Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features >  Washington Voices

Popular Zumba class takes root with seniors

Evelyn Anderton takes part in a Zumba class at the East Central Community Center.  (Colin Mulvany)
Evelyn Anderton takes part in a Zumba class at the East Central Community Center. (Colin Mulvany)

Participants as old as 102 enjoy international grooves, workout

When Kathy Armstrong took a Zumba class through the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, she immediately fell in love with the fast-paced, energizing exercise program. “It was so fun!” she said.

Armstrong, recreation supervisor at the East Central Senior Center, decided to bring Zumba to the over-60 set. Zumba combines Latin, salsa and reggae music with easy-to-follow dance moves. The popular fitness program has legions of followers throughout the nation.

“I got certified to teach it,” Armstrong said. “But I modified the program for seniors.”

Zumba has proved to be a big hit at the senior center. Armstrong said, “They tell me they like it better than more traditional aerobics.”

On Friday morning, participants eagerly awaited the start of class. Mary Anne Heitner, 83, a self-described “couch potato,” said Zumba helps her with balance issues. “Kathy keeps it interesting,” she said. “We do stuff with scarves. I like the Latin stuff.”

Rosemary Wailiula agreed. “I like the music and the fun.” She especially enjoys the salsa moves. “I’ve got the rhythm. I’m good at that.”

Armstrong encourages the seniors to go at their own pace. Ninety-year-old Beulah Townsend said, “She says we don’t have to do it like she does, but I like to try.”

Learning Zumba is good for more than just the body. “It keeps your mind moving, too!” said regular participant Yvonne Beldin.

Armstrong explained, “It’s using different parts of the brain to remember the moves, the timing and the music.”

Giving the motions descriptively fun names helps participants retain them. For example, when Armstrong calls out, “Little fish,” “monkey” or “brush your hair,” the group knows exactly what to do.

As the catchy beat of “Gasolina” sounded throughout the room, dozens of folks gathered around a large circle of chairs. The song is a class favorite, though Townsend lamented, “I can’t snap my fingers anymore!”

Some seniors remained seated during the class, while others used the chairs for balance or support. Armstrong ensures that everyone can do as least some, if not all of the moves.

Patricia Coley appreciates the modifications. “I have MS,” Coley said. Still, she enjoys her regular Zumba workouts. “It’s mind over matter,” she said. “I love this – it helps my arms and my legs.”

After warming up with “Gasolina,” Armstrong led the group in a spirited version of “Bora Bora.” As the drums thumped out a distinctive rhythm, she reminded the group about the story the song tells. “Remember? A man finds his wife cheating. Bora Bora means ‘Get away! Remove yourself from my face!’ ”

Smiles and laughter filled the room as folks stomped their feet and waved “jellyfish arms” toward each other.

Next, helpers handed out colorful scarves. The seniors waved the scarves over their heads and from side to side as the Bollywood strains of “Say Na” echoed. Hips shimmied, toes tapped, and heads nodded in time to the infectious beat.

When Armstrong instructed the class to take a seat for cool down, Willie Earthman, 102, objected. “I just got here!”

Teaching the class has inspired Armstrong. She said, “I’ve been amazed by how much they can do.”

Jack Engstrom, 86, revealed his secret. “I think young all the time,” he said. “That’s the key.”