When you dance in a crowd

ZUMBA, the dance/fitness craze that makes feeling good fun

There’s a whole lot of shimmying, shaking and more going on. That’s because it’s Zumba time! And front and centre of this Latin dance-inspired fitness phenomenon on Prince Edward Island is Rita Sark of Rocky Point who, despite doing a back-to-back Zumbatomic class for children and a Zumba party session for adults, is still super stoked.

CORNWALL, P.E.I. — There’s a whole lot of shimmying, shaking and more going on.

That’s because it’s Zumba time!

And front and centre of this Latin dance-inspired fitness phenomenon on Prince Edward Island is Rita Sark of Rocky Point who, despite doing a back-to-back Zumbatomic class for children and a Zumba party session for adults, is still super stoked.

“I feed off the energy of the crowd. It’s amazing energy. People are screaming and sweating. It’s like a big dance party,” she says, laughing and swiping the perspiration from her brow.

From the very moment this longtime fitness instructor and weight trainer zoomed into the Zumba zone as P.E.I.’s first certified Zumba instructor almost three years ago, she’s been going full tilt with all things Zumba: the Zumbatomic class for kids and the Zumba party; Aqua Zumba, as well as boot camps, weight training circuits and more with Zumba elements tossed in for good rhythmic measure in each.

And she now not only teaches at the Gran Bahia Mayan Riviera complex in the Mayan Riviera in Mexico, but also arranges for other Zumba Zin instructors from all over the world to teach there on a weekly basis year-round as well in exchange for free all-inclusive accommodations.

“Zumba has definitely changed my life. The people I’ve met. I have friends from all over the world,” says Sark, who experienced Zumba firsthand in August 2009 when she was in Toronto for a fitness conference and had the opportunity to train with Zumba creator Beto Perez and Zumba fitness DVD personality Gina Grant.

“I was the first Zumba instructor on P.E.I. It’s funny, whenever I started the classes I only had the intention of teaching one class and it was solely for me, my sister and a friend. We all thought if a couple of people came it would be (great),” remembers Sark.

“We rented a space for one night and the first night I had 30 people and the second night — because I had to put in a second night — there were 50 and the biggest class I had might have been 150.”

Tracey MacLean of Cornwall started with Sark’s classes a few years ago and is now a certified Zumba instructor.

“The first time I went I was like ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t do this,”’ laughs MacLean, who is program and events co-ordinator for the town of Cornwall which hires Sark to present some Zumba classes.

“(But) as long as you’re moving and kind of moving to the music it doesn’t matter what you do. It’s just having fun. The energy from everybody else around you and everybody else’s excitement (motivates you).”

MacLean’s 10-year-old daughter, Hope, is in Sark’s Zumbatomic classes.

“The Zumbatomic is kind of a toned-down version of Zumba, so there’s not as much hip shaking and things like that. The kids are dancing and they’re having fun so they don’t even realize that it’s exercise. They’re just having a blast,” she says.

Jill Wakelin had lost 80 pounds before she started doing Zumba with Sark in the fall of 2009.

“I had lost the weight, but I didn’t know how I was going to keep it off.

“It’s harder to keep it off than to lose it,” she says.

Wakelin remembers her first class, which she left early due to her frustration at her lack of co-ordination.

“I never really danced at all in my life and I just didn’t think I could ever do it,” she says.

Upon reflection she decided to give it another go.

“I was definitely on the sidelines at first, but not for long. I just found it so exhilarating that I just moved up to the front and I got involved. I just wanted to do it more,” she says.

Within a few months Sark suggested Wakelin consider instructor training.

She is now a certified Zumba instructor and is co-ordinating classes at Holland College where she is a member of the faculty.

Wakelin continues to attend a number of Zumba classes locally, including Sark’s.

“I’ve tried it in one other country and in other provinces. Whenever I go anywhere travelling (I check it out). You could experience Zumba all over the world. It’s in 125 countries and 110,000 locations so anywhere I’ve travelled I’ve tried it,” she says.

“And every instructor is different. It’s a mixture of fitness and dance so some instructors are more focused on fitness and others are more dance focused.”

In May 2010 Anne-Marie Smith of Charlottetown was focused on finding a fitness alternative to shed some of the extra pounds she’d gained during her treatments for breast cancer.

“I was looking for a way to lose all that weight and get into the land of the living, as they say,” she says with a smile.

“(My friends and I) were just hooked (on Zumba) from Day 1. It was just fun and you lose yourself in the music and before you know it you actually are losing weight. I lost five inches (from my waistline) and 22 pounds. It was a really big part of my physical and mental recovery.”

Smith has also become a certified Zumba instructor.

“I’m all about setting goals these days and that was just a goal, something to do just for me and nobody else, a confidence booster and who knows, someday I may take it to the next phase,” she says.

Beverly Farrer of Cornwall was signed up with the Weight Watchers program a little more than two years ago when she added Zumba in as an exercise component.

“It doesn’t feel like exercise because it’s so much fun. You’re moving and there’s music. Rita makes it so much fun and enjoyable. And I’ve lost 80 pounds so far in 1 1/2 years,” she says.

To watch Sark today it’s difficult to imagine that the rhythm of Zumba did not come naturally to her.

“I had to really practise and do it and do it and do it. I don’t know what the heck they’re saying (in the songs), but I love it now … ” she says, beaming a broad smile.

“There are some exercise classes that you want to do and you just want to get down and dirty. But this is just pure fun. I have never in all my entire life seen a sea of so many smiling faces. It’s just plain ear-to-ear.”

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