Blaine and Birch Bay get fit with Zumba

Published on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 by Brandy Kiger

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You can feel the music before you even step inside the building. Hip-swaying Latin beats and rhythmic pop hits like “Moves Like Jagger” pound from the speakers, and the energy in the gym is high. 

It’s not a bunch of teenagers getting ready for a sporting event, but rather a group Zumba class hosted by Northwest Park and Recreation District 2 (NWPRD2).

There’s barely a break as the songs transition, but people clap, laugh and keep moving, excited for the next routine. They 
sing along as they keep pace with the instructor, and if you fall out of sync, no one cares. It’s the beauty of the Zumba workout. It doesn’t feel like it’s an aerobics class.

“I love the music,” said Sallie Cymbalski, a Zumba regular at the Birch Bay Activity Center. “It’s a lot of fun. It really makes you coordinate what you’re doing with your feet and arms, and I think it keeps me sharp.”

The high-energy class offers participants a chance to “ditch the workout and join the party,” according to, and offers a Latin-inspired dance fitness program that invites participants to come as they are and learn at their own pace. 

The routines are low-impact but highly aerobic. “Your heart rate goes up and down,” instructor Brenda Brooks-Gelwicks said. “It really improves your flexibility. You won’t be Schwarzenegger, but you will tone your muscles.”

It’s caught fire in Birch Bay and Blaine, with more than 10 classes a week offered at various fitness centers throughout the area, and people can’t seem to get enough of the heart-pounding routines. 

The fitness program, which is suitable for ages 4 to 80-plus (depending on the routine) is a huge draw for those seeking to get fit but who don’t want to spend all their time lifting weights or running in dreary Washington winter weather.

Pam Hansen, a first-timer, joined because of NWPRD2’s January Boot Camp program which partners Zumba classes (both basic and toning) with walking groups to help participants start off the new year right. 

Hansen was amazed at the energy level of the class and the instructor. “She’s a real spitfire,” Hansen said of Brooks-Gelwicks. “I’m coming back. I feel like I exercised. I’m really glad there’s a variety of ages, because it’s not intimidating.” 

Ages ranged from early 30s to 80s in the January 7 class.

“It’s really grown,” Brooks-Gelwicks said. Her class averages around 30 dancers a week. “They are committed. If they aren’t here, they’re over at Whatcom Fitness. It’s also nice that we’ve got a great facility that’s got bright windows and is well-lit, and I think that helps [encourage people to come back].” Brooks-Gelwicks partners with NWPRD2 to offer classes at the Birch Bay Activity Center. She began teaching Zumba there after Curves in Birch Bay closed.

The routines are based on materials sent to certified Zumba instructors, who then choose and modify them for their classes.

The variety in routines means its not just for adults. Zumba has programs that cater to kids ages 4 to 12 called ZumbAtomic,
 and Carella Clark is offering those in Blaine. “It’s similar to the regular classes, with the same kinds of rhythms,” Clark said. “But, it’s broken down with kid-friendly music. I teach them two songs every time they meet with me, and I make it fun.” 

The ZumbAtomic classes are a welcome answer for Clark who is worried about the rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. “It’s really important because it does get kids moving, and it also builds their confidence as they learn the routines,” she said. Clark, who teaches at Whatcom Fitness, has also partnered with Let’s Move, Blaine! for school events as they try to create a culture of healthy living in the Blaine school district. 

ZumbAtomic started this fall at the beginning of the school year. Its second session will begin January 11 and run until March 29 (the beginning of spring break). “We weren’t sure how it would be received, but they loved it,” Clark said. “I have students say ‘That’s the highlight of my week, I can’t wait until Friday.’ It’s so nice to hear that kind of feedback.” Drop-ins are welcome for the first Zumbatomic class on January 11.

If you’re wanting to follow through on those New Year’s Resolutions to which perpetually seem to end up dusty on the shelf, it’s a great opportunity to shake that dust off and shake your booty to get fit this year. 

Both Clark and Brooks-Gelwicks are offering several classes a week, along with Christina Alexander who teaches at North Bay Christ the King. 

For more information, contact Carella Clark at Whatcom Fitness at, Brenda Brooks-Gelwicks at NWPRD2 at or Christina Alexander at Fourth Corner Fitness & Zumba at

To get a feel for what Zumba looks like, check out our video of Brooks-Gelwicks’ class at