Mercer sophomore promotes fitness and confidence through her love for dance

Thais Ackerman

Thais Ackerman, Staff Writer

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“5,6,7,8 and to the left!,” said Mercer sophomore Zara Gabriel as she led her group fitness hip-hop class.

When Gabriel was about 13-years-old, her mother decided to give her “the talk.” This talk wasn’t about the birds and the bees though, it was about the importance of health.

Genetic hypertension runs in Gabriel’s family. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition in which the force of blood against the artery walls is too high. Overtime, if untreated, it can cause the blood to clot which can lead to serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. However, the condition can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle filled with a nutritious diet and exercise regimen.

“She just wanted me to be aware of the genes that we have in our family and just be conscious,” Gabriel said.

That is why fitness is important to her and her family, Gabriel said. It is also a part of the reason why she got involved with Mercer’s group fitness program.

“I realized that I hate running,” Gabriel said. “Then I swam a lot and I danced a lot and I realized that those are the best forms of exercise for me.”

Gabriel teaches two classes a week: a zumba class that meets at 8:30 p.m. every Tuesday and a hip-hop aerobics class that meets on 5:30 p.m. on Fridays.

Although she’s not a professional dancer, Gabriel said she has always carried an appreciation for the choreography of the artform and how it promotes an active body and healthy mind. She first got involved with dance in high school when she took it as a course during her freshman and sophomore years.

During that time she was an active participant in the zumba classes at her home gym in Duluth, Georgia. Then last year for her 18th birthday, she asked her parents to purchase her zumba instructors certification. With a little over $200 and after about four hours of training in zumba history and performance, Gabriel was officially an instructor.

When applications to become a group fitness instructor at Mercer hit the scene, Gabriel decided put her certification to use.

“I am very, very excited,” she said. “I would want people to just come out and try the group fitness program. It’s kind of an untouched gold here at Mercer that people don’t utilize as much as they should.”

Her classes have been a hot topic on campus since the semester started. So far, Gabriel said she has had a decent turnout to her classes with an average of about 15 people per class.

“At the end of the day, if you have a consistent 10 or 15 people who come and you know them on a more personal level and you get to dance with them and exercise with them it’s a lot better than having (a large) turnout,” she said.

Gabriel said not only is she striving to keep students moving, but she also aims to expose her attendees to different cultures through her classes.

“It’s a great way to teach people… a different side of the world that they might not know,” she said.

Her zumba classes feature a mixture of music from a number of Latin American, Caribbean and African countries. She also pairs the music along with primarily Latin American dance moves derived from styles like salsa, bachata, cumbia, merengue and mambo.

“With those classes comes the historical background of those moves and those cultures,” Gabriel said. “I always try to be like, ‘Hey! This is a Spanish artist. You guys should listen to him; he’s really cool.’ A lot of people don’t really venture out of what they usually like.”

On the other hand, her hip-hop class is a lot more free style, she said.

Gabriel includes a full body exercise, aerobics, into a sequence of traditional hip-hop dance steps and movements all with her own expressive twist. Attendees to her hip-hop aerobics class follow Gabriel along an unpredictable routine to a broad range of music. The class incorporates a variety of movements ranging from jumping and running to krumping, rolling and pumping.

Gabriel also offers other renditions of her hip-hop aerobics class. Most recently, she adapted her regular afternoon Friday session to a heels class for women. She plans on conducting other variety classes in the future as well.

“I was trying to instill self confidence in the people who came to the class. It’s a way to tap into the power the women have ,” she said.

“I am very, very excited,” she said. “I would want people to just come out and try the group fitness program. It’s kind of an untouched gold here at Mercer that people don’t utilize as much as they should.”

Gabriel said her classes are a judgement free zone and encourages anyone who is on the fence about attending one of her group fitness sessions to come out to one class, sit in and see if it’s something they are comfortable with and interested to get involved in.

Along with being a group fitness instructor, involved with other organizations on campus and on the road to a psychology and spanish major with a Chemistry minor on the pre med track, Gabriel is a student a hefty schedule herself. Nonetheless, she finds the time to practice her love for dance while she gets her fitness on.

She said as a result of hectic schedules, she understands if students cannot find the time to tap into the University Center’s fitness programs frequently, but she still stresses the importance of using the facilities there to contribute to a healthy lifestyle even if that means coming to the center minimally.

“Coming and even taking one group fitness class a week, not only will it help you physically but it will also help the program and you will get to know more people and see different types of classes,” she said.

Gabriel said she hopes that by dancing in front of a mirror at least once a week her classes will encourage her attendees to feel comfortable in their own skin and build the same self confidence she built from capitalizing on her passion for dance and fitness.

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