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Zumba class at The Glenridge keeps senior residents moving

Attendees said the physical fitness, friendships and sense of engagement they find in the experience keeps them returning.

Class members practice at The Glenridge Fitness Center and Spa on March 29.
Class members practice at The Glenridge Fitness Center and Spa on March 29.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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After Patty Chaplin moved to the senior living community, The Glenridge on Palmer Ranch, less than a year ago, she began having fun due to an event she described as coming “out of the clear blue sky.”

As she was sitting by herself in a community lecture, a woman she didn’t know tapped her on the shoulder.

“You’ve got to do Zumba,” said the woman, a resident named Jane Johnson.

Once Chaplin started attending the Zumba classes, a combination of cardio and Latin-inspired dance, she understood the enthusiasm. She describes instructor Yael Campbell as very “kind and patient.”

“She’s so kind,” said Marie Rust. “Anybody that comes into the class, that knows a little bit — she’ll go over and explain it to them, and say, ‘Now watch my feet.'”

The group comprises mostly 80- to 90-year-olds, and Campbell refers to it as her “Zumba rock stars.” The group meets at the fitness center each week on Monday and Wednesday morning. 

Yael Campbell leads a practice session at The Glenridge Fitness Center and Spa on March 29.
Photo by Ian Swaby

A year ago, the classes evolved into holiday performances for the Glenridge community, with the most recent being a dance held in the community’s Thistle Shop cocktail lounge on March 31, in honor of the Easter season. 

“It was so much fun,” said Susan Barach. “She just makes everything fun. She really inspires us, because she has so much energy and enthusiasm, and it definitely gets down to us.”

“Just having fun together and watching everyone react to us was great,” said Marsha Starsman. “The nicest thing was when I looked out at everyone around us. It was packed.”

“We think people like to see their friends dancing or doing whatever they do, so they come out and support them, which is really nice,” Barach said.

The class

Class members attested to Zumba’s ability to enhance their physical health as well as their social lives.

“It’s life-changing, because everyone in that class is healthier than they were before they started,” said Starsman. “We form such nice friendships.”

“It shows us we can do some things,” said Rust. “It shows others they can do it. It’s a sense of, OK, try it. there’s no failure here.”

Campbell, who is known for leading large Zumba groups at locations including Nathan Benderson Park, Siesta Key Beach, and The Bay Park, has been teaching at The Glenridge for about six years and pursues Zumba instruction in addition to her role as a professor of graphic design at Ringling College. 

For some seniors, she said, it can be intimidating to go to a gym and take a Zumba class that may not be designed for their age group, which is why classes specifically targeted at seniors are important. 

She said ever since she became certified in Zumba, she also pursued a certification in Zumba Gold, a lower-intensity version of the activity designed to meet the physical and psychological needs of seniors.

Campbell began modifying her music and choreography for that age group, and some moves absent from the class include jumping, crossing feet, bending over and balancing.

“She’s extremely creative,” Harriet Schaeffer said.

“I think it’s incredible what they do,” Campbell said of the participants at The Glenridge.

Campbell said throughout her time at The Glenridge, she has seen class members slowly progress, improving their balance, health, and emotions. Some members she said, begin slowly, perhaps performing the foot movements but not the arm movements.

After three to four classes, most attendees are there to stay, she said.

“When you walk into my Zumba class, you immediately feel like part of a family,” she said. “You walk into a very welcoming group of people, a very happy group of people, and slowly you feel more confident about the moves. You recognize songs, you recognize steps.”

Although the class is mostly women, that hasn’t stopped Richard Kiegler from being welcomed into the group.

Kiegler, who is 93, began performing the arm movements from the exercise bike he was using outside the doorway, Campbell said. She said he then began making his way into the classroom, performing some, and eventually all, of the dances.

Kiegler said the class has improved his physical abilities, including his walking, although he still has issues with shoulder movement.

“It’s something that I need to do,” he said. He said learning the steps of the dances during the class is helpful for issues with his short-term memory.

“I’m trying to find some way to increase what I can learn,” he said. “I get a little bit more dancing … I just have to keep walking and dancing.”

“Everyone cares for him in here,” said Starsman. “That’s what’s so special about him.”

Richard Kiegler is surrounded by a group of "bunnies" during the March 31 performance.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Kiegler is also fond of his classmates.

“He comes home and tells me he and the ladies did this, that, and the other,” said his wife Patty Kiegler.

For seniors, challenges come with such an intense activity.

“Obviously, at our age, we have ailments, and some of them are fairly serious in a way,” Rust said. “It’s hard sometimes, because of that.”

The group performed at the Thistle Shop cocktail lounge on March 31.
Photo by Ian Swaby

She said sometimes accidents do occur in the class, involving participants slipping. 

“We all get up, and we continue all over,” she said.

The classmates attribute the positivity of the experience to Campbell and the enthusiasm she brings.

“I think she genuinely likes working with our age,” Schaeffer said.

“She’s like a Wonder Woman,” said Barach. “Every day, she comes to class with her energy, and her smile, and her wonderful personality.”

“After all those years, slowly, you can see it,” Campbell said. “Every class, they get better and better, more confident. It makes them happy — they come out from this class with this adrenaline.”

Starsman said she wanted to thank the staff at the fitness center, as well as of the community’s member life staff.

“When we try to do some fun things, we get tremendous support,” she said. 



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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