Zumba instructor grooves and shakes her way to bliss in class

by Elise Higgins | 5/4/16 5:01pm

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Certified instructor Evelyn Thibodeau teaches Zumba at the College.
Source: Courtesy of Evelyn Thibodeau

The rhythmic sounds of maracas and Colombian drums echoes throughout the studio. A petite woman with curly hair stands at the front of the room, effortlessly moving to the mix. The music transitions into an upbeat hip hop instrumental, and she starts shaking her hips, lost in the song’s deep bass. There’s no doubt. This woman can dance. “Wobble, wobble, wobble,” she yells. Zumba instructor Evelyn Thibodeau continues pumping her arms and moving with the beat as she tells her students to shake their bodies. Even if they make a mistake, Thibodeau encourages them to continue dancing and having fun.

Although Thibodeau did not always envision herself teaching Zumba, a fitness program that incorporates dance and aerobic movements, she said dance itself has always been influential in her life.

“Music is like the engine that moves us every day,” Thibodeau said. “Without music, we don’t really perform very well.”

Thibodeau grew up in Barranquilla, Colombia, a coastal town where music plays an important cultural role. She began dancing at the age of two and once she was old enough, her mother enrolled her in several school dance programs. While in school, Thibodeau learned various styles of dance including traditional Afro-Colombian dances such as mapalé and Latin dances such as salsa and merengue.

In 2004, Thibodeau heard about Zumba and purchased instructional videos so she could learn more about the program. A few years later, she began to attend live classes at which she met a fellow dancer who encouraged her to get a teaching license. After participating in a workshop with Alberto Perez, the creator of Zumba, Thibodeau took the opportunity to become a certified instructor.

After receiving her license in 2009, she began working at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction before working as a substitute instructor at Dartmouth for writing professor Jennifer Sargent, who also teaches Zumba at the College.

Thibodeau said that her reputation as an instructor spread through word of mouth. When Sargent decided to take a hiatus from teaching Zumba, Thibodeau became a full-time instructor.

She enjoys teaching Zumba because of the joy it brings to her students.

“The fact that I’m able to make a difference in someone’s life is a huge motivator and is what I like the most,” Thibodeau said.

Andie Conching ’18 took “Zumba Toning,” a class she always looked forward to attending.

“[Thibodeau] was really energetic,” she said. “If I was having a really slow day she could wake me up.”

Conching said that she decided to take the class for a P.E. credit with some of her friends because she thought it would be a fun way to get a workout.

Megan Batangan ’18 said that she could tell that Thibodeau enjoyed teaching because she always had lots of energy.

“I really loved the class,” Batangan said. “Evelyn used a lot of current music, so it was fun to dance around.”

In addition to bringing her students joy, Thibodeau said she also finds Zumba to be extremely uplifting for herself.

“I don’t see it as a job,” Thibodeau said. “Teaching Zumba is one of the best things I do.”

Rather than instructing her students to perform the moves to perfection, Thibodeau uses a relaxed method that is characteristic of the easy-going bachata dance.

Conching said that at first, people might feel awkward because they are dancing in a room with many people, most of whom they do not know.

“However, after some time, people get more comfortable and begin to have fun with it,” she said.

Thibodeau clearly wants her students to enjoy themselves as demonstrated by her high level of energy throughout the class. A true dancer at heart, Thibodeau also encourages Dartmouth students to attend Thursday Night Salsa, which is an open event held on the first Thursday of every month at Candela Tapas Lounge. She regularly attends the restaurant’s event as a way to relax and do more of what she loves — dance.

As for her Zumba classes, Thibodeau said she wants her students to be able to use it as a time to workout, but also to take a break from other things they might have going on in their lives.

“People always tell me that for them, this is the time where they don’t have to think about anything,” Thibodeau said. “It’s the highlight of their day.”

This term, Thibodeau teaches Zumba Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Pool View room at the Alumni Gym.