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The City Journals

Instructor, Participants Heal Through Zumba

May 05, 2016 03:10PM ● By Tori La Rue

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

South Jordan - Kimberly DowDell’s Zumba students at South Jordan Fitness and Aquatic Center have danced their way into close friendships and healing. 

“I’ve watched us all connect through Zumba,” DowDell said. “I’ve taught Pilates, step and muscle classes, and people get excited to see each other, but it’s not the same connection they have when they do Zumba.”

DowDell calls these students her “Zumba Family,” and it’s a big family. Her four weekly Zumba classes, which combine Latin dancing, current hip-hop music and aerobic activity, are the most well-attended group fitness classes at the center, bringing in 30 to 50 people each class, according to Brittany Duncan, group fitness assistant at the center. 

DowDell believes her Zumba class members are connected because dancing requires vulnerability, which leads participants to be open to making connections with people around them, she said. Participants and DowDell form a support system for each other. 

“You have no idea how many times I hear my students say, ‘I was going through a divorce,’ or ‘My mother passed away’ or ‘I was going through a difficult time, and your class has been therapy—it healed me,’” DowDell said. “That’s the most rewarding feeling.” 

Katie Bitter, a classmate and DowDell’s friend, said many people resort to some kind of physical hobby when things get overwhelming, and she chose Zumba.  

“Dancing in front of people can be scary, but it’s nice to push your nerves away because it helps by making you feel stronger,” Bitter said. “It makes you feel like you can do it—whatever you are going through.” 

Zumba is not just a physical help but an emotional one as well,” Bitter said. 

Bitter, who’s been taking DowDell’s classes for five years, said DowDell instigates the emotional help in class. When she walks into class, she knows DowDell cares about her and said the other participants mirror Kim’s attitude. 

DowDell said she, too, has been “healed” through Zumba. DowDell gave birth to her son Jack just after she started teaching Zumba at a gym in Cedar City. He was diagnosed with Down syndrome. 

“When the baby is growing inside of you, you think about who they are going to be and do, and you dream up their life,” DowDell said. “When they are born with some kind of abnormality like that, it crushes that dream a little. Not that you love them less or are less grateful for them, but that dream dies.” 

Shortly after he was born, the DowDell family moved to the Salt Lake Area, and DowDell started teaching Zumba at the South Jordan Fitness and Aquatic Center. Jack spent a lot of time at Primary Children’s Hospital during those first few months, she said. 

“Zumba was my escape,” DowDell said. “It was what I needed to let go to not think about my son at home on oxygen and not think about not knowing what type of development he was going to have.” 

After some of her friends at Zumba found out about her situation, she said they were her support. Five years later, DowDell’s son is healthy and well-known by her “Zumba Family.” They love him like “he is one of their own,” DowDell said. 

Bitter believes it’s easy to love the DowDells because they help everyone feel like they belong. 

“You can just see that Kim loves you when you step into her classes,” Bitter said. “I stopped going to anyone else’s classes because she’s the best out there.” 

Duncan said she expects DowDell’s classes to remain popular. 

“Her energy makes you want to jump in and dance,” Duncan said. “When you watch her teach, you can just tell that she loves what she does.”