Zumba-Poolesville: Making Exercise Fun One Dance Step at a Time
By Susan Early Petro
As I watched this year’s annual Poolesville Day parade, one group of parade participants especially stood out. When Karen McPhatter and her band of Zumba-Poolesville participants danced by, I noticed they all had one thing in common: big, happy smiles. I thought, What is this Zumba craze, and is it really as fun as these ladies appear to be having? Can my arch-nemesis, Exercise, actually be enjoyable?
In order to learn more about Zumba and whether a middle-aged, out-of-shape person like me can benefit, I set out to learn out more about the founder and instructor of Zumba-Poolesville, Karen McPhatter, and the classes she teaches.
McPhatter, a licensed Zumba instructor, is a life-long Poolesville-area resident. She comes from a long line of Poolesville descendants including her grandfather, Frank Cubitt, who drove the first school bus in Poolesville which happened to be a horse and carriage. Her great-grandfather, Charles Jacob Norris, was a local stage coach driver and landowner whose farm was located on the land that now houses the Westerly and Wesmond developments. Karen met her husband at Poolesville High School, and her parents also met there.
McPhatter said she became a fitness instructor many years ago with the encouragement of her personal trainer from the Healthworks Fitness Center. She enrolled in exercise classes as a means to get back into shape after her now-teenaged boys were born. When the group-fitness instructor was moving to Ohio, McPhatter’s trainer, Kate Frick, urged her to try to become a fitness trainer herself. McPhatter said she studied hard, got her certification, and soon began to teach cardio-dance classes. She enjoyed teaching the classes and said they were fun and good, but she thought they needed to be livened up a little. About that time, she saw a commercial for Zumba and thought to herself, That’s it, that’s what we want to do. She took the Zumba instructor training, received her certification, and soon added Zumba classes to her cardio-dance classes. McPhatter says that the Zumba routine includes dance rhythms from all over the world, from salsa, reggae, a Japanese dance, and even a belly dance routine. Every day is something different for the class to do. According to the Zumba website: “Zumba® exercise classes are ‘fitness-parties’ that blend upbeat world rhythms with easy-to-follow choreography, for a total-body workout that feels like a celebration.”
Currently, Karen teaches nine different Zumba classes in Poolesville either at Healthworks, John Poole Middle School, or Poolesville Elementary. Although the majority of participants are women, Karen said that there are Zumba classes for every age range and every fitness level, from senior citizens to those just getting back into exercise, and even children as young as preschoolers. Currently, Karen has two male Zumba participants, including a retired marine veteran. She reassured me that Zumba participants don’t need to be accomplished dancers or super-coordinated to join a class. “You need to just come, have fun, relax, and let your body move the way it wants to move.” She describes her classes like a big family coming together to dance.
Some of Karen’s participants have recently become Zumba instructors themselves. One student was preparing to leave for college and expressed a desire to teach Zumba classes at school, so Karen sent her to get her instructor license. Karen said as she was looking over the Poolesville Day parade photographs, she could see that four of her students had an obvious passion for Zumba and attended every class—the same enthusiasm I noticed as they danced down Fisher Avenue. Karen encouraged them to become instructors, as well. At first they were hesitant, but then decided they would do it as a team effort. They collectively attended training classes in Baltimore. Karen surprised them at graduation with bouquets of flowers. She is thrilled to have additional Zumba instructors to help expand class options and to give her the time to attend additional trainings and to learn new routines.
Two of Karen’s favorite success stories include a woman whose goal was to get off blood pressure and cholesterol medicine, and another woman who wanted to lose weight before her son’s wedding. Each participant not only successfully reached her goals, they both became two of her new Zumba instructors.
Karen is clearly proud of her students and new instructors. She and her students enjoy giving back to the community by participating in both the Poolesville and Clarksburg Relay-for-Life events. The participants hold Zumbathons in order to raise money for charitable causes.
Karen said in addition to the gratification she gets from her students’ success stories, one of her biggest rewards from teaching Zumba and fitness-training is the self-confidence that she has gained in herself. Now, the once-shy girl from Poolesville High, who never imagined herself performing in front of an audience, happily returns the self-confidence she gained to her students—all while they are having fun getting healthy and physically fit at the same time.
Maybe it is time to for me to rethink my aversion to exercise. McPhatter and her enthusiastic team of Zumba-Poolesville participants have me inspired to join in on the action—as long as no-one notices I have two left feet.