Amy Palumbo-LeClaire has been writing articles and columns about local people and places for us for the last several years. Recently she became a certified Zumba instructor and we asked her to write about that fitness “craze,” as people’s thoughts turn to resolutions in the new year.
What exactly is Zumba? How would you best define it?
Zumba is a cardiovascular workout designed to uplift the spirit and bring forth a unique brand of fun by disguising fitness in dance moves. Zumba choreography (Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue and Reggaeton) is based on international and national rhythms. Zumba brings people together.
Do you have to be a dancer to Zumba?
No, you do not have to be a dancer. There are fitness variations incorporated into much of the choreography, which makes it easier, and more mainstream, to follow. The movements are also built on repetition, so the more you come to class and practice, the easier it is, as long as the playlist remains fairly consistent. It may help if you have a dance background, but it’s not necessary.
Is every Zumba class the same?
Not at all. Every class is as different at the personality of the instructor, which makes it that much more interesting. I would say that there’s a certain energy that typifies a Zumba class, but the instructor’s style and playlist make it unique.
Is Zumba considered a valid cardiovascular workout?
Most definitely, and backed by scientific and medical research. I’ve stretched with football players who refuse to come to my class because they know how fast and furious it can be.
What are the benefits of Zumba?
Aside from the obvious fitness benefits in regard to weight loss, endurance, cardio and core strength, there’s a huge spiritual gain, and I think that’s why so many people are hooked on it. Zumba is grounded in love. It’s forgiving, kind, and non-judgmental. One of the greatest rewards as an instructor is in seeing how it uplifts people for an hour. I tell my participants to concentrate more on the way the music makes them feel than striving to master steps right away. Every body type is different. Everyone moves at his or her own pace.
What prompted your decision to become a certified Zumba Instructor?
It crept up on me naturally, yet also as a vision that needed attention. I started researching the details for training, saw myself doing it, and made the rest happen. A lot of instructors have shared that Zumba has changed their life. I don’t think that it’s changed my life so much as it has shed light on an important piece of my creative journey. It’s another door that needed to be opened.
I grew up in Auburn, a Sally Johnson McDermott dancer, and was always passionate about music and movement, along with language and writing. As a first-generation Italian American, I grew up in an expressive, freedom-inspired home that had all of us getting through life with arguments, music and dance before we knew art therapy existed. I can still hear my father singing Yesterday by the Beatles, and see my mother jamming to Donna Summers while she battled housecleaning.
Auburn was not hugely diverse, so it was hard for me to fully express my heritage without feeling very different. I just wanted to have beautiful straight hair, fair skin, and freckles like everybody else, instead of being the darkest girl in class with spiral curls. And didn’t everyone eat dandelion salad?
Zumba binds differences and is practiced around the world. The older I get, the more I realize that we are all probably more alike than we are different. We all have the same basic need to connect, love, and be loved. Zumba allows me to be me, as different as that may be, while fostering important relationships.
What is your dance background?
From the age of ten through high school, I took jazz and ballet. I didn’t pursue it competitively or in college. I was an A student, and determined to get a real job. (That ship has since sailed). However, my heart has always pulled me back to dance opportunities, whether at the gyms I’ve belonged to, nightclubs, or academic programs.
One of my final projects during my master’s program at Lesley University was to choreograph and perform a dance. I was nine-months pregnant at the time and danced to “Life is Sweet” by Natalie Merchant. That song reflected my state of mind back then. Now, almost twenty years later, the songs I choose reflect where I’m at now. I think music passes through all of us at different phases of our lives. My fourth (unfinished) novel, “The Rhino Dance,” is a story about redemption and survival and the vital need to be true to oneself. The protagonist is an exotic dancer (more on that later).
During the last decade, I’ve enrolled in as many Zumba classes as possible while building my writing career, and got a strong feel for which Zumba styles I liked. I always knew I had the potential to teach, but never wanted to miss my son’s ball games. I think that’s just what Moms do. The decision to get certified last July 2018 bubbled up at just the right time. I was about to become an empty nester so it made sense to add on one more focus to my writing schedule.
What are some of your biggest challenges as a Zumba Instructor?
