How I Discovered My Zumba Fitness Niche

May 13,2013
People often ask me how and why I began teaching Zumba Fitness to the Elder  (Senior ) population. This is my story about how this evolved.

I was living in Rio Rancho, NM when I saw a TV commercial with Beto Perez, my former Latin Aerobics instructor at The Williams Island Spa, Aventura FL. I bought the Zumba Fitness DVDs and I knew immediately, I would become a Zumba Fitness instructor.

I was concerned that I would be ‘the oldest Zumba Fitness Instructor in the world”, since most of the dancers on the DVD looked like they were in their 20’s and 30’s. Eventually, I moved back to Florida and signed up to take the Zumba Fitness Instructor training in Miami, FL.

I became Licensed and Certified in Miami in 2005 by Beto, at a training with hundreds of very young, sexy, beautiful instructors from all over the world. I felt like “the oldest Zumba Fitness instructor  in the world” that day.

After the training,  I continued to take classes every week with Beto and the very young Latino male/female participants in Aventura, FL. I looked around during the class and didn’t see any ‘older adults’ who could maintain the pace of the class. The music was very, very fast, many different steps, with jumping and twisting. The seniors were doing the class in their own rhythm at their own pace. Many of whom looked as if they were in a different class entirely, as what they did didn’t resemble steps we were doing. They looked frustrated because they couldn’t keep up.

This is when I decided that I would create a Zumba Fitness class for Seniors at a slower pace, fewer steps, low impact, no jumping and with clear instructions.

Most Zumba Fitness instructors do not teach any dance steps before the class begins. The instructor does not talk about the steps before or during the dance. The students watch the instructor and do what he/she does. Hopefully you can follow. In my Zumba Gold class, I planned to give instructions to each dance and verbal cues during the song.

I am an experienced Latin dancer who danced in competitions. Yet, there were days when I took an advanced Zumba class, fast, fast, fast rhythm and many, many steps…that I couldn’t follow.

I was frustrated. I couldn’t believe that I, who danced all my life,  couldn’t keep up. My body, my feet and arms weren’t moving as fast as my brain wanted it to. I felt very uncoordinated. I couldn’t keep the pace with the Instructor nor the younger students.  I couldn’t dance fast enough to adjust to the abrupt change in steps or rhythm.

I felt old, really old. I felt awkward. I felt clumsy, although I’ve been an accomplished Latin dancer all my life- Cha Cha, Merengue, Salsa, Mambo, Tango, Rhumba, Samba, Flamenco. I danced throughout high school. I danced throughout college and even appeared on The Dick Clark Bandstand when I was single. I danced with my husband and dance partner for more than 17 years. With all my experience as a dancer, I had a hard time maintaining and keeping up the pace with the instructor and all the ‘younger’ students.

When I was in my dancing prime, I’d rather dance than eat. Dancing had always been a huge part of my life.  Divorced in 1977, I no longer had my husband/dance partner. Dancing wasn’t fun anymore. I was not only divorcing my husband and dance partner, but also losing another important part of my life- my love for dance.

In my later years, frustrated at singles dances, either standing and watching people dance or dancing with men who couldn’t dance, I stopped dancing. This was not a healthy decision for me because I derived so much joy and satisfaction from this form of exercise- it was my healing art. I became very sad and somewhat depressed about not dancing. I longed to dance. My body, mind and spirit ached to be dance, to be both stimulated and soothed by the music and the rhythms. Dancing made me feel alive, energetic, youthful and balanced,

When I found Zumba Fitness, I discovered that I could satisfy my dance craving and didn’t need to subject myself to singles dances or to men who couldn’t dance. I was happy again that Latin dancing and  Latin music was once again in my life. I didn’t need a dance partner. I could dance by myself or with others.

As I continued to teach and take Zumba Fitness classes with much younger male and female instructors, I realized that I would never teach the way they do. I compared my skills at 65yrs old with the skills of a 20-40yr old and they didn’t match up.  Yes! I could be part of their class and dance with them, jump, bend, twist and do fast dance steps, but I could never teach like them.

I was very upset and frustrated and considered resigning as an Instructor many, many times. I have always set very high standards for myself and I was convinced that I wasn’t good enough to teach. Although students always loved my classes, I wasn’t satisfied with my Zumba Fitness skills.

I have been a high achiever all my life and I didn’t like being mediocre in anything I pursued. I felt like a mediocre Zumba Instructor.  I wanted to be the best, yet compared to the younger instructors, I was not the best. I was competing with instructors who were either group fitness instructors, personal trainers or professional dancers with years of choreographing experience .

I was none of these. I was a 65 yr old woman who loved to dance, who loved to teach, who loved seeing aliveness in people’s eyes and joy on people’s faces, who loved knowing that dancing was keeping them healthy, mentally, physically and emotionally.

I didn’t have a clue about choreographing a song.  I didn’t have the technical skills of a personal trainer. I was not a group fitness instructor. I was a dancer who loved to dance. I just loved to dance; I was an enthusiastic, energetic and passionate instructor and wanted to turn other people on to this amazing exercise program. Yet, I convinced myself that I was a failure as a Zumba Fitness Instructor and told my family that I would never teach Zumba Fitness again. I’ll just take classes and dance.

Several months passed and I stopped teaching. Yet, I’m a great teacher in so many other areas: I teach motivational classes, workshops and seminars on Health and Fitness. I inspire people to keep their eye on their goal, not to quit when the going gets rough. Yet I wasn’t following my own advice. I quit without seeking a solution to the problem.

