The sense of community in a Group X class starts with the impact on your thought patterns. As Boston psychotherapist and Zumba instructor Leoni Epiphaniou explains, learning new choreography interrupts your thought patterns. The mindfulness that’s required forces you to be present instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

While most of us count on the enthusiasm and energetic support we get from our instructor, that woman or man guiding us through our moves may get just as much from us students. Here are inspiring examples of ways we’ve stood by them – and they, us.


Alena Shifrin, singled out by her instructor for her great rhythm, felt special regardless of the fact that she was 300 pounds. She followed up on her own life-saving massive weight loss by becoming a Zumba instructor herself. Adela Crufe-Alvarez’s student Nan Martin literally saved her life, when Crufe-Alvarez collapsed with a previously undiagnosed infection.


Queen Harrison was the youngest member of the USA Track & Field team at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, but when it came time to teach her first Zumba class, she still had the jitters.

A self-described fierce competitor, and, she states emphatically, a woman, Harrison says dancing makes her feel sexy, ready to compete, relaxed – and it can be a channel for expressing her mood, as well as a workout for muscles that her track and field training doesn’t test. Her first Zumba class with Jhon Gonzalez gave her firsthand experience with the power of a great instructor. Reserved at first, once Gonzalez started the class, Harrison says, “he was like a different person” who “would float around the class and get right in front of your face and it brought more out of you.”

Harrison decided she wanted to make other people feel the same way she did after class. With her instructor training, she gained appreciation for the fact that she would be dancing not just for herself, but for her students. Their response to her first class left her inspired and elated. Most of all she hopes that by seeing something in her that they didn’t expect from a track and field athlete, people will be encouraged to pursue their dream even if others don’t see it.


Jocelyn Goodwin, an active and otherwise healthy 32-year-old, got the news – breast cancer – the morning she was dressing for the national Zumba instructor conference, thousands of miles from friends and family. “When you hear you have cancer, everything stops.” Goodwin’s voice breaks as she recalls, “I had two choices. I could have stayed in my hotel room and cried, or dance for three days. So that’s what I did.”

Goodwin doesn’t remember much from those three days, except being inspired by Zumba instructor and cancer survivor Diana Walton: “[Diana said] ‘Zumba was the one hour where I forgot everything, escaped my treatment and was myself.”

Goodwin taught up until the day before her surgery and hopes her story will encourage other young women to pay closer attention to their health and ask questions.

Tips to Find Your Crew

  • Show up early and mingle with other participants before class.
  • Introduce yourself to the Instructor before class.
  • Make eye contact with those around you and smile—if your energy is supportive, then chances they will be naturally inclined to reciprocate in kind.
  • Ask someone from class to join you on the stretch mat for core work.
  • Check out Melissa Guest-Smith’s suggestions in this issue, too!