It can be hard to say exactly what makes a group of people fun, but it’s easy to identify when you see it. Truman Krogel’s Zumba Gold class is fun.
Before the class even began on Thursday, the walls of the Kenai Recreation Center vibrated with the warm beats of Latin-influenced dance music. Students shed their coats and boots in favor of sweatpants and T-shirts, despite the thick pad of snow outside. Warming up included some light chatter, which quieted as soon as Krogel stepped up front.
At 74, he doesn’t at first glance look like the live wire he is while teaching Zumba. But as soon as the music began, he was in full form, lip-syncing along to the music and vigorously demonstrating steps for his class to follow.
At first, some of the class members’ moves were stiff or hesitant as they tried to follow along — all the participants were middle-age or older. There was a range of enthusiasm, with some dancers swinging fully into the music and others taking smaller steps.
Krogel said he doesn’t push students beyond their comfort levels.
“I stress that,” he said. “…Once you drop the self-consciousness, you can really get into it.”
Two or three fast-paced songs in, with sweat running and smiles cracking, the class members started to loosen up. Krogel stepped forward mid-song and took the hand of one student, swinging them into a simple dance. At that, several dancers in the front row turned around and approached other members for similar dance steps, drawing out peals of laughter from their classmates.
The songs were a mix of Spanish-language rhumba and dance mixes of familiar tunes. Midway through the class, a version of the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive” bounced through the speakers, eliciting happy comments from a few students.
Zumba as a formal exercise class has been around since the mid-1990s and has spread to nearly every region of the country and every demographic. Krogel teaches Zumba Gold, designed for beginners and older students, toning down some of the more difficult moves.
Krogel is a relative newcomer to Zumba himself. He attended his first class four years ago at the Fitness Place in Soldotna.
“At 70 years old, I just walked into a Zumba class, and I loved it,” he said.
Even fitness was a relatively recent endeavor — he said he didn’t do much physical activity until he was 65. Krogel said he has always been interested in music, which made Zumba a good mix for him. He can get so wrapped up into the music that he gets carried away — once, it led to him launching too hard to one side and breaking a mirror while teaching a class, he said. But the song was still going, so he carried on, he said.
Krogel started teaching classes in January 2017, focusing on Zumba Gold, which he now teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Kenai and Sterling. The class in Sterling is typically smaller than the class in Kenai, which the students said could number a dozen or so. The other teachers in the area have been supportive, too, he said. They don’t compete, in part because the classes serve different demographics or interest levels.
Though he organizes the music, he doesn’t do his own choreography — that comes from the Zumba Instructor Network, an international association for instructors, and from YouTube videos. Krogel said he modifies some sequences to be easier for older or beginning student or throw in extra moves, too, to accommodate those looking for more of a challenge, but it’s really up to everyone how much they want to do.
“There’s a variety of different levels here, and he doesn’t push anybody,” said Anita Davis, one of the students.
Laughter ruled the air among the students gathered on the bleachers at the back between sets, too.
“Everybody is really encouraging,” said student Bobbie Baldwin.
“It’s like (Krogel) says — the music moves you,” said student Mary Armstrong.
Most of the dancers credited Krogel for making the class open and inviting. Likewise, Krogel credited the students for making the class enjoyable. They embrace the nature of the class and get comfortable with the dance and each other, helping them to get into exercise even if they haven’t done it before, he said.
“These people make the class,” he said. “…That’s basically what it amounts to — breaking through barriers.”