There’s Hope

Still riding high from this weekend’s visit with a ZIN Jammer from Connecticut. Jenny Kraus is super cute energetic and had some great routines for us.

It was just the thing needed for this morning. Today, Lori and I are heading out to meet with the folks from Dragonheart and Survivorship Now to talk about Zumba Gold classes. I’m totally honored, humbled and happy to have this chance. Game on today!!

Happy 1st Anniversary

So it is almost a year I have been leading Zumba Fitness classes. When I started this journey 2 years ago, I didn’t expect it would take a year to feel ready to have my own class. To start out with I would volunteer to teach in a women’s prison. Or maybe not. Diane Felkenes came to Vermont just about 11 months ago.

And she rocked my world. I wanted to teach an athletic chair class, would open it to seniors and survivors . 30 minutes of Latin and world music. An occassional piece by Belefonte…but mostly feel good AfriBolliCaribaxe. Music from the places, sharing another side of joy. Most of my music is around joy and feeling uplifted.

Now I teach 2 classes on my own… On seated and one standing, I help with a third, I’ve worked some large events, cohosted Diane Felkenes.

All the while, I’m not getting paid. White it would be nice to make back trainings and insurance cost I work in a tough spot. Some weeks these women have nothing to spare. $3.75 seems too much for full turkey dinner with all the fixings. It means less of something else…. Maybe toilet paper. I can’t ask people to make those kinds of choices…,I’d rather they were in class free of worry about where the money comes from.

On a big week I make $10-15 teaching an 8-10 person class. I give it all back to the senior center who is also coins money. My initial training was paid for and this lets me give back to the community.

I love the boys (4 years old), men and women of class. They make me smile even in Grmpy Gus Grove days.

Building confidence, teaching skills and changing lives…

About 5 years ago, Tiffany Bluemle and Vermont Works for Women entered my world. I was part of a small group that was partnered with VWW for a 6 month Leadership Project.

I was an administrative assistant taking part in a community leadership program, hell bent on never hearing that I had no leadership skills in an interview ever again.

I fell in love with the VWW organization and their vision. I even swore that one day I would work there.

We finished the project… And passed of our research, marketing ideas, etc. Time passed. As I prepared to leave a job I’d been in for almost 10 years, it was Tiff I was talking to. I needed out of the job I was in. But in talking with her, I knew I was doing the right thing.

I moved on to another job, but stayed in touch occasionally. By now I had joined the TB admiration society.

After about a year and a half at the new job things fell apart. Horrifically. I was depressed. Angry. Suicidal. things at home were chaos. A longtime friend had moved in with us on his return from serving in Iraq. I was a wreck, and there was absolutely no stability in my world.

I quit my job. Left with my head low, my spirits lower, and no clue what was next. It took about 3 weeks to work up the nerve to call Tiff. We’d do lunch.

At that point, I was in a total free fall. But just sitting there and listening over Ginger Iced Tea… I felt a little more alive. Still broken and not sure what was next, but certain that there WAS a next.

About a month later, she called. Their Development Director was leaving, could I temp for about 6 weeks? Hell yeah!

It’s now two years later, and while there have been days that I’ve left sad angry or drained…. They are days, not months on end. I find myself with each passing day loving the women I work with, their faith – in me, in the participants, in the greater community, their vision.

I feel like a walking testimonial to those very words we chose to describe what we do: building confidence, teaching skills, changing lives.

VWW, and more specifically, Tiff have really transformed my world – there is more joy, more laughter and more belief in hope.

I find myself believing in myself more. In little steps, rediscovering my physical voice. Testing edges and trying again to find my role in this collective of fiercely compassionate women. Wanting to learn the edges and boundaries. Wanting to work on speaking…and being not just heard but understood. Right now… I am my biggest stumbling block, but I feel ready to take it one. I know that there is support and respect and they are genuine.

At the end of the day, I realize how comfortable I am. I have a job doing what I love, with people I deeply respect and admire. And I am scared shitless about messing it up… I stand on the edge, and know that I have wings, that I have the will to fly…. If I just have faith.

Tomorrow’s the first in a string of BIG days

So tomorrow is it – the first time I teach a Zumba Gold ® class on my own.  I’ve done a sone here, and a song there, and been working long and hard on this.  The journey has not been without its share of potholes along the way. 

