Zumba for a Cause

Saturday fundraiser to benefit St. Jude
Feb. 22, 2013 @ 10:40 PM

The driving beat pounded out a rhythm the group of about 30 did their best to keep up with. But even if they didn't, that was OK — just as long as they kept moving.

The music was as varied as the group itself, ranging from hip-hop, to salsa to Greek and Russian folk dance music and from boot-scooting country to twisting 1950s rock 'n' roll. Teens, middle-agers and senior citizens all worked up a sweat in the Zumba class taught by Tia Williams at the Pigeon Forge Community Center.

According to the Zumba Fitness website, Zumba was introduced in 2001 as a new dance-fitness program inspired by Latin music. Williams said she started teaching it in Pigeon Forge four years ago, where it quickly became a popular class with sometimes 40-60 students taking part.

On Saturday, anyone who hasn't tried it, or anyone who can't help but feel the rhythm, can Zumba for as little or as much as they want during a three-and-a-half-hour period as part of a fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Donations will be accepted during the noon to 3:30 p.m. event at the Community Center. Those who don't want to work out can stop by and give a donation, Williams said.

But those who do decide to work out may find they will want to try it again because, Williams said, it seems to be addictive.

"I don't think I've ever seen anything catch on like Zumba," she said. "Everybody just loves it. Zumba's kind of like, I don't know, it's a passion thing. You can get hooked on it."

Carol Coats, one of the older exercisers in the group that met Tuesday night, has been taking Zumba classes for the last two years after agreeing to attend with her dancer-daughter.

She was apprehensive at first. "I haven't danced a lot," she said. After about a month she felt more comfortable.

"Because everybody can do it at their own pace, whatever they want to do," Coats said. "Some people very energetically, some just moving. All you have to do is want to move."

When she fell during a recent ice storm, she was able to get back on her feet quicker than she expected. She credits Zumba for providing her the strength and flexibility that helped her recover more quickly.

Zumba also gives her more energy, she said. Employed by Nantahala Outdoor Center in Gatlinburg, Coats said she spends about eight hours a day on her feet.

"But once you do this, you're re-energized," Coats said.

She encourages other senior citizens to check with the doctor and then look into taking an exercise class like Zumba so that they can keep moving.

"It's like we say, we're at the age where if we don't use it, we lose it," said Sylvia Jean Large, a classmate of Coats.

"It's exercising without even knowing you're exercising," Williams said. "It's just fun."

Williams said every instructor is different. "In my class I break it down where you do not have to have rhythm, you do not have to do anything, as long as you can stand there and move your feet it's good."

While the craze got its start with Latin-inspired music, you'll hear a bit of everything in Williams' classes.

"Now for our area, the one think I do differently is, I have every generation," she said. "I do ’60s and I do disco. I do heavy metal; I'll do some AC/DC. I'll do anything."

On Tuesday night the songs ranged from Latin beats to Russian and Greek folk songs. The Greek folk song started out slowly with Williams calling out the steps: Kick, cursty, kick. Then the music got progressively faster. Those who could keep up and do the steps did just that; those who couldn't would kick and skip the curtsy.

"You do what you want to," Williams said. "Some things you'll like, some you won't."

What she has noticed in teaching Zumba classes is that at the end of the one-hour session, many of the students could keeping going.

"It is the one class I will say, of everything that I've taught — I've taught for probably 12, 14 years — that you look back and they're not ready for it to be over," she said. "They're ready to go. That's the only class, ever, they're still having fun. They're relaxed, not stressed. They're just in their own zone."

Williams teaches Zumba at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 6 p.m. Thursdays at Pigeon Forge Community Center. You don't have to be a member of the center to join the class. A day pass for the center is $5 for Sevier County residents.

Saturday's event for St. Jude is open to everyone.