Saturday, June 23, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 16

Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on July 16th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 19

Zumba for the mind

The latest fitness craze is about more than just the physical benefits


Rosalie Fortner led her Friday morning Zumba class at the YMCA on July 12 with energy and a smile as she leans into the first choreographed song of the day.

The small-framed Rosalie Fortner is dwarfed by the number of bodies dancing behind her. There are at least 50 students in her morning Zumba class on July 12; a mix of men, women, children, and senior citizens spread from wall to wall in five semi-straight rows that face the mirror inside the Santa Maria Valley YMCA aerobics room.

Everyone is moving at his or her own pace, booty-shaking, waving arms, and tapping feet to the rhythm. Fortner keeps her beat as she moves around the room, checking on students who look a little lost; she encourages them with a smile and instructional movement.

As the song’s beat changes, she switches it up. The class moves from salsa-style footwork into jumping up and down with arms that alternately punch toward the ceiling. Now, no one’s lost and you can feel the pulse of the music. The flow of human energy is cohesive as feet hit the floor only to rise up again.

Energy and music is what Zumba is. And it’s a workout: As the songs progress through the hour-long class, sweat starts to collect and muscles begin to burn. But for those who love it, it’s also a lifestyle choice, and that’s why it’s become the latest fitness craze.

“It’s not just about getting fit,” Fortner said. “It’s about letting go and meeting people.”

At least, that’s how Fortner got started three years ago. She said she was looking for a new outlet, and after taking a couple of step classes, she found Zumba. She’s now certified to teach four different styles, including toning and kids classes.

“At first I didn’t get the steps; I don’t know how to salsa,” Fortner said. “I started practicing a lot, and now everything’s about Zumba.”

It’s hard to believe that the animated, beat-savvy Zumba instructor was ever at a point in time when she couldn’t do the moves she now throws down at a mile a minute.

In truth, dancing was a huge part of Fortner’s life at one point, although it wasn’t the Latin-based movements Zumba’s known for. In high school, she was really into hip-hop, but as time went on, she moved away from dancing and into family life.

Fortner immigrated to Santa Maria from the Philippines when she was a teenager. After high school, she married a military man and moved around a lot before returning to settle down in Santa Maria with her three boys in 2007. That was the year things started to get really hard for Fortner. Her husband and her father passed away within months of one another, and she started looking for an outlet.

Join the party
Visit the Zumba fitness website,, and search for instructor Rosalie Fortner to find a schedule of her classes. Class listings can also be found on the Santa Maria YMCA’s website at

Baking was the first activity she sought out, but she started gaining weight, so she turned to the gym. Fortner said starting Zumba marks when she found herself again. As an instructor, she said she’s able to share that with her students.

“I needed love from people and now I get that,” she said as she wiped a tear from her eye. “I go dance next to someone, and I see them smile.”

That smile is what makes teaching 12 to 18 classes a week all over town worth it for her. Fortner said many of her students have stories that are similar to her own. Being able to forget the world and let go with dancing is what Fortner said makes Zumba so special.

Since she became an instructor three years ago, classes at the YMCA have jumped from 10 students to almost 50, said Associate Director Lisa Niedrauer.

“Rosalie has a following,” Niedrauer said. “People specifically joined the Y after she started teaching.”

Zumba classes have the largest attendance of any aerobics class taught at the YMCA. Participants consistently number from 40 to 50 in Fortner’s classes, while the second-most attended class, Body Pump, usually has 25 to 30 students attending.

Niedrauer has taught aerobics classes for years, and she’s seen crazes like the Zumba phenomenon come and go, but she said Zumba is probably going to be around for a while.

“People are so inspired to make [Zumba] the priority of their day, no matter what time of day, [the class] is booming,” Niedrauer said. “You can feel the energy coming down the hall after class.”

She said people swell out of the aerobics room and chat with each other in the hallways. It’s a class anyone can take, and the movements aren’t set in stone; they differ with each instructor. Niedrauer pointed out that people can choose how into it they want to get: They can go crazy or they can just move their body a little. It’s up to the student.

Kathy Cecil took Fortner’s July 12 class. Cecil said she had visitors in town, but wanted to attend the class anyway. What she likes about the class is that it’s both challenging and fun.

“Your body just starts doing it, and you wonder, ‘How does my body know how to do this?’” Cecil said. “It’s very freeing.”


Staff Writer Camillia Lanham came back to the office all sweaty after reporting for this story. Contact her at

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