I’m certain that there will be great joys and great moments of OOOOOPS that happen tomorrow along the way – but it will be a day surrounded by friends and family in one 45 minute class. 

As of tonight – there is one song that just has my brain cramped but by tomorrow it will either be learned – or ad libbed!

Getting My Zumba® Gold Class and Journey Going

It’s been a long, cold winter here in Vermont – and it’s not over yet.  But things are definitely heating up in my world.  I’ve been renting space in a local studio to practice routines and choreography for my Zumba® Gold Class that will be starting in late March. 

It’s feeling more real with each passing day.  A couple of weeks ago I went through the training to volunteer inside the Correctional Facility.  I’ve ordered my sound system and an iPod Nano (can’t take iPhones inside!).  I’ve been working on my music, my cuing and most importantly – my nerves. 

I’ve got a set of music I love.  I hope that the women in the facility feel the same way.  It’s all fun, sassy, lively music.  I’ve got choreography/routines created for all except the cool down song.  While I know what I want for the cool down – I haven’t yet found the “one hot step” for it.  I know it will come.  It always does if the music is right!

At the same time, one of the other local instructors and a truly good friend, Lori Preiss and I are working on bringing a Zumba Jammer to Vermont for a weekend of master classes for students and Zumba instructors.  Lori’s been a day to day personal inspiration and cheerleader to me and I can think of no one else that I would rather be working on this project with.

This fall we travelled to take a class with Diane Felkenes in Massachussetts and came back with an amazing wealth of information, lots of laughs and a few sore muscles.  We talked length of the whole ride back…”We’ve got to get her to VERMONT!”  And so, with the support of OUR own instructor Allison Dincecco (who also is a Zumba Jammer), we’ve taken the initiative to bring her here. 

The capstone of the weekend?  The FIRST EVER Zumba Gold® Master Class.  Zumba Gold targets the largest growing segment of the population: baby boomers. It takes modifies the moves and pacing to suit the needs of the active older participant, as well as those just starting their journey to a fit and healthy lifestyle. What stays the same are all the elements the Zumba Fitness-Party is known for: the zesty Latin music, like salsa, merengue, cumbia and reggaeton; the exhilarating, easy-to-follow moves; and the invigorating, party-like atmosphere.

Diane has said, “My most current passion is to create Zumba programs for rehabilitation facilities and retirement homes for both staff and residents. I believe that the Zumba program is the perfect solution to the challenges of living under inactive conditions and I am happy to share my ideas with everyone!”

We’re excited to learn and laugh and sweat a lot with Diane!

Starting the next steps of the ZUMBA Fitness Journey!

So…about a year ago this time, I was quaking in my winter boots and preparing to celebrate my 40th birthday.  Not with friends or family, but mostly – with a jam packed weekend for of fitness nuts at the local spa.  3 days of Zumba.  What WAS I thinking?  I couldn’t even make it through an hour long class!  A two hour master class?  Strip Hop?  Aqua Zumba?  Was I nuts?

Fast forward a few months – and I’ve fallen madly in love with the people in classes, made new friends, and want to learn the modifications and underpinnings of Zumba.  Thanks to Prilosec’s Official Sponsor of Everything You Want to Be grants, I got licensed in Zumba Gold.

I started learning what goes into a good routine…a good class…a good instructor.  It’s not just about dance, it’s not just about fitness.  There are so many more aspects to being a GOOD Zumba instructor.

I’ve created a few routines of my own, and brought them to local Zumbathons raising money for various non-profits. 

And I want to keep challenging myself to grow and learn and teach in this.  Not necessarily as a premanent instructor in a gym, tho.  Maybe subbing for someone on vacation…maybe just songs here and there in a class.  I’ve just completed my background check information and will actually start some classes locally, hopefully this spring.  I need to do additional training to work in the facility, need to do my first aid and CPR…and most importantly, need to work on creating that first set list and getting it down. 

The nerves are kicking in and I’m really excited about trying this.  I’m crossing my work and personal worlds.  In my day-to-day life, I work for Vermont Works for Women, who offer programming inside the Northwest State Correctional Facility.  By night I am a crazy ZUMBA Fitness fanatic. 

