Library

Turning Enthusiasm into Exercise with Adaptive Zumba

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They come from a variety of backgrounds and each has different challenges, but for one hour a week in the Lemon Grove Library, a group of special needs adults all have one thing in common – their enthusiasm.

Between 20 and 30 show up each week for an adaptive Zumba class that has them kicking, twirling, clapping and doing “the Stanky Leg.”

“They follow routines very well,” said Lisabeth Garces, the certified Zumba instructor that leads the class. “I make it inclusive and simple and motivate them to do what they can do.”

For some, it’s their primary exercise outlet. All participants are welcome including those in wheelchairs or those who need to sit in order to do the routines.

“You get people with all levels of coordination, but you get that in any class,” said Garces. “They can do the same work sitting or standing – it’s the movement that’s important.”

The classes are put on by the Juan Carlos Organization. JCO is a non-profit started by Garces in honor of her late son who passed away from the effects of muscular dystrophy at the age of 15 in 1999.

The routines are set to both popular songs and new music. The group exercises to “Y.M.C.A.,” “Macarena” and “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”, among other songs. The atmosphere makes the class fun and the exercising enjoyable.

Physical activity like Zumba promotes cardiovascular strength, tones muscles and sharpens awareness in individuals, according to JCO. It also helps build self-confidence and social skills.

Throughout the hour, several different individuals stepped to the front of the class to help lead routines.

“I have a lot of helpers,” said Garces. “They help me a lot and they can feel so comfortable and so good about themselves that they can do that and be a part of leading the class.

“It makes them social, and they’re so happy and smiling the whole time and that’s very important.”

The classes fit with the County’s Live Well San Diego vision for a region that is building better health, living safely and thriving and the library’s mission to eliminate barriers so all community members have full access to library resources.

“The library is an inclusive space where everyone is welcomed,” said Liz Vagani, Lemon Grove branch manager. “Programs like adaptive Zumba bring underserved populations into the library, and show the participants the value we place on their presence in our branches.

“Every week we have at least 20 special needs adults waiting at the door for the program to start.”

The class is every Thursday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Lemon Grove Library, 3001 School Lane. It’s also offered at the Poway Library, 13137 Poway Road, on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact