Pescadero’s Zumba classes are the happiest workouts on the coast. Here, the Latin-inspired dance workouts have a cult following; twice a week, classes are often so full that you might have to search for a spot to dance in the multipurpose room of the elementary school.
It’s easy to understand the program’s success. Each hour-long workout is an adrenaline joy-fest soaked in feel-good endorphins. Not just because it feels good to dance, but because of Puente’s dynamite teaching pairs: Erika Vera and Arcelia Arenas on Tuesdays, Gaby Flores and Lisa Sumano on Thursdays. Both classes are held at 6 p.m.
In their hands, Zumba isn’t just a hardcore workout. It’s also really, really fun. Just spend one song with Zumba instructor Erika Vera. Five minutes into a hot salsa number with a seemingly endless choreographed series of jumping jacks, lunges, air jumps and sidekicks, she can’t stop smiling.
Neither can fellow instructor Arcelia Arenas. The two women project raw strength and enthusiasm. They do 15 squats in a row with their hands clasped in front of them. The harder the routine, the wider they beam at their students.
The song stretches on for ten minutes. Twelve. It seems like it may never end. The women who came for a workout are flushed as they fight to keep up. But they’re grinning too. When the routine is finally over, everyone’s panting hard. Then: they cheer. They throw back some water and get ready for the next number. They can’t wait for what’s next. They want more.
That’s when Arcelia Arenas knows she’s done her job.
“I like to watch the women, to see in their faces that they’re happy,” says Arenas, who has been leading Zumba classes alongside Vera for several years. “That’s when we think the sacrifice of practicing… and practicing… that song was really worth it.”
Puente’s four extraordinary instructors will receive Puente Outstanding Volunteer Awards at its annual Fall Harvest Fundraiser, on September 20 at Harley Farms. (You can join in the celebration by purchasing a ticket here).
“I call them our Zumba ‘queens’ because they own it. They come early, they plan all their songs, and they stay in fashion. They’re so creative. If they could be doing Zumba all day, they would,” says Rita Mancera, Deputy Executive Director of Puente. Mancera herself taught Zumba back in 2012, when Puente introduced the group exercise to Pescadero. But Mancera says today’s instructors take the initiative to go beyond.
The four women differ in profession, personality, and in musical tastes in their classes – some prefer salsa or cumbia, a sound that originated in Colombia, and others hip-hop. One is a student, another a farm worker, another accountant and the fourth a homemaker. For them, Zumba represents a tremendous commitment that extends far beyond just coming to class.
They have memorized hundreds of songs between them, with accompanying choreographies, some of which they’ve created themselves. On their own time, between work and family commitments, they practice dancing – in their kitchens, bedrooms and backyards – until each dance sequence is memorized.
To accommodate demand, Puente recently added a new class at the La Honda Elementary School on Wednesdays at 5 p.m., run by Siobhan Togliatti, Puente’s newest fitness instructor. And during the school year Zumba Kids has been offered through Puente since September last year, on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. at Pescadero Elementary.
Puente offers childcare during Zumba classes, so that parents—primarily mothers— who can focus on their workout for an hour. Classes are affordable, at just $3.
Vera and Arenas even go so far as to dress the same for class. They shop together for their outfits and spend hours on the phone, deciding what to wear. Vera is a sewing whiz and enjoys adding glittery embellishments and stylish tailoring to clothes she finds in shops or on the online Zumba store. They have dressed as matching cowgirls and superheroes. Sometimes they even coordinate mid-class costume changes—such as a cowboy outfit for the “ranchero” song.
On an early June evening, the two instructors arrive for their class in hip matching black-and-white track suits with shiny silver high-tops and white pageboy caps with sequins sewn into the brim. Vera shakes her colorful Zumba bracelets, which have little bells on them.
“We came up with the crazy idea to dress alike, to make the class more fun,” she says. “Now we’ll never stop.”
“We’ve become addicted to Zumba,” affirms Arenas. “There is no cure. Even if I have to come with a wheelchair when I’m older, I’ll do it.”
Lisa Sumano, who teaches alongside Gaby Flores, can attest to the somewhat obsessive nature of Zumba. The 29-year-old works in accounting at Jacobs Farm / Del Cabo in Pescadero and originally started attending Zumba when she was 25, as a way to help her shed the weight she gained in her first pregnancy.
“My son has been watching me dance, and it’s amazing how he picks it up. Now he does Zumba with me at home – he starts doing my moves,” Sumano laughs.
Zumba is now part of her consciousness and her unconsciousness, too.
“I do dream about it,” says Sumano. “My husband says that sometimes at night I move my feet a lot. I’m lying in bed and swinging my feet back and forth, and saying ‘Yeah! Woohoo!’”
At 23, Gaby Flores is Puente’s youngest Zumba instructor. But she is also the most experienced. Flores was 20 when Puente asked her to teach. She was a quiet girl, and the idea of leading a class of older women intimidated her. But she knew it would be good for her to try.
“I was kind of shy and didn’t know what to do,” Flores recalls. “You’re standing in front of a bunch of people you barely know and doing silly movements. I made a lot of mistakes.”
After a while, however, her confidence rose. “At first I would try to not focus on the people and just on the steps. I’ve changed a lot. Now I’m more focused on the people – how easily they can follow and what moves would be better for them.”
Flores has lost weight. She runs and does Pilates in addition to Zumba. Her energy level is up and she has developed a craving for healthy foods.
“I live with my mom, my dad and my two sisters, and they’re all diabetic and I am not, and it’s because of Zumba and eating right,” she says.
Zumba classes are Tuesday and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Pescadero Elementary School multipurpose room; and Wednesday at 5 p.m. at La Honda Elementary School. Zumba Kids is on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pescadero Elementary School multipurpose room. $3.00/class. Childcare is provided.