For Gina Cirelli, 29, being a Zumba instructor isn’t just about working out; it’s about giving back to her community, especially to one little girl—Sofia.
“My niece is three years old and she’s going to grow up here,” Cirelli said. “I don’t want it any worse.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, the Zumba classes Cirelli instructs at Crocker Amazon Park allow her to bring a little positivity to her community.
“I love what it’s bringing to this neighborhood,” Cirelli said. “It’s a small step.”
Cirelli’s class is one of 27 free weekly Zumba classes offered at 20 different locations by the Recreation and Park Department’s Zumba in the Park program. With the support of the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Community Transformation Initiative, RPD and two other organizations developed and launched the city-wide initiative with the goal of increasing physical activity.
“I’m amazed at how fast it’s grown,” said RPD Health and Wellness Program Coordinator Levi Johnson. Over 800 city residents participate in the Zumba classes each month, according to a recent survey.
“It’s exciting that the demand is there and the need is there,” said Jaime Hopper, projects specialist and Zumba instructor for the program. Officials said the program should expand to 40 classes offered every week in as many parks as possible.
The initiative addresses some of the challenges inactive, low-to-moderate income residents face when trying to be physically active and socially connected. The Zumba program is just one part of the initiative. By being free and offering classes at different locations throughout the city, the program removes the barriers of cost and lack of time that prevents many residents, like Diane Dozier, from being active.
“This is the best exercise cause I like dancing,” said Dozier, 49, who goes to classes four or five times a week. “Where can you go and make noise, get loud and it’s free? My stress is going on the dance floor.”
Health problems have taken six of Dozier’s family members in the last ten years. Her various health problems and the stress of a marriage breaking up only highlighted the need to do something. It wasn’t until her doctors mentioned the free program that she found something that she could do.
“That was the word. Free,” said the home care provider. Dozier found a program she was willing to do that enabled her to address her health concerns such as diabetes.
“We have this in the family. They are dying from left to right,” said Dozier. In June of 2012, Dozier lost her sister, Beatrice, 50, of a fatty liver. “We never thought she wasn’t going to walk out. It made me realize that I was going to have to change and exercise.”
Being part of the program and seeing how fast it has grown is exciting and rewarding for Cirelli, but it gets much more personal for her than her own health.
Cirelli teaches twice a week in the same room she took her first dance class in when she was three years old. As she watches Sofia grow up in the neighborhood, she wants to help make the neighborhood and especially Crocker Amazon Park a safe and awesome place to grow up in.
“If you bring positive things in, more positive things will come,” she said.