Finding joy in dancing!

Photo by Susan San Agustin

These days, joining a Zumba exercise class online has become a daily joy for 61-year-old Susan San Agustin. She can participate in classes with some of her favourite instructors from anywhere in her house – the living room, her bedroom – even outside in her backyard.

Fifteen million people were taking Zumba classes pre-pandemic every week around the world. When the pandemic lockdown began, exercise classes and gyms were shut down, halting all exercise classes, but it didn’t take long for instructors to adapt their method of teaching classes via the internet.  Participants are sent a unique link when they register for a class. It’s as easy as clicking on the link at the specified time to join the class. The class is taught live by the instructor and viewed on a computer, iPad or other devices.

“I’m able to do Zumba almost every day because it’s on zoom. I try to support the local Zumba instructors. There are about 3 or 4 and they all have different styles.” says San Agustin. “When I take a class, I call it my ‘happy hour’.”

Having the option to participate in Zumba classes online over the last 6 months has helped San Agustin keep a positive outlook while also keeping fit. Taking classes online also provides a feeling of connectedness to other Zumba enthusiasts.

If you haven’t heard of Zumba, it is the largest branded fitness community in the world. Founded in 1998 by Alberto Perez, an aerobics instructor in Cali, Colombia. The story goes that one day Perez forgot to bring his cassette tape of aerobic music to class, all he had was Latin dance music—salsa and merengue— so he taught the aerobics class to Latin music. It was a big hit and that was the birth of Zumba.

San Agustin tried her first Zumba class over 10 years ago. Other exercise classes were boring, (“I tried yoga, but it was too slow for me.”) but the energetic beat and variety of dance moves that Zumba offered kept San Agustin interested. She takes the modifications suggested by the instructors as needed and even does her own moves if needed. Her goal is to enjoy herself and the bonus is keeping fit and making friends.

“I love dancing, dancing is my thing. It’s like you’re not even exercising!” says San Agustin. “I think if I didn’t do Zumba I’d feel more pain [age related]. It keeps me healthy and I feel strong. If I don’t do Zumba I feel tired.”

San Agustin says that the endorphins her body produces during a Zumba class stay with her long after the class ends. It basically spills over into other areas of her life making her better equipped mentally and physically to handle daily stress.

“I met a group of ladies doing Zumba and we formed our own group. There are 12 of us that became very close because of Zumba. We all started to go to events together,” San Agustin says, “If there was something happening in the Zumba community we would all go as a group. We did an ovarian cancer walk followed by a Zumba class to raise money. The events usually have a theme  – for instance like the 60s or 70s – and we all dress up. And always do Zumba, of course!”

Zumba beckoned San Agustin to the South of France for a gathering of Zumba enthusiasts from around the world. It was an all-inclusive, 5-day Zumba retreat with lots of dancing, music and community. She even got to meet the founder of Zumba himself, Alberto Perez.

“They call him ‘Beto’ and he’s an amazing dancer…going to France was life-changing. The love that you get from being with like-minded people… because we share the same love for Zumba, is incredible. The joy that you get is so hard to explain – it’s powerful.” says San Agustin.

She seeks out a Zumba group wherever she travels.

“This is my Zumba group in Hawaii, “ San Agustin says pointing to a photo of a group of about 20 dancers, “Each time I return, I do Zumba with them. In the Philippines I have a Zumba group, too, we call ourselves Zoom Buddies. We actually won first prize in a Zumba competition together.”

“Since the lockdown, I don’t go to parties,” says San Agustin. “With Zumba, if you like to dance, it’s like going to a party every single day.”