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In a dance studio with wood floors, a high ceiling with strips of florescent light and green and white painted alls, five students and a teacher are in motion, with one arm in the air.

Zumba more popular than before the pandemic: ‘It’s wonderful. See how we’re sweating?’

on December 3, 2023

Pulsing beats and whirling bodies fill up a cavernous hall at the Richmond Recreation Complex.  

It’s not Richmond’s newest nightclub — it’s a Thursday evening Zumba class.

Located in Richmond Village, the Richmond Recreation Complex offers Zumba and other activities for adults and children. There are volleyball leagues for middle schoolers and adults and drop-in pickleball, just to name a few. 

The complex offers 10 programs, according to data from Richmond’s Community Services Recreation Department. The newly released winter activity guide offers additional programs like chess and youth futsal (similar to soccer and played indoors). 

This is in stark contrast to almost three years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down classes, including the popular Zumba class.

A man in a white tank top and maroon calf-length gym pants and maroon sneakers is in motion, his arms outstretched in a dance studio with a wooden floor, a green wall and green steps behind him.
Oscar Solano Jr. (Elizabeth Santos)

In 2018, the total attendance for the year was just over 1,560 students. It grew 40% the following year to an annual attendance of nearly 2,180. For the same timeframe, the average monthly class size grew from about 43 to 60 students, a 40% increase.

Then, that progress stopped.

The pandemic prompted Zumba instructor Oscar Solano Jr. to get creative with how he offered classes. Along with two other Zumba instructors, he recorded sessions from home in front of a green screen. They posted the sessions on YouTube for students to follow along.

“At the beginning, I was not allowed to have students,” Solano said. “They set up a computer for me, but it was not as effective.” 

Now, Solano is back at the complex, where about 10 people gathered for a heart-pumping workout on a balmy Thursday evening. 

“I’ve been coming for a year. It’s wonderful. See how we’re sweating?” said Phyllis Haugabook, 59, a marriage family therapist.

Solano guided students through the choreography as the class continued. He played bachata for faster footwork. To slow it down, he played cumbia or salsa, and students took wider steps or bounced, shifting their weight from side to side.

Yumi Sako, 55, an administrative assistant, has been attending Zumba class since 2018. “I love dancing because of this. This was like the first dance I’ve ever done,” Sako said. She now dances bachata outside of Zumba.

Solano said that in 2021, they offered hybrid classes for the first six months and then switched to classes outdoors. They worked out in masks, which was “terrible,” said Summer Smith, a 42-year-old business owner and bookkeeper.

“We all wanted to be here so much that we did it. It was totally worth it,” Smith said. 

Attendance in 2022 was around 2,270 students, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

“That was a pleasant surprise on how students responded to our program despite the many adversities due to Covid restrictions,” Solano said.

Classes are held three times a week: Tuesday and Thursday evenings at Richmond Recreation Complex and Saturday mornings at Nicholl Park. The cost is $6 per class for Richmond residents and $7.50 for non-residents.

Interested participants can register in person at the Richmond Recreation Complex or online.

This story was updated to correct information about the complex’s location.

(Top Photo: Ellen Goldstein, Phyllis Haugabook, Yumi Sako and Summer Smith stretch, with teacher Oscar Solano Jr., by Elizabeth Santos.

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