With an encouraging shout, students grooved, stepped and pumped their arms to booming dance music in one of the Maverick Activities Center’s group exercise rooms. People passed by the large room, looking in at the group of students dancing for exercise.
“They’re looking in here,” said Ylonda Burris, athletic training senior and single mom of four daughters. “Give them something to look at.”
She throws out another encouraging shout as she suddenly drops it low, her group of students laughing as they follow along. The gawking people look like they’ve been caught staring and move from their spots quickly.
Burris teaches Zumba, an increasingly popular exercise using Latin music or club music to work out. She teaches Zumba not only at the MAC, but when she can, at the five branches of the Boys and Girls clubs of Arlington for free.
Burris said she has been on her own path with weight loss and fitness for more than 10 years. With an underactive thyroid, diagnosed as hypothyroidism, she has a harder time than most people losing weight.
Hypothyroidism affects the metabolic systems in the body. The underactive thyroid doesn’t produce enough of the hormone that helps regulate the body’s metabolism for daily activity. Zumba helps, she said. Burris had been struggling with her weight problem not knowing why she wasn’t losing weight and keeping it off, despite working out and having good eating habits.
“I would work out and lose weight, and a few days later, I would gain five pounds. I was like ‘What the heck?’ ” she said. She said she visited doctor after doctor asking why she wasn’t losing and keeping her weight off. Each time, the doctors said they had no idea why she was retaining her weight. They told her she must’ve been living a less active lifestyle and that she needed to exercise and be healthy.
The problem was that she was already doing both.
Burris had a full schedule, among school, work and being a single mom of four, she was moving constantly and had less time for meals. But she said the weight stayed on.
After years of not knowing why, and on the line of giving up, she said she visited a health counselor who requested her weight loss journal Burris had been keeping.
“She told me, ‘Things don’t add up, you’re doing everything right,’ ” Burris said.
The counselor asked if Burris had thought of the possibility of a thyroid problem and then suggested seeing a doctor to help find out. With screenings and doctor visits, she finally heard the news that would help her in her journey.
“He reached across the table and grabbed my hand. He told me, ‘You won’t need to come back because you’ll understand what I’m saying,’ ” she said.
Her doctor diagnosed Burris with hypothyroidism. All the traits he described made sense to Burris, she said. That’s when she said she found a new determination to fight back.
“I had to fight, something was wrong and I knew it couldn’t be me,” she said, laughing.
Back on her regime of watching her food intake and exercising, Burris said has to do high intensity workouts at least three to four times a week to lose weight. She said since then, working to keep weight off isn’t as difficult.
“She’s more persistent for a better lifestyle,” Sierra Salser, Burris’ oldest daughter, said. “It inspired her to do a lot more.”
Salser said she remembered her mother’s struggle with weight loss and all the rules Burris was following to lose weight.
“It made me upset that no matter what she did, she couldn’t lose weight,” she said. “She endured. When you’re proud of your mom, it’s another thing.”
Burris said she not only changed her diet, but her family’s diet as well. She and her daughters live a healthy lifestyle together, eating right and keeping active.
“Even if it’s raining or a gloomy day, we use the Wii and keep active instead of watching TV,” Salser said.
Salser said they go to the park often to play basketball or to just run around. Salser said she plays varsity basketball for Arlington High School and said her mom is the reason for her passion. Burris exposed Salser to different sports at 5 or 6 years old and Salser decided basketball was for her.
“She was always there,” Salser said. “She helped me practice. She pushed me. She made me more than a player, but a great player.” As Burris continued in her journey, she found Zumba. She took a few classes and then started looking at videos on YouTube.
“I can do that. I’m a dancer, I’ve always been,” Burris said with excitement. “If you tell me to run 5k, I’ll be like ‘See you later.’ ”
Burris laughed. She said she preferred dancing to running or other workouts. When she found Zumba, she said it allowed her to take another path in her journey.
The MAC was looking for group exercise instructors for fall 2011, and Burris was excited about possibly taking the position.
With her head low and hands hiding her mouth, she asked questions about qualifications and expressing her want for the position. As if it was fate, the job was hers. Once, after a long day of meetings at a UTA Leadership Retreat in 2009, Burris wondered if the retreat had a fitness room she could use. With permission from those in charge and a promise that it would only be practice and not a class, she started her practice.
Two songs in, she said, two people came to the room, curious about what was happening. They asked if she was doing Zumba and if they could join. She clarified she was only practicing and it wasn’t a class. But they still wanted to join. And they did.
They told people, who told people, who texted people and soon the three people became 40 people practicing Zumba. The 40 people spent two and a half hours dancing and enjoying their time. Throughout the retreat, the people came back, practicing Zumba until the end. Burris said she would ask them their favorite songs and they would think of a routine together.
“I came to be known as the Zumba Lady,” Burris said. “They didn’t know my name, but they knew what I did.”
Burris continues her journey today with her Zumba classes at the MAC. In the past three years, she has lost 60 pounds.
She said when her students hear a familiar song that they’ve dance to in her class, they will do the choreography they learned from her. She creates her own choreography for each song.
“You don’t feel like you’re working out,” Jackie Jauregui, Spanish language education junior said.
Jauregui started taking Zumba classes last fall and continued this spring.
“You sweat a lot without knowing. It keeps me pumped for the rest of the day,” she said.
Burris said she encourages her students in the classes she teaches, making sure to tell them that they are working out together.
“Put flavor into it, put you into your workout,” she said.
Burris said she wants her students to know they’re not working out alone and that she is there with them.
“I take them on my journey with me,” she said.