Let me start by saying that I have loved each and every class I have ever taught. Sometimes that was 15 classes a week!
When I entered a school, I loved hearing, “It’s the Zumba® lady!” I loved seeing the tiniest babies wrapped up all cozy with their mamas while we danced in Baby Mombo. I loved seeing pregnant mamas’ new challenges and new levels of strength during our Strong Mama classes. And where can I begin about how much I loved every aspect of teaching Zumbini® classes?
But lately, I reflected that my favorite class is one you will not see in any photos. And it may have been the most challenging class I’ve ever had to teach.
When I was starting out a few years ago, I was asked if I would be willing to start teaching a Zumba Kids® class for a group of kids with moderate to profound developmental disabilities. While I’ve worked with children with different needs in a formal classroom setting and taught dance classes in various settings, I had never taught a class for this specific population. I knew the average age would be older than any group I had worked with previously. Each child would have a one-on-one caregiver present who would participate as well.
Thinking back to my first playlist brought back so many unique questions:
What would the average mobility ability of the group be?
Have they ever had a teacher-led dance class before?
How do I choose choreography that is at the right level for everyone present?
How do I keep the adults excited and engaged on a different level than the kids each week?
Do I have enough music that is not too babyish and not full of adult content?
After almost two years of working together each week, I think I’ve found my favorite class. I’m greeted by smiles, “Hello” signs, or loud excited yelling from most of my non-verbal friends each week. One person, in particular, follows me right to the dance floor, galloping while saying, “Dance time! Dance time!” (He is also my most enthusiastic clapper throughout the class!)
We’ve fallen into a rhythm of repeating favorite songs each week for extended lengths of time because the kids love knowing the routines. They love the predictability of the songs in my playlist. They LOVE mastering the choreography. They enjoy marching in place for a meringue while their caregivers enjoy marching along with moving their arms for added difficulty.
The kids love songs with lots of jumping, so the caregivers are continually challenged to keep up their cardio. New songs are typically met with a few weeks of non-participation as the kids get used to the new sounds and movements, but the caregivers encourage them to try at least one new move each week until they master the new song. A few weeks later, that song became a new favorite on rotation.
This has become my favorite class because of the challenges it gives me as an instructor and the joy the kids share in every class.
It’s super exciting to see one of the kids master balancing on one foot while moving the other foot forward and backward. Seeing another child clap on the beat for the first time is thrilling. For others, it’s how they choose to move whenever music is on; sometimes rocking, sometimes their own particular repetitive movement, sometimes their movement looks completely different than the choreography, but the fact that they are happily moving makes everyone else in the room happy as well. The caregivers smile as they dance and cheer on the kids too.