EDCI Zumba classes get Durham parents moving to new rhythms

For one hour each week, parents in East Durham who struggle to find time to exercise don’t have to juggle parenting with working out.

EDCI (East Durham Children’s Initiative) began a series of Zumba dance classes on Oct. 1 for parents whose families live in East Durham, but anyone based in the area is welcome to attend. Located at 107 N. Driver St., EDCI is a nonprofit organization that works within 120 blocks of East Durham and seeks to improve educational outcomes for children, explains Cate Elander, EDCI’s community engagement manager.

“I think having this kind of accessible, affordable opportunity makes [exercise] easier and builds community among the women and the men who have participated in Zumba,” Elander says. “So if you know friendly faces when you’re exercising, people hold you accountable. It feels friendly – it doesn’t feel high pressure.”


(Left to right) Cate Elander, EDCI community engagement manager, Lanishia Barnes and Sharon Eaton move to the beat of the Zumba instructor’s playlist of workout songs. (Staff photo by Wendy Lu)

EDCI also provides childcare for the parents who attend Zumba classes. While they’re dancing, their children are either doing homework or playing games in a different room. Childcare providers include staff members from the Downtown Durham YMCA, including counselors and after-school program instructors, Elander says. EDCI is contracted to continue the weekly classes until February.

Lanishia Barnes, a Durham mom, says she started attending the class so she could lose baby weight without having to pay for a gym membership.

“I think a healthy mom is a better mom,” says Barnes, whose son, Jacob, is 13 months old. “It just gives me time to get myself healthy and spend some time that’s not a responsibility-type thing. To just work out and free your mind for a minute.”

For low-income families, Elander says financial barriers like not having a car or the money to visit the gym and buy exercise equipment prevent people from engaging in enough physical activity. But she says finding the time to exercise is an issue that all parents have regardless of income.

“I think lives are busy,” Elander says. “I think for any family, low-income or not, it’s hard to find time to exercise when you are working all day and all night, and then you’re having to help take care of the kids – help do homework, cook dinner, et cetera.”

EDCI’s Zumba classes help to break these barriers by providing an opportunity to participate in a free and easily accessible exercise class held at EDCI headquarters.

On Oct. 8, EDCI saw a spike in attendance at their second Zumba class of the month. Eighteen people participated in the class, whereas only six people came to the first class.


Lanishia Barnes (left) and Sharon Eaton, friends who live in Durham and attend the EDCI Zumba class together, take a moment to catch their breath in between workout songs. (Staff photo by Wendy Lu)

Barnes also encouraged her good friend, Sharon Eaton, to join her for Zumba each week. Eaton says attending the Zumba classes has inspired her to incorporate exercise into her everyday routine at home.

“I get up every morning, I walk around the block – two blocks, come back home, and do some exercise for 15 minutes,” says Eaton, who is a grandmother of three and the business owner of Providential, a Durham-based recruiting firm. “[Zumba] helps you put yourself back into the mood of start exercising and being fit.”

The Zumba classes are funded by Durham Diabetes Coalition, which provides mini-grants of up to $1,000 for community health initiatives that address issues like obesity prevention. According to the EDCI website, exercise can help to prevent heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Only a third of the global population stays physically active, including parents who may not have the time or resources to get enough exercise.

When Elander first started working for EDCI two years ago, she attended PTA meetings at Y.E. Smith Elementary, which is the target elementary school for EDCI’s work.

“Some of the parents there – one of whom is here today, actually – says, ‘We’d really love to have Zumba in the community. We care about our health but it’s hard to get to the gym with all the kids, it’s expensive,’ that kind of thing,” she says. “So since then, EDCI has had the idea to help bring Zumba. When the opportunity to apply for some funding related to health and physical activity came up through the Durham Diabetes Coalition, that’s what we applied for.”

Elander says EDCI applied for a grant in June and were notified of their acceptance in August. The next step was finding a licensed instructor to teach the class and guide the dancers.

Victoria Robinson, the class instructor, described Zumba as a cardio dance class that incorporates a lot of international rhythm, including Brazilian music, Latin tangos and musical numbers like “Seasons of Love,” so that dancers get exposed to a variety of songs.

“It’s designed to be like a party,” says Robinson, 29, who is also the academically/intellectually gifted (AIG) teacher at Y.E. Smith Elementary School. “You go and have fun, you dance the music and you forget about everything else. You forget that you’re working out. I think that’s what people like, the unpredictability of it.”

Participants who come on a regular basis get used to some of the songs they hear as well as the moves that go along with the music. To keep classes interesting, Robinson changes one or two songs on her playlist each week. Eventually, changing out songs leads to a whole new playlist.

“My class is completely different than [any other] Zumba instructor’s class,” says Robinson, who received her Zumba certificate in 2011. “We can do the exact same song, but different moves to them. You don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s a lot of fun. It’s not scripted like a lot of dance classes are where you know exactly what the moves are for every song it’s going to be, and every instructor is going to teach it the same way.”

Elander says she thinks Zumba is popular not only because of the workout, but also because anyone can participate and enjoy themselves regardless of their background.

“The community here in East Durham is a good mix between English speakers and Spanish speakers, and Zumba is an exercise that you can do that crosses the language barrier because you’re just following the teacher’s movements,” Elander says. “So folks who speak different languages can come together for an opportunity to exercise without having to worry about translation or the language barrier.”

As class instructor, Robinson says she hopes her dancers will be inspired, like Eaton, to continue exercising even after the Zumba class ends in February. For Elander, finding more funding for future Zumba classes and increasing the number of participants are top priorities.

“The more we can work together as a community to bring additional opportunities to exercise in a fun, community-building, crossing-the-language-barrier way, the better,” Elander says.