A Different Kind of Student
At a Curves gym in South Florida, the woman at the head of the Zumba class oozes so much confidence, energy and optimism that her students are in awe. Class participants regularly approach her afterward and marvel at her energy, asking where she gets it. “I look at them and say, ‘I can’t begin to tell you … I appreciate the compliment, but you too can feel this energy.’”
This is a moment when Tamara Kodner, a licensed Zumba instructor, might pull out the photograph that she constantly carries with her: an image of her taken a few years earlier, leaning on a cane.
For the past 10 years, the Hollywood, Fla., resident has suffered from multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and a vision disorder called trigeminal neuralgia — as well as the mental and emotional turmoil that accompanies such conditions — but you’d never know it. She hasn’t needed that cane since 2009, and says she owes it all to Zumba Fitness. “This is the best I have felt in my entire life,” she says.
Kodner isn’t alone. People across the globe are discovering the mental and physical benefits of Zumba classes on conditions ranging from disabilities such as blindness, Down syndrome and even paraplegia to diseases like Parkinson’s, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. But it’s not just in the steps. The fact that Zumba fitness is a highly social form of exercise with a built-in support system makes it a great outlet for people dealing with special issues, say experts. Furthermore, the free-flowing, low-pressure classes provide the perfect environment for students who prefer a group setting but need to move at their own pace.
Just ask Beth Hochstein. In 2007, the podiatrist and mother of two sat in her car after leaving her neurologist’s office and wept until she couldn’t breathe. She had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Shortly afterward, the Great Neck, N.Y., resident discovered a local Zumba class and gave it a shot. “I was instantly hooked. Zumba classes gave me strength and courage, and I lost myself, and my illness, in the great music and moves. I was officially a Zumba fitness addict.”
Hochstein says that some of the top physical benefits of Zumba workouts for PD patients and others are that it improves cognitive functioning and memory, helps with focus and concentration, decreases rigidity and improves posture, reduces tremors and slowness of gait, and improves fine and gross motor skills.
She has since become licensed and is active in passing on the message that life with PD doesn’t have to be unlivable. Hochstein teaches a “Zumba for PD” class specifically for fellow sufferers, and she recently organized two Parkinson’s Zumbathon events to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation. But the true benefit, she says, is the feedback she receives from her classes.
“Even though I am helping others overcome their difficulties, my students help me, too,” she says. “Seeing the happiness on their faces at the end of class and the ease of their movement when they leave makes teaching rewarding to me!”
By Chelsea Greenwood / Photograph by Tami Wilkes
Excerpted from the Z-LIFE Winter 2012 issue.