October 26, 2012

What the real Zumba is all about

Instructors cope with the fallout from the scandal

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Susan Sinnett leads a fitness class at Studio Fit of Maine in Portland on Wednesday.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The Avant Dance Center in Westbrook used its sign to drum up new business Thursday by alluding to the scandal in Kennebunk.

Kristin Sutton photo

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Maine residents who teach or practice Zumba hope publicity surrounding Wright's case will create a renewed appreciation for Zumba. (The legal kind, that is).

FUSION OF CARDIO AND DANCE

"If someone asks themselves, 'What is Zumba?' they'll find out it's something wonderful and life-changing," said Sinnett, who said it's not uncommon for her students to lose hundreds of pounds taking Zumba classes.

"It's a fusion of hard-core cardio and dance," Sinnett said. "If someone likes to dance and lose weight and have fun, they take a Zumba class."

While most people who take Zumba classes are female, Zumba attracts the occasional man, like Tim Fish of Westbrook, who said he has lost almost 70 pounds since he started taking classes at Studio Fit of Maine.

Of the Wright case, Fish said, "If Uncle Sam had got his cut, it would not have been as big a deal."

(Among the 106 counts against Wright are three felony charges related to taxes and receiving public assistance when ineligible. She has pleaded not guilty to all 106 counts.)

To some -- including family members of Wright's alleged prostitution clients -- it is a very big deal.

Fish said he knows of someone whose marriage ended because of the prostitution scandal, and he feels badly for the families that could be harmed.

'I WAS SHOCKED'

While most people didn't learn of Wright's alleged transgressions until this summer, members of the close-knit Zumba profession in Maine say they began hearing two years ago that Wright had an alter ego.

"A couple years ago, I'd heard that she had some online pornography going on," said Theresa Saxton, who owns Fitness Success Personal Training in Yarmouth, where Wright taught five years ago. "I did not know that her Zumba studio was a front. I heard she had a side business online."

When news broke of the prostitution charges, Saxton said, "I was shocked."

"Alexis was posting pornographic videos on Craigslist using her name," said Sinnett, who did charity Zumbathons with Wright. "As a result, a number of us pulled away from her professionally."

Still, some instructors who knew Wright praised her skill as an instructor and her friendly demeanor.

"When I first heard the stories, I didn't believe them," said Nina Alves, who runs Nina's Zumba Studio in Portland. "Zumba is a very small community, so everyone had kind of heard rumors of this a couple years ago. The contact had been made to the Zumba main office (in Florida), but nothing came of it."

Vickkie Parent, who teaches Zumba at her Intensity Fitness Dance Studio in Biddeford, said the first time she took a Zumba class, at the Kennebunk Community Center, it was led by Wright.

Years later, when she began getting emails detailing Wright's alleged activity online, Parent said, "I thought it was a joke. I said, 'There's no way.' I called her on it, and she said, 'No, someone hacked into my computer.' "

NO DROP-OFF IN ATTENDANCE

Despite all the talk surrounding Zumba and prostitution, instructors say they haven't seen a drop-off in attendance.

"I don't think it's going to have any kind of negative impact at all," said Peggy Hilfrank, a Zumba instructor who owns The Balanced Body Fitness Studio in Falmouth. "It's no different than a bookkeeper who embezzles from a company. It doesn't make all bookkeepers bad."

But Alves acknowledges that only about 20 percent of the emails she has received since the scandal broke have been serious inquiries.

The rest have come from people hoping that her Friday Night Fitness Parties offer more than the Sexy Salsa and Sassy Samba advertised on her website.

"Some people like Zumba because it can be a little risque," Alves said. "We're very reserved people here in Maine and North America, and when you first see a Zumba class, it does seem sort of sexual."

Sutton, the instructor in Westbrook, thinks that Wright's "shaking the booty down in Kennebunk in all the wrong directions" won't dampen Zumba's legitimacy or popularity.

And she's not averse to poking fun at the Wright case. She's posted this message outside her business:

"Zumba: $5

"No really ... it's just Zumba."

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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