.
“One of the ladies took my baby and watched her, while I took [my son] to the emergency room.” An instructor of that day’s class noticed Terry, and worried, “This great lady came today, and she was so fun, and she’s never gonna come back because her son had this crazy accident!”
Terry’s son was okay. And she did go back. And before she knew it, she was leading the classes herself.
“It’s fitness. I’m awkward. But I can watch a video and copy movements pretty well. That’s my special skill. It doesn’t come from anywhere, I can just watch a video and be like, I think they’re moving their body like this.”
Terry has a planner’s mind. She talks about “progressions” in the dances. And giving “pre-cues.” Letting the students know when a movement is coming up, and which direction to head. Teaching parts of the choreography, then building on it. Having students feel success, she says, is one of the biggest rewards. But it’s not the only one.
“I think anyone that chooses to teach Zumba does it because it’s a passion of theirs,” says Noakes. “Not for the money.” A passion Terry fits in around watching her kids hatch praying mantises, and helping her son with school reports on Boeing.
“My degree is in vocal performance,” Hrncirik explains. “I sang at a lot of places before I had kids. But the thought of dancing in front of other people, it’s still intimidating to me!” Hrncirik studied ballet until the ninth grade, and performed as a cheerleader in middle school. Her house rings with music most of the year, from the quick beats of Zumba songs to choir rehearsals in her living room. Again, it was another mom who encouraged her to give teaching a shot.
“I was looking at Zumba songs on YouTube, and found one and was like, oh! They should totally do this song. So I went to [my instructor] and said, ‘Can you learn this song?’ And she goes, “No. But you can!”
Hrncirik rose to the challenge. Her story, along with Terry’s and Noakes’, is about women encouraging women. The power of taking a risk. The power of saying, “Yes, I can.”
Yes, you can.
Each of these women credits another for believing in them. For saying, “Yes, you can.” They were each brave enough to jump on that belief and go for it. Offering the free classes, and continuing to innovate and choreograph their way through cords and cables and computers during these shutdowns.
“It’s more than just dance,” says Noakes. “I think the unexpected surprise that may come from it, is the friendships that are formed, and the extra boost it can give people in their life. You don’t realize that when people walk through the door, what challenges they may be facing. And it gives them an opportunity to leave that stress behind them. Maybe it’s only because they’re so focused on what the steps are, and trying to learn the choreography in that progression, and to feel successful, that they’re able to escape whatever they have that’s weighing them down.”
Terry agrees. And says the physical benefits are real.
“It’s a world dance class. We do other things. Christina will get down on the ground and do mountain climbers. We all can do air jacks. It’s going to give you a great workout. There’s a lot of hidden fitness in it. We’re doing lunges and we’re doing side twists and so you’re getting abs and obliques, and I think people don’t think about the fitness side of it as much as, oh, it’s just fun. But that’s the secret of Zumba. You turn the music on and you forget that you’re working so hard.”
Noakes sees the value in working out, especially when all regular routines are shifted.
“This is something that’s so beneficial for me personally. I realized there are a lot of people in the same boat. Let’s just keep going because we don’t know when things will get back to the normal that it was.”
She calls her fellow instructors, and the students who attend her classes, “a family of friends that are irreplaceable. I think beyond creating that community environment, just taking away that stress for someone that, oh, I have to pay for this, this is the only way I will be able to have access to these things. It’s like, no. Leave that all behind. We are passionate about this. We know the fulfillment and joy that we get out of it, why not open that up to anyone?”
Terry believes the free classes she offers are a direct way to contribute to her community. She is also a certified sign language interpreter and has had to pause some of her free classes at times, to earn a living working with the hard of hearing. “But I always missed it. And I keep coming back to Duthie in particular, which is the free class, because that’s where I started. And so I feel like that’s my way to give back. This brought me on this whole journey which I could not be more grateful for.”
A journey that brought others in along the way. Welcoming. Zumba invites anyone of any ability to the dance floor.
An average day at Duthie Hill can bring between ten and fifty people. Each walking through the door with their own concerns from the outside world. Each no longer able to hear them, once the music starts. And that, for Hrncirik, adds to the joy.
“It’s a better workout than I thought it would be. The community and the friendships that you make? I wasn’t expecting that.”
These three entrepreneurs found a way to create content in an age of quarantine. Their enthusiasm, once shared on a dance floor, now comes through a computer screen.
Zumba, or its current iteration of Zoom-ba, is about community. A community these instructors feel strongly should continue, even while we are living with shutdowns. Until gyms and fitness centers reopen, you can sign-up to be notified of all classes currently offered by these instructors and more by clicking here.
When asked what they most look forward to, after the social distancing protocols end, each of the three women had the same answer.
Noakes put it best.
“I’m so excited to just hug someone!”