Southern California dance instructor Jerod Williams doesn’t have a background in dance. “To be honest with you, I’ve only been dancing for a short amount of time,” Williams says. “I did this mostly for my health.”

After a routine doctor’s appointment where his doctor told him he could stand to lose a little weight and better his health, Williams’ car broke down in Atwater Village. While he waited for AAA, Williams decided to take a short walk around the community.

“I saw this dance studio, and I saw people doing Zumba, which was just on the cutting edge at that time,” Williams says. “It was unique and different. Everyone was smiling and I thought, Wow. I want to try this class and try to lose some weight and burn some calories.”

Williams signed up for and took a class the next day, and he fell in love with dance. His next step? Getting certified to teach. “It wasn’t something I expected or anticipated,” he says. “I only did this solely for my health, but I said, ‘Well, if I become a teacher, then maybe that’ll hold me accountable for my own workout, as well.’”

Not long after discovering Zumba, Williams went to an event in Santa Rosa, California, where he experienced another new dance fitness format, U-Jam Fitness. “They played so many genres, like hip-hop, Bollywood, and all these other genres that I had never anticipated that you would ever hear in a dance format, and it was so funky. I fell in love with the class at that moment.”

Today, Williams teaches Zumba and U-Jam at 24 Hour Fitness. For Williams, who works a very stressful day job, dance is freedom.

“When I can turn my brain off from the regular day job and just go ahead and be Jerod the dance teacher, it makes me feel so liberated,” Williams says. “I can dance my stress away. I can dance the bad day away. Going into a class where you’ve built a community of wonderful people who have gotten together and hold themselves accountable, it’s such an amazing feeling.”

The now-veteran dance teacher truly believes anyone can be a dancer. Here are his tips for dance newbies who may be intimidated or just want to try a class.

Have an open mind

Williams says that first and foremost, go into a dance class with an open mind. “We want you to be successful when you’re doing it,” he says.

Don’t expect perfection from yourself

Every year, U-Jam Fitness hosts UnityFest for instructors and students. “This year, the theme was Perfectly Imperfect. When you walk into a dance studio, we don’t expect perfection,” Williams explains. “We don’t expect you to be like ‘five, six, seven, eight’ and hit it every single time. We just want you to bring your motivation and your smile to class all the time, and just know that it’s a judgment-free zone any time you drop into a U-Jam Fitness class.”

Enjoy the endorphins

Williams wants newbies to know that U-Jam Fitness is for everyone because instructors just want you to have fun. “It’s for every level. You can do it at the level that you want do it at, the level that you’re most comfortable with,” he says.

For Williams, dancing is a freeing experience—and the endorphins are a bonus. “Dance brings euphoria after you’re done,” he says. “It’s like the crazy adage from that movie ‘Legally Blonde’ where [Elle Woods] says, ‘Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy.’”

Dance to your own drumbeat

Anyone can dance, Williams says, because everyone has a rhythm.

“We have someone who has a walker who comes to class,” Williams says. “She just enjoys herself. She does what she can. She’s encouraging. She has some favorite songs that she loves and we put them on for her, and she’s just absolutely a ray of light that lights up when her favorite music comes on.”

It doesn’t matter what drumbeat you dance to, Williams adds. “It doesn’t have to necessarily be the same drum. We would love for it to be the same drum, but as long as you are getting what it is that you come for out of class.”

Get what you came for

“That’s one of the things that I really tell all my participants when they come to class: Get what you came for out of class, and whatever you’ve got going on in your life, just leave it out on the dance floor for the hour or two,” he says. “It’ll still be there, but you can dance it out and then come back with a different perspective on it.”

Photo credit: Z Best Foto; Sarah Block Photography