I was struggling with the idea of desperately wanting to teach and not feeling like an expert Zumba Fitness Instructor.  I was determined to find a solution and I would find another population to teach.

Fortunately,  a spark ignited deep inside me driving me towards a more comfortable teaching style. I became Licensed as a Zumba Gold Instructor and began teaching Seniors and beginners to Zumba. I used the same music that I received every month from the Zumba Instructor Network. I wrote down the steps.  I practiced the DVDs, transferred  the songs to my Ipod and regained my confidence to teach. I knew that if a person loved something so much, we just cannot suppress that passion. That was it!! I was passionate about Zumba and passionate to start teaching again, my way.

I accepted the fact that I am almost 40 yrs older than most instructors; that I can’t teach or move the way they do; that although I look youthful, my body and mind are not as sharp as they used to be. There had to be a market where I would derive great satisfaction and confidence in myself as a Zumba Gold Fitness instructor. I was determined to find that niche where few dared to go.

I promised myself I would thrive and be successful and comfortable as a Zumba Gold Fitness instructor, teaching ‘my way’ and utilizing ‘my talents’ and passion. I am gifted with the skill of being able to change the steps, increase/decrease the number of repetitions, reduce the speed of the dance instantly, based on the type/skill level of the participants.

I searched endlessly to find a community to share my joy and enthusiasm for Zumba Fitness as dance therapy.  With so many Basic and Advanced Zumba Fitness instructors around the world now, I often asked myself, “what makes me different from the rest? Why would someone take my class over another’s?”  I didn’t have the answer yet, but  I would continue to search to find the answer and find my unique market.

I prayed daily for spirit to guide me to the right people and the right places to share my talents, passion and love for music and dance, for healing people.

Derrick and I, Scottsdale, AZ

2012- I am now 72yrs old and licensed to teach Zumba Gold, Aqua Zumba, ZumbAtomic and Basic Zumba.

I found my niche. I have been in the Holistic Health field for more than 50 years, constantly fine tuning my focus to meet the needs of the times. I am a Life Coach, specializing in Geriatric Health and Wellness. Zumba Gold/Chair Zumba is part of my program.

Lighthouse Point Assisted Living Facility

I joined The Virginia Beach Task Force on Aging, as well as The Norfolk and Chesapeake Task Forces on Aging, comprised of people focusing on senior care. I have met many wonderful people involved with Assisted Living, Independent Living and Memory Care Communities, who have invited me to teach Zumba Gold/Chair Zumba.

I teach Zumba Gold and Chair Zumba because I know that within every person is a dancer, a lover of music, that music and dance brings aliveness and energy and joy into people’s hearts and minds.

I love seeing their happy faces lit up and smiling.

I love hearing them hooting and howling to the Latin sounds.

I love seeing people moving and having fun in a Zumba class.

I love seeing those with Alzheimer’s remembering how much they loved music and dance.

I love wrapping belly dancing scarves around the dancers and watching their faces as they jingle and jangle.

I love seeing the faces of those with Parkinson’s Disease when they’re moving to the dynamic Latin rhythms.

Endorphins are releasing in their brains. Pain is subsiding. Happy hormones are flowing.

The stress hormone cortisol is reduced from dancing and laughing and being with other dancers.

I love holding the hands of seniors with Dementia, when they’re not responding, and then they begin to tap their feet, clap their hands to the music.

They cannot stay depressed or angry when they’re dancing .

This is why I teach Zumba Gold and Chair Zumba and why I specialize in Geriatric Health and Wellness. This is why although I may be ‘the oldest Zumba Gold Instructor in the World”, I’m thrilled at the idea.

To Schedule a Class in Your Area:

Email me at or Call: 602-708-9018

In addition, I am working closely with PrimePlus Norfolk Senior Center, Norfolk, VA, as a Zumba Gold Fitness Instructor, Workshop Leader, Massage Therapist and writer for  their newspaper,  a column entitled, Dr. Shellie-On Healthy Living.

My prayers were answered. I found my niche. I am no longer trying to compete with 20 or 30 yr olds. I am a 73 year old senior supporting and empowering other seniors to live a healther, longer life filled with love, passion and a reason to wake up every morning.


Click here to visit my website to purchase Zumba Gold Fitness DVD set

Click here to visit my website purchase clothes and see class schedules 


4 thoughts on “How I Discovered My Zumba Fitness Niche

  1. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. I’ve been thinking about becoming a Zumba Gold instructor for a while and came across your blog when researching Zumba Gold earlier today.

    Like you, I love to dance and already teach Nia, but Zumba seems to bring in the people and I need to make a living! Am thinking of doing the training at the end of March.

    • Hi anne and thank you for taking the time to write. My philosophy about my career is that when i do what I love- not only will the money follow- but you are also prolonging your life. I’m touched that my path has inspired so many people on so many levels. My passion for my work- teaching Zumba Fitness, doing massage, writing and teaching seniors the natural approach to living a healthier longer life, is is contagious. You go for it ! You can do it and you’ll be a great Zumba instructor. Teach at your own pace-and have fun. Blessings, Shellie

    • Hello Anne, Thank you for your interest in teaching Zumba. If I have already answered your question, I apologize for the duplicate. Sometimes on the blog it’s hard to see who/when the blogs were answered.
      Let me know how the training goes. If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know. Have fun in your class.

      • Hello Shellie

        Yes, you had replied, but thank you for getting in touch again!

        I’m doing Jump Start Zumba Gold training in Cambridge, UK this week-end and really looking forward to it.

        Best wishes

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