This is my chance to pay the Prilosec grant forward. I think it could be great for me, and for the women I’d be working with.  I want to do it well, I want to be able to hold my head high and know that I’ve made me and all the others along the road with me proud. 

The hardest part will not be the choreography, nor learning the music.  I know my challenges – my body and my mind.  Need to work on bringing the best me I can.  To acknowledge the voice in my head that still says, “You’re fat – you can’t do this” and tell it basically – STFU and watch me.  To bring not my size by my joy to the room.  To bring my fear, but more importantly, my heart to the table and DANCE like no one is watching. 

Here’s to the next year and the continuing journey ahead.

Give Love

It’s nearing Christmas, and I’m thankful for so many things in the past year…but most importantly, the face that I really have come to a space that is happier and healthier. 

“What we give is what we get…” sings MC Yogi in his song Give Love.  He’s not talking about the presents under the tree, swapped around a menorah or while celebrating other significant events.  He’s talking about love and giving it away.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the love and support of my friends and family in both my work and personal life. 

About a year ago, I started working as a temp at Vermont Works for Women.  I’m proud to say that I am now there permanently.  We’re a small, passionate, and I have heard many staff call ourselves “scrappy” organization dedicated to helping women and girls really understand that anything is possible.  They’ve helped me personally and I cannot measure the pride that working here gives me.

During the course of the year, I got a grant from Prilosec to become their Official Zumba Student.  They’ve helped with funding for licensure and training, and with their support I am now licensed to teach ZUMBA and ZUMBA Gold. 

I’m taking the passion for ZUMBA and going to cross it with my love for the work our staff do to help women believe and going to do classes for some of the women we work with.  Who would have thought that this oversized, undertall, used-to-have-to-go-to-Montreal-to-dance soul would ever come to LOVE doing something like this so much that I would be teaching a dance fitness class?? 

I have been given hope and wings by all the folks who have believed in me this year – and I thank you all.

Pay It Forward with Prilosec

A little less than a week ago I got to be a part of a very special Zumba event.  Allison, one of the local Zumba Fitness instructors had put together a “Party In Pink” to raise funds for the Susan B. Komen for the Cure Foundation.  It was a great night with more than 80 people grooving out to help wipe out breast cancer.

It was a special night in many ways.  #1 – we were all dancing for a GREAT cause.  Breast cancer has touched sooo many people’s lives.  Mine too.  Me, I had brought along Sue, my Best Woman from our wedding and herself a survivor.  We danced and danced and got a little funky in honor of the survivors in our lives and in memory of those who were not there to party with us.

I thought of the various women I knew who had fought and won…Sue… Evergreen… Selchie…  And I thought about Midge who passed away this summer.  I’m glad that Zumba has taken this on as something that they would like to make a difference in. 

I’m glad to be able to take my passion and use it for something like this as often as I can. 

Live Free and Zumba

I am still beaming from a conference held earlier this week and it’s feeding my soul tonight as I sit here in New Hampshire.  Vermont Works for Women held it’s 12th annual Women Can Do! conference this Wednesday.  Over 300 young women from across Vermont came together for a day to explore careers that are not considered traditional for women.  To see a high school girl teaching how to use a chain saw…girls using plasma cutters…fixing bikes…changing tires…driving major machinery was such an amazing day.  The sentiment really permeated the air – girls and women really can do anything that they set their mind to.

Tonight, three of friends from Vermont have made the trek to Manchester, NH and will be joined by a fourth in the morning for Zumba instructor training.  Of the four of us, I’m the only one that has done one of the classes previously (Zumba Gold).  I’m just as nervous tonight as I was that night in June. 

The only difference – tonight I know it is just nerves.  In June it was a deep seated fear.  What if I’m not good enough?  You’ve already done it, chimes my brain.  But I can’t do the destroza like Lori.    And? 

I have to remember that this is just another step along the way.  It doesn’t mean I become a master in a day.  That I’m going to rush out and open a studio.  It’s another piece of becoming better at something I love and understanding it (and me) just that much more.

Tomorrow I take Zumba Basic I…and it will be another challenging day physically and emotionally.  But this time, I have something I didn’t in June.  A lot more pride and confidence, and friends who will be there with me.

