Teraji: This isn’t your grandmother’s dance class

Ruben Lopez and Nancy Headley instruct a Zumba class Thursday at the Gillroy Senior Center.

“I just let the music come from my soul; it don’t matter if you’re young or you’re old. Down, down, do your dance, do your dance.”

A popular line dance known as the “Cupid Shuffle” brought everyone to their feet Thursday the Gilroy Senior Center on Hannah Street, where seniors dance for an hour after lunch every week.

As I watched, a woman in turquoise slacks limped out onto the open space of the recreation room and began dancing to the beat of the music. Suddenly her limp was magically gone as she began to move with enthusiasm in a group of 20 seniors whose ages ranged from 55 to 85.

As the smile never left her face, she seemed to grow younger before my very eyes. The group does a type of exercise known as “Zumba,” which is a fun way to stay in shape and is popular with all ages.

Nancy Headley’s red, white and blue sequined baseball cap with its proud “USA” logo across the front never stops bobbing up and down as she leads the dancers in many different rhythms and incorporates choreography intended to give every part of the body a great work out.

Headley, proud mom of Gilroy Marine William Headley, found the exercise of Zumba helped to relieve the stress she felt while her son was away on dangerous missions in Afghanistan. One of Gilroy’s foremost experts on Zumba, she volunteers her time at the Gilroy Senior Center where she leads Zumba classes for free. Her efforts as an instructor are so appreciated, she is now in demand to lead Zumba at Rebekah Children’s Services and for Kaiser Permanente in Gilroy.

Her assistant leader is the very fit 23-year-old Ruben Lopez, a local fitness instructor who also teaches Zumba.

“We’re a team,” he said. “Last week at Gilroy Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center, some people were less mobile, so I told Nancy, ‘Throw some arms in the air.’ We added a lot of arm movements. They were all so happy!”

If motions are too challenging for some, Headley always gives alternate ideas as an option for doing the exercises. She helps tutor everyone, explaining any choreography that might be slightly more complicated.

“It’s really not hard,” Lopez said. “It’s all just steps which we show you, and once you get the steps, then you add flavor.” 

It was Virginia Ruiz’s idea to add Zumba to the Senior Center, where she coordinates numerous volunteer efforts. Zumba has allowed her to stay vital and cope with the grief of becoming a widow three years ago.

“I was sitting at home alone,” she said. “But now I coordinate activities here. We have nutrition education and special birthday recognitions, and I hope to have a Bible study in the future.”

All of the dances are done to festive and lively music, allowing for the incorporation of different dance styles from all over the world. Zumba has something for everyone.

One of the clear genre favorites the Senior Center is country, for which the Zumba moves resemble a combination of square and line dancing influences.

Who couldn’t help but smiling while exercising to one particular country song by Luke Bryan, who sang: “Come on now, you know you got everybody looking. Shake it for the birds, shake it for the bees, shake it for the catfish swimming down deep in the creek. Spin me around this big ole barn, tangle me up like grandma’s yarn.”

Everyone began picking up the pace and smiling a little broader.

“It’s a lot of fun!” and “I love this!” are comments from the dance floor as Headley encourages the group to keep going. The group does moves that help with flexibility and maintaining good balance; something important for seniors whose most common injuries are sustained in falls.

“Almost done,” Headley calls out, followed by a big “Ha Yah!”

Zumba is multiculturally popular and brings everyone together with the universal language of music. In Gilroy, the style of dance brings English and Spanish speakers together and erases any barriers as everyone just has fun together.

As I prepared to leave the Senior Center on Thursday, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and as I turned to see who it was, participant Maria Elena Fernandez was saying to me, “You come next week? Oh wait, that’s Thanksgiving. I see you in two weeks!”

Her enthusiasm is contagious and uplifting. Watching the seniors Zumba is inspiring and makes me feel like I can get up and dance!     

All seniors are welcome to sign up for Zumba on Thursdays at the Gilroy Senior Center from 12:30 to 1:30.    

Email Kat Teraji at [email protected]

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