Zumba instructor mixes fitness with wellness

Matthew Reyes (lying down in front) sees Zumba as an opportunity for students to let loose, express themselves and let go of the looming stress of daily student life, calling his classes “Music Therapy 101.” SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/MATTHEW REYES

From intense boxing to gentle yoga, USF provides a variety of fitness classes to help students stay in shape. Just as each class has its own unique benefits to offer, the group fitness class Zumba puts its own spin on working out.

USF senior Matthew Reyes is a campus Zumba instructor with a passion for dance and psychology. As a psychology major, Reyes wants to eventually use his degree to help those with mental illnesses identify as many helpful forms of therapy as possible.

When he discovered Zumba, Reyes unearthed what he said was both a great outlet for creativity and a big stress reliever for him. He said he believes it could potentially serve as a form of therapy for others with stress-related mental health issues.

Zumba is a cardio dance workout that gets you moving to various forms of Indian, Latin American, Caribbean and African music. However, Reyes described the class in simpler terms.

“Zumba is half workout, half dance party,” he joked.

The Zumba instructor borrows choreography from Zumba Education Specialists (ZES). Reyes said he learns the accepted choreography and then adds some of his own individual flair to the dances.

“It’s all about idiosyncratic style. … If you’re being your authentic self, then people will notice that and that’ll encourage them to be their own authentic self,” said Reyes.

Being a Zumba instructor isn’t all fun and games, though. It also requires lots of dedication and patience, according to Reyes.

“I have to listen to a song 20 times to get it down, so I choose songs that I like,” he said.

Nonetheless, the student enjoys his work and has a fun time engaging with other dancers.

But Reyes sees Zumba as something much deeper than merely exercise. He views it as an opportunity for students to let loose, express themselves and let go of the looming stress of daily student life. That’s why Reyes introduces his class to students as “Music Therapy 101.”

Reyes stresses the importance of exercise as a form of stress relief, but also emphasizes that dance in particular can help build confidence.

Students with low self-esteem may find that taking Zumba classes regularly helps them become more self-confident, calm and proud of who they are as an individual.

“It hits every demographic, honestly.”

Reyes also loves to instruct Zumba because dance has been a big part of his life since he was young. He grew up around lively family parties with dance and music in South Florida.

“It’s how I was raised in Miami,” said Reyes about his upbringing. “I’m here as a representative of where I came from, and I want to share that with the world I live in.”

Thus, being able to share both his Latin culture and passion for musical therapy, Reyes is more than content with his job.

“One of the best experiences that I’ve had over the course of this job is that you don’t feel like you’re working.

“When people after class come up to you and thank you, that’s what makes it worthwhile.”

He suggests trying out a Zumba class with friends or even alone. He said there is no wrong way to dance in his class.

“You should be exposed to variety in life, that’s what makes it challenging and fun.”