Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Meet a Zumba Jammer: Valerie S.!

If you've been reading for a while, you know I'm a fan of Jam sessions. I've also profiled a few Jammers - Sarah, Kim, and Marysol. Their job is to make our job easier and more fun! I had the opportunity to interview another awesome jammer, Valerie S., who specializes in Reggaeton. Her story is funny, poignant, and real. Read on to learn more about Val!
The Z Beat: When did you get your B1 license? Other specialty licenses?

I got my B1 license in 2010 under duress (see below!)! My Zumba Kids & Kids, Jr. (then, Zumbatomic) in 2011, my Toning in 2013 and my B2 only a year ago (so I could apply for Jammer!).

The Z Beat: Do you teach Zumba full time? If not, what else do you do?


I am a full-time group fitness instructor and personal trainer. I also handle basic social media for Synergy Fitness and I help all the clubs with their group fitness programs. 

The Z Beat: What got you into Zumba? How has Zumba impacted your life?

What got me into Zumba was nothing short of bullying!!! I was not much of a group fitness instructor. I taught Spin and subbed other classes, but I wasn't really a lover of classes at all. I hadn't had enough exposure to good teachers, in hindsight, and I did much more personal training because of it. I preferred to lift and do cardio on my own.
I remember looking in on Peggy Vint, the first instructor to bring Zumba to Synergy Fitness, and thinking 'OMG...who MOVES like that!?'. I taught a spin class that overlapped her Zumba class by about 40 minutes. My spin class was off the chain!! Along comes Zumba and half way through my crazy spin class, you could actually hear the Zumba class over my spin music. MY spin music!!! So after my class, I would look in (along with everyone else at the gym) and think, "Wow. That looks like fun. I wish...". About a year later, Peggy came to me and said, "Hi! We're opening a new place and I need Zumba teachers, so go get your cert, K? Love ya, let me know when you do it. Bye!"
I had never even taken a Zumba class! These women scared the heck out of me! So I took a Zumba class... Confused, irritated, intimidated... and who are all these women coming 1/2 hour early to get their SPOT!?!? But I went, and then I got licensed with Tanya Beardsley. Amazing. Instant love was I going to remember all this choreo (and about a million other reservations)? Thankfully, I started with a small class and was able to slowly build my confidence and stamina and things started to become second nature (things like, ya know, moving my feet...).
One day, I got a call that Peggy needed a sub. I was TERRIFIED! I walked in to a crowd of 50 people, all decked out in my Zumba cargos with tassles and bells on my bracelets and a Zumba shirt and bandana and they looked at me and said, "you're not Peggy" and a dozen of them just left. The rest of them tolerated me. Not dying or throwing up was the best thing that came of that class. Months passed and the call came... 'Peggy is leaving. You need to fill her spotS' S. WHAT???? WHY ME??? Turns out, the students asked for me!
The first week I taught, I did Zumba Mami and the whole front row stopped dancing. Like, they stood still and just looked at me. They told me, "Peggy did that song. Her dance was different. If you're not gonna do it like Peggy, just don't do it." This was when the fight or flight kicked in. I would give myself the pep talk every time...'you're a single mom...there are three kids that need you to make money and be strong and you don't have a choice'.
It took a week for me to fall head over heels. I started to look forward to returning to each class. I would always use my nervousness as energy and in that hour I would feel what they felt - whatever you want to call that feeling. That feeling is the first way Zumba impacted my life. That hour, all the aches and pains, trials and tribulations, pressure and stresses just disappear and I - WE - are just there.
A few months after I took Peggy's place, a woman came to me after class. She came to me and handed me a Christmas card and said, "You will never ever know what you have done for me. You saved my life. Don't answer and I know you won't judge, but it is time for you to know that you are the reason I'm still alive."
Now, I know that I, Val the Zumba teacher, is not really the reason, but I know that coming to that class to return to herself - that hearing that I am struggling, too, and somehow making it and that Zumba 'saved' me, too - was actually what kept her going day after day. Since, then, there have been so many people who claim that "I" have inspired, encouraged, motivated, helped, pushed and/or saved them. We all know this wasn't me. This was Zumba. This magical world of inhibition. This safe-haven. MILLIONS of us feel this feeling. Zumba's tag line "Let it move you" speaks volumes. It has changed my life completely, for the better. It took me 40 years to find who I am. Now, whether it's the Mom at school, the friend from high school, the childhood buddy, the guy at CVS...I am Val, the Zumba teacher.

The Z Beat: When did you become a Jammer? What’s the best part of being a Jammer?

I just got my contract a few months ago. A call came out for rhythm Jammers and my friend, Dana Morissey, was applying for salsa. She asked why I wasn't applying for reggaeton jammer and I had several answers. First, come on. Who the heck am I??? More practically, I don't even meet the criteria. I needed to take B2. She pointed out that there was a B2 training the day before the application deadline. Not only were there those reasons, but I'm raising 3 kids pretty much by myself. I can't spend that money on something I have no shot at to begin with. Well, Dana thought different. Long story short, she took a collection so that my students and others could pay for my B2 training, so that I could apply. To this day, I am stunned that all these people, especially Dana (if you know her, you know why) believed so strongly that I could be a contender. And, um, I had no choice. It was a long process but, here we are!
I hope the idea of rhythm jams will gain more momentum. The idea of jams has always been to get choreo, which has some people thinking 'why pay $30 to go over a rhythm and get only 2 songs when I can pay the same and get 4-5?'. But, Zumba is a program that is supposed to be uniform. This is what will keep us going as a program. We all know that there are a bazillion Zumba instructors, but we need to make those bazillion all come together and know their rhythms inside and out. So you're only getting 2 songs in a rhythm jam, but you're getting and fine tuned and reminded and motivated and WORKED. The choreo is a bonus!

The Z Beat: What do you think is the hardest part about being a Zumba instructor?
The hardest part about being a Zumba instructor, for me, is the toll it can take on my body. It's hard teaching full time. Keeping yourself healthy and conditioned and pain free is hard to do. Even harder is working through injuries. In this business, you generally don't get paid if you don't work. This, being my only job, doesn't really give me the chance to stay off my foot when it hurts!

The Z Beat: What else should we know about you?
You should know lots. I'm super intimidated by everyone! I hide that behind a sense of humor (a sometimes highly inappropriate sense of humor, lol). I automatically assume if someone is laughing in class, that they are laughing at ME and if they leave it MUST be because they hate me. I actually LIKE my 3 kids. I HAVE to love them, but I don't have to like them...but I do like them. A lot. Even though being a single mom is hard, I love that they can grow up and say they had a strong independent Mom who loved them beyond words and I love that they will (I pray) understand how important it is to do what you love and love what you do. What else.... I eat like crap, I will never take a selfie and I am ALWAYS a minute late...for everything.

The Z Beat: When and where are your upcoming Jams?
My next Jam is Sunday, March 29th at 2:30pm at Synergy Fitness in Syosset, NY. I'm playing with dates in April, but I have a tentative Jam scheduled at Beyond Fitness in CT in early May! I'm looking to venture out of NY for some Jams, so if anyone out of 'here' wants to have a Reggaeton Jam, ring me up!
If you're a Jammer who wants to be featured on The Z Beat, please contact me!


  1. A beautiful story and beautiful person!
    Go Val!!!

  2. Val you are just beautiful inside and out! I can hear you speak through the reading. You truly are an inspiration. I can tell how much you love your kids and what a great mommy you are just by this read. You are a gift to me and I adore you :). Keep up the great work!

    Paula Kestenbaum