Elementary Zumba

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Teachers from School District 22 received a lesson of their own on Monday — in Zumba!

A local health activist has danced his way into Mill Basin and Marine Park schools in order to promote fitness through Zumba, but his new extra-curricular activities aren’t just for the kids. The man known as the “Zumba Daddy” was joined by School District 22 superintendent Rhonda Farkas, along with her staff, teachers, and members of the Parent Teacher Association for an evening of salsa-inspired exercises on Dec. 2.

“Let me tell you something,” said Gillette. “Dr. Farkas can Zumba. She did a great job.”

Bergen Beach attorney Joe “Zumba Daddy” Gillette has been using Zumba for the last two years to promote the local Relay For Life cancer fund-raising event held annually in Mill Basin, and he even set a record for New York City’s largest indoor Zumba class earlier this year.

To reach a wider audience, however, Gillette worked out a deal with Farkas, where he and his volunteer Zumba instructors would teach fitness classes in the 35 schools of District 22.

The Zumba Daddy hopes that by offering healthy living and Zumba fun, he can get the kids to pay him back by getting their teachers and parents to form Relay for Life teams. So far, he says that 29 schools have expressed interest in joining the program, making for tens of thousands of potential Relay-for-Lifers.

“We’re going to try and bring these fitness programs to each of these schools,” he said. “In the last month, we’ve gone from this little relay, and we’ve exploded. If you run the numbers, we’ve got access to 20,000–25,000 kids and their parents.”

But Monday’s event at the Quentin Road Casale Karate and Fitness Center wasn’t all fun and fraternization, with a strenuous, one-hour workout courtesy of Zumba instructor Maxine Garcia-Davis.

“Oh my god, it was amazing,” Said Gracia-Davis. “It was a really great experience. They said they loved the music, the exercises, and they all walked out dripping wet and sweaty, so, my job was done.”

So far, Gillette has only held one Zumba class for kids as a part of the School District 22 program, but it’s already started paying off.

“At PS 197, a second grader came up to me and said, ‘Hey Mister, today I’m gonna dance to save a person,’ ” Gillette recalled. “It was like a TV moment.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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