Zumba no more

Every Monday and Tuesday for the past five years, hundreds of Sunset residents have made their way to the Sunset Park Recreation Center to participate in a popular Zumba dance class. Due to the severing of the partnership between the city’s Parks Department’s Shape Up NYC program and fitness club Equinox, however, on Tuesday, March 31, the beloved program held its final class.

“Do you see these tears in my eyes? They are from five years of being a part of this community. I’ve never felt such closeness in this neighborhood the way that I felt with these 175 people,” said student Francine Grillo. “They have encouraged us to be in shape, to be healthy, to be a part of this community. And just to take it away on such short notice is an injustice.”

“My family has lived in Sunset Park since 1940 and throughout the whole period of time, there hasn’t been a strong sense of community in this neighborhood for a long time,” added Justin Sosa, Sunset resident and teacher at Fort Hamilton High School. “This class brings so many people together. It’s a complete network of people that rely on each other, that rely on family that have become family, that spread word about things going on in the neighborhood.”

Along with a sense of loss of community spirit, students are also concerned they won’t get their workouts, which have helped them improve their health. “At first, I wasn’t a believer that Zumba was a real workout, but that’s not true,” said Juan Leonor. “This, along other activities, helped me lose over 60 pounds in over a year. It really helped me.”

On Thursday, April 2, several members of the Zumba class attended Community Board Seven’s Parks and Environment Committee meeting. Although they weren’t on the agenda, they were allowed a few minutes to express their sadness and present their written petition to bring the class back.

“It’s one of the best attended classes in the city and the problem is that they stopped them,” said community activist Yuette Aguirre during the meeting, asking the board to help the group get their Zumba class back.  “People have stories to tell how their diabetes went down and how they changed through these physical education classes. This was the first opportunity for professional classes with professional teachers.”

Students also gave a heartfelt goodbye to Zumba teacher Juliana Estrella, who had been there for the students from the beginning. “I went to the Zumba class where the teacher announced that it was going to be her last couple of weeks,” said Fadhylla Saballos, who attending the meeting. “It was really emotional. You could feel that the group has really bonded over fitness, which was amazing.”

The reason for the end of the program was confirmed by NYC Parks Assistant Commissioner for Public Programs Adena Long, who told this paper that there would be a fitness program at the park, just not Zumba.

“After five years,” she said, “Equinox has ended their partnership with Shape Up NYC. We’d like to thank them for allowing us to offer more than 7,000 free fitness classes and for sharing some of the best instructors in the city.”

A new instructor is set to host classes at Sunset Park, Long added, and will lead a variety of dance classes including cardio dance, swing and ballroom, but not Zumba.

“After five great years of partnership, we are truly sad to lose Juliana as an instructor at Sunset Park Recreation Center,” Long continued. “Her classes were extremely popular in the community, and we are grateful that she helped so many New Yorkers get in shape with her energy and enthusiasm.”

By press time, Equinox had not responded to a request for comment.

BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photos by Jaime DeJesus
BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photos by Jaime DeJesus

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