Every Monday morning since 2014, St. Christopher’s Church has resounded to the uplifting sounds of Maria Mitchell’s own brand of Zumba.
The music varies from such tunes as a very fast ‘Can-Can’ (possibly the ‘Bad Manners’ version!) and ‘Tequila’ to very up-to-the minute music, but what is constant is the obvious enjoyment of Maria’s ‘Zumbarettes’, who join her in singing along or clapping to the routines they enjoy most. For them, there is no better way to start the week!
Maria was born in the UK to Italian parents in 1967. She had always loved and excelled at gymnastics at primary school. Secondary school began well, with Maria being in the top stream, but she suffered from bullying and eventually dropped out of school aged 15. She taught herself to dance, turning to dance and fitness as a distraction from the bullying. As a late teenager she attended fitness and gym classes. All forms of exercise helped her to cope with the difficulties in her life.
Maria’s early life was difficult, as her mother was constantly being treated for mental illness and her father had to work very hard to support his family.
Dance and fitness were Maria’s passion. She would have loved to have become a fitness instructor; however, her low self-esteem and issues of insecurity, together with her concern that her lack of qualifications would leave her unable to pass any of the necessary theory exams, meant that she did not follow this career path. Instead, she trained as a hairdresser so that she could work alongside her older sister, who she was very close to. Eventually their father opened up a hairdressing salon for them to enable them to work together and run their own business. Maria worked there for about 20 years before building up enough confidence to train to teach. The salon is still running successfully.
Maria began to attend Zumba classes in 2009, when Zumba became popular in the UK. She began to teach Zumba herself in 2011.
Zumba was ideal for Maria to teach because it does not require explaining verbally what participants need to do. The way of learning new routines is to watch the teacher and mimic her movements, with the help of hand gestures. As Maria has gained in confidence and experience, she has taught other fitness classes where a certain amount of verbal explanation is involved.
In 2012, when Maria was looking for venues in different towns, one of her Zumba participants recommended using St. Christopher’s Church for her classes. She started at St. Christopher’s with one Zumba class per week on Monday mornings and her classes proved to be so popular that she began hiring the Church for a second weekly class.
Maria feels that St. Christopher’s has been a perfect venue for her classes. It is light, airy, spacious and cheerful. Mandy (Parish Administrator) has always been very welcoming and efficient.
As a result of teaching in the Claygate area, Maria received an invitation to do a Zumba display at the annual Claygate Flower Show. This year will be her fifth consecutive year of performing there.
Zumba is an excellent form of exercise, not only physically, but it is also very good for mental well-being. It is even recommended now by doctors as a means of getting fit, coping with mental illness, losing weight and improving self-esteem. Due to Maria’s own background and having suffered from difficulties at various times in her past, Maria makes a particular effort to make people feel welcome at her classes. She also makes the lessons as uplifting as possible, with easy, fun routines, which even beginners can follow. Her classes are suitable for all ages and all levels of fitness. She has anything from children to baby boomers (born in the 40’s and 50’s) attending her classes. People often start attending when they want to lose weight or get fit. Others come because they are looking for an uplifting class to lift their spirits.
Maria’s ‘Zumbarettes’ are full of praise for Maria and her classes. She has been described by them as: ‘the best Zumba teacher, so much energy and such’ and she’s ‘fun, constantly smiling, full of positive energy’ and the classes ‘a fabulous stress release, excellent fitness’ ‘exhilarating’, ‘great fun’ and ‘stimulating’, leaving them feeling ‘energised’ and ‘alive’.
Maria Mitchell is an inspiration to us all!
Why not join Maria and her Zumbarettes on a Monday morning at St. Christopher’s Church?