7:54pm

Tue August 13, 2013
Health, Science, Environment

Dance in the library? Why not

Libraries are where many people go to exercise their brains, and now there’s at least one where you can exercise your body. The 81st Avenue Branch Library in East Oakland is finding that what people want in their neighborhood is to work out. And, they didn’t have to go far to find the right instructor.

When I meet fifteen-year-old Jennifer Estrada she's in the upstairs room of the library and she’s getting ready for class. She looks anxious. “My name is Jennifer but I go by Ariella,” she tells a class of about 12 people who are about to work out with her. “We’re going to do a workout video for people who are overweight,” she says.

Battling obesity

This is the first class Ariella’s teaching, with the help of a video. She’s normally downstairs in the library with all of the books. That’s where she has come for years to check out books about nutrition and health.

“I used to be overweight, people made fun of me. When I started working out, they laughed at me,” she says.

Ariella carries difficult memories with her about her weight, like of the kids at school making fun of her for her clothes being too tight, and of that horrible day when her doctor told her she was obese, weighing nearly 200 pounds.

“I don’t want to be skinny, I want to