South Burlington resident Angel Herrera has gained quite the following as a Zumba instructor around the area. He teaches at HammerFit in Essex as well as Urban Dance Complex in Williston, the YMCA in Burlington and the University of Vermont’s fitness program. Originally from Sajardo, Puerto Rico, Herrera moved to Vermont in 2001 when IBM hired him just out of college.
Though you may recognize him from local Zumba classes, it isn’t Herrera’s full-time gig — he’s actually an electrical engineer. Herrera puts in his full-time hours at Hallam-ICS in South Burlington, but after work he laces up his sneaks and heads to the gym to teach the aerobic, Latin-based workout class. Recently Herrera discussed his background and experience with Zumba.
Q: When and where did you learn to Zumba?
A: When I came to Vermont, I had never danced before. I missed my Latin culture and wanted to get closer to my roots, so I started taking some Latin dance lessons and I found it came naturally to me. I became a formal Latin dance instructor around 2006 and still teach it today. I found out about Zumba in between jobs. A friend, who I had done some dancing and performances with, started telling me I should try Zumba — that I would be really good at it. I went to her class one day and was hooked. I trained for teaching and became a Zumba instructor in 2009.
Q: How does your background influence your Zumba instruction?
A: My Latin and musical backgrounds influence me a lot. I grew up listening to Latin rhythms in Puerto Rico. I also used to play percussion and drums. In college, I became a martial arts instructor, and still teach today. My musicality, physical fitness and Latin background all come together in Zumba.
Q: What type of music do you use in class?
A: It depends. Sixty to sixty-five percent of the time it’s Latin music, but Zumba encompasses different genres. I also use salsa, merengue, reggaeton, samba, capoeira, hip hop, tango, swing, bhangra — an Indian Bollywood type of rhythm — and house music because it has a good constant beat. I think that’s one of the things people like — I try to keep the classes dynamic and interesting. It also brings a level of challenge to students in terms of what I do with these different rhythms.
Q: How do you create a high-energy atmosphere?
A: I try to work with my Latin background and select songs that I know will be happy and positive, and I also need to get the people motivated and involved. One of the most important things when you’re dancing is having a good rhythm… It looks nice and people will follow you better if the steps go with the music. I also try to give different crowds something different in terms of conditioning and technicality so they push themselves more. Songs also conform to certain portions of the class. Some are high-intensity; some are medium-intensity. On all of the songs, you’re going to be challenged. For example, with the slow songs, you might be more technically challenged in terms of the steps.
Q: What advice do you have for new students?
A: When new people join the class, I explain to them that they don’t need to worry. If they feel lost in the beginning, that’s normal. With time and repetition, they will become more proficient with the steps and it will become easier. The important thing is for them to feel happy and have a good workout. It’s almost like a party.
Q: Are you really the first male Zumba instructor in Vermont? What is that like?
A: To my understanding, I was the first. I went to my first Zumba class with Allison Dincecco, one of the first instructors in Vermont and the person that got me interested. The other was Deana Rock. At that time, there were no other instructors in Vermont, so when I started teaching, I was the first male. Now there are others. I think that as a Caribbean male Latin dance instructor I bring variety to my classes.
Q: Do you ever get male students?
A: I see some guys, but not as many as ladies. Guys especially can get a little intimidated by the moves, but once they come and try it, they see it’s something they can do too. In fact, Zumba was created by a very charismatic guy, (Alberto) “Beto” Perez from Colombia (in the 1990s).
Q: What do you like most about teaching Zumba?
A: I like to help people take all the stress and energy that they have acquired from their jobs and daily lives and have them use it for something positive. You can definitely feel the energy when class starts. Afterwards, they’re dripping in sweat but with a smile, and it’s great to see that. I also like the networking. The Zumba community is very involved with helping different causes, which makes it different from others. In fact, on Saturday (March 22) we performed at a Zumba convention for Women Helping Battered Women. I was the leader of a Zumba crew of five other people — three girls and three guys, all instructors.
Q: Do you have anything you’d like to add?
A: One of the things I’d like people who don’t know Zumba to understand is that it’s a positive thing, and they should try because it’s fun. The main thing is for people to have a good time while working out. I always welcome everyone — it’s for all ages and all people.