We’ve Only Just Begun

*phew* It’s Monday night, and sounds football fill the room.  This means I made it through the weekend, and I lived to tell the tale.  Well…really more than just lived.  This weekend was filled with all sorts of excitement for me, and I think that I’ll be trying to let it all sink in for days!

ZUMBATHON For Spectrum Youth and FamiliesThe weekend started with a fundraiser for a local non-profit organization working with teens.  Before this day, I had only led one song in one class.  Sure I had helped on songs with people, but this was totally different.  Knocking knees and all.  This meant standing up.  On a stage.  In front of a group of people.  AND – trying to get them to do what I was doing.  I was nervous as heck.  My mind was pulling out every reason that someone could decide that I was not fit to be up there…I’m not a dancer…who the heck am I to try and choreograph something…  What WAS I thinking.

But, the first song of the event came and went.  I was dancing on the stage following behind someone else leading a routine.  The second third and fourth passed by.  Just before me, Lori kicked her routine out of the park.  It was great to see her smiling, having fun, and people following her cues. 

My music started and my heart briefly just stopped.  And then something happened.  My arms and legs took over and started moving.  “Hey you, you’ve only listened to this song 187 times in the past two weeks…you’ve been doing choreography in your car for just as long…GO!!!!” 

And I did it!  I did not get lost and had an absolute ball.  I could hear people from the classes I regularly take yelling and hooting and hollering along with me…I could see the two people who came from work out there boogying…and to my right I could see Lori and Jess dancing away and smiling. 

Somewhere out there my husband was taking photos…I saw the camera out there and for one of the few times in my life thought “YEAH, this is gonna be on film, wahoo!”

And hour and a half later, lots of dancing, and one shirt change…I was back at it again.  This time with a stronger routine, a tired but totally pumped audience, and a stage FULL of local ZUMBA instructors. 

I had three ladies up there that had learned the routine previously so we just went and knocked it out!  Thank you Jessica for joining me and being part of this journey.  Your grace and presence inspire me to keep putting myself out there…even if I’m not sure I can.

I felt strogner, prouder and just went out there and did the best darned routine I could.  People were singing along and having a ball.  More importantly, so was I.I was so excited and proud to have done it…and done it well.  Oh yeah – the Purple lady was awfully grateful to be able to say and believe, “I did good!”

We raised over $1700 dancing and shaking our tassels for Spectrum. 


So as if a 2 hour Zumbathon weren’t enough, the next morning, Lori and I hopped in the car and headed almost 4 hours south to Worcester, Massachussetts for a Super Duper Mega Monster Master class with Regina and Diane, two ZUMBA instructors who are amazing women.  They not only teach their own classes, but help teach others how to become better instructors.

When I had heard that Diane was going to be nearby (relatively!) I knew I had to go.  Reading her posts and writings on the Zumba discussion boards, I had gotten soooooo much from her.  My instructor, Allison, told me that I would just adore them both, but that I had to meet Diane. 

She was soooooo right!

I feel like I could try to write a book about what that day held for me.  I will leave it at – we were there in the front row representing Vermont, Allison, and I was flying the Prilosec Official flag on the car and sporting my tshirt with pride!

We did Zumba, we talked, we laughed.  OH HOW WE LAUGHED!  Diane floored me.  She had that room rapt.  From the quietest comments to the BOOMING BASS and “KEEP GOING!”  she had us working up a sweat and smiling and wanting more – all at the same time.  A hallmark of a great class!

Regina rocked it out and I found myself loving her variations on some of the pieces presented.  She just brought it to a level for the “regular folks”  – like me — who aren’t dancers, but want to have fun fun fun while sweating.  As the Zumba motto goes, “Ditch the workout, Join the party!”

Afterwards, we talked for a bit…I had my picture taken with her (I truly felt like I was hanging out with royalty!) and she made me promise to write and share more of my Zumba story and journey than I could then and there. 

As I waited for Lori to come back out from her shower after class, I sat there in the gym…watching people pack up from class and the tears were just rolling down my cheeks.  I just felt so proud and humble and most importantly grateful.  For the friendship with the women I work out with each week…the patience and support of my husband…

I’m not sure what’s next, but I know after this weekend… that even if it is only helping out with fundraisers and Zumbathons…there really is a place for me in the big ole Zumba Fitness family!