Come on and zumba, zumba, zumba, Zoom!

Story by Jeannie Stone

“Ok, ladies, nobody’s watching. Let’s dance,” Joyce Baker sings to her class of 14 students at the Fitness for Her facility on Main Street in Russellville. ‘Dance’ is a mild word to describe the hip-swaying, hypnotic blend of Latin and African moves Baker leads the enthusiastic group through during the course of an hour. This is Zumba, and it has taken hold in the River Valley.

“I want to see some kicking, ladies,” Baker shrills. “Good job. Alright, time for a little salsa. Basic movies but add your arms then, freeze, then back, back. Get your hips in there. Up, up,up. Take it straight back. One, two, three. Yes!”

Baker, a training manager for Conagra Frozen Foods, moved to Russellville from Nashville, Tenn., in June with her husband Corey. It didn’t take long for her to miss teaching her Zumba class at Baptist Hospital in the music city.

“I taught the early morning class for the third shift nurses,” she said. “I loved it. Zumba is a lot of fun. If we can get people to come one time they’re hooked. It’s all about getting folks to move. You’re actually burning a lot of calories,” Baker said.

Baker, who is originally from Tampa, had enjoyed creative dance during her youth and taught teens interpretive dance but was unfamiliar with the Zumba craze until her daughters invited her to a class in Tampa during a visit.

“Oh, I thought it was so much fun,” Baker said — so much fun that she jumped in with both feet and earned her certification in a weekend workshop. To stay certified she attends refresher workshops.

“There’sneveranytroublefindingonetogo to,” she said. “They’re all over the place now.”

All over the place is a good way to refer to her class.

“Cut the sugarcane, ladies. Get the blade up and cut, cut, cut,” Baker shouted as she mimed the movements. You definitely need room to zumba.

“Now, stomp your foot and stir that soup,” she instructed. Stirring a pot of soup became an aerobic.

“It’s exercise disguised by dance,” long- time Zumba devotee Dixie Jackson said. Originally from Russellville, she recently moved back from Alabama.

“I was so thrilled when I hear about Joyce starting up a class here. I won‘t stay with the other exercise stuff,” she added. “But this, I’ll do.”

Making it fun is the key to a successful workout regimen according to Baker.

“One of my dearest friends in Tennessee is a big girl. Zumba has helped her lose about 90 pounds. She is teaching 10 classes a week, and she’s really in shape now. One hour of Zumba will burn off 300 – 500 calories.”

Baker met a Zumba master trainer at a workshop who told her she used to weigh over 300 pounds.

“She’s still a big girl today although she‘s lost a lot of weight,” Baker said. “I was amazed at how she could move. But she loved to dance, and that was her ticket to a healthier life.”

A brochure states, “The routines feature interval-training sessions where fast and slow rhythms and resistance training are combined to tone and sculpt your body while burning fat. Add some Latin flavor and international zest into the mix and you’ve got Zumba!”

As the boogie woogie strains of The Candyman blared from the boom box, everyone cheered. They were obviously familiar with the number. The beat reminded Baker that she had brought props today and hurriedly shared the bright boas which burst from a brown sack.

“We’re going to dance with attitude today.”

Baker also brought homemade gifts for the students, bandanas emblazoned with Zumba Diva in silver lettering.

“Ya’ll are going to think I’m Martha Stewart,” Baker said and laughed. That would be Martha Stewart on funky steroids.

In her spare time, Baker likes to read, write and “get outdoors.” She also teaches cultural diversity for Phoenix University, an online college.

“Merengue is kind of slow,” she told the class before the next number. “It will give you a chance to catch your breath.” Then the lively music started and Baker said, “Well, a little slow.” She flashed a devilish smile over her shoulder.

Kathleen Likely, a new member of the class gushed, “I love it. I’ve only taken for two weeks, but it’s awesome.”

Shannon Waddoups, owner of Fitness for Her recalled when Baker first offered her services.

“She just called me on the phone, and I have to be honest, I’d never heard of Zumba, so my employees went online and checked it out. They told me I better get her before somebody else did. It’s been very exciting.”

Baker has her sights set on earning Zumba Gold – a level of certification which would qualify her to work with senior citizens.

“My middle daughter just got married, and she told me that, at some point I was going to have to start acting like a grandmother,” she said with a laugh.

“I’m 57 years old,” Jackson said, “but when I dance I feel 18 again.”

Who ever said grandmothers couldn’t have fun?

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