Not enough time in the day to dance for as much as I’d like to- ha ha.(em dash) Honestly, for me, the challenges are when the classroom technology doesn’t work properly. I want to offer the best class I possibly can. I’m also someone who expects to turn something on and know that it will work. When it comes to trouble-shooting problems, I’m at a severe loss. It was also difficult for me, early on, to follow a brand-style of dance. I’ve always been a road less traveled person. But I’ve found a happy medium by incorporating a few of my own dances, and just being really particular about the way I create my playlist. I had no idea there were so many volumes of dances to choose from via the ZIN network. Instructors can really “be themselves” by choosing and creating playlists that speak to them personally.
What is the best advice you can give to Zumba participants?
Try not to get caught up in the technical aspect and experience the class from the holistic standpoint of being joyful, learning something new, and stretching a bit from your comfort zone. Zumba blends our differences and, it’s so forgiving. I make mistakes all the time while I instruct, and the girls shake it off. They tell me they don’t notice. Music is transformative. It has such a unique effect on all of us. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Most importantly, have fun!
How intense are Zumba workouts?
I think the intensity depends on the instructor, playlist, and individual fitness levels. A goal of any cardio workout is to bring one’s heart rate up to burn calories but also provide adequate cool down and rest material. A good playlist has a strong grip on both.
What is your creative process in putting together your playlist?
I’ll try and offer up the short version here! I comb through choreography from volumes and volumes of ZIN (Zumba Instructor Network) playlists to find songs that I connect with and that I feel will inspire others as much as they do me.
Once I connect with a song, learning the choreography becomes an obsession. I practice watching the (ZIN) video for hours: writing the choreo down, learning the steps and making sure that I can independently repeat the dance by playing the song on my phone app (without watching the video) as though I’m teaching.
I also have surges of inspiration wherein I choreograph my own dances and intermittently cover stories, write, schedule interviews, and manage paperwork. I tend to obsess on dances until they’re out of my system in the same way I do stories to write or songs to sing (at dimly lit karaoke bars).
An important part of my process is accepting this need. It may seem like a frenetic process, but it’s actually quite deliberate. When I allow myself to indulge in these creative spurts, I’m better able to attack my work on an inspired level and accomplish more than I would otherwise, linear style. I’m extremely diligent about meeting work deadlines on all of my projects, but I need open spaces and freedom to accomplish something worth paying for.
I feel so blessed to have found a way to weave the three things that I love the most – writing, dancing, and teaching – into the fabric of my professional and personal life. I believe God has put people in my life who allow me the opportunity to do so. My faith drives me first and foremost.
Speaking of whom, there were so many “early believers” in my Zumba journey that deserve one massive group hug. Auburn’s Recreational Director, Kristen Pappas, has been such a caring leader, along with Andrew Lawton of Impact Fitness, Ashley Dean of Crunch Fitness, and Leah Santello of KRAVE Fitness.
My Venezuelan friend, Kyrenya McNamara, also shared with me so many authentic songs and danced by my side during summer campfires. I also need to thank some very loyal followers who make me want to wake up each morning to dance. Elaine, Jo, Linda, Lynn, Sue, Chrissy, Patty, Heather, Jean, Suzanne, Grace, Diane, Geraldine, Barbara, Donna and V – you are the best. Thank you to the band Dock 10 for putting up with my ever-present dances on the floor and to Padavano’s Restaurant (Shrewsbury Street, Worcester) for opening your doors to music. Thank you to my loving husband and best friend, Jim, for understanding my domestic impairment and allowing our kitchen to become a crazy dance hall.
Is there anything that sets your class apart from others?
Well, I think every Zumba class is so beautiful in its own way and unique in style and music. There have been so many unbelievable dances that others have done, yet when I try it, I feel clumsy, with two left feet. I’d have to say writing my own choreography and putting together a very balanced, emotive list makes my class special.
Plans for the future?
To dance in every sense of the word—for as long and as much as I’m able to. Oh, and to finish writing my novel, and continue with my column on my partner in crime, a Golden Retriever named Lincoln. I think it would be cool to be a ‘nobody’ on “Dancing with the Stars,” too.
Where are your classes held?
- Impact Fitness
- Auburn High School Fitness Room
- Auburn Senior Center
- KRAVE Fitness & Nutrition
Contact me for details and times. You can also view my classes on Facebook @Amy Palumbo-LeClaire or on my website:
BRING THE BELOW COUPON TO CLASS AND RECEIVE A FREE TRIAL
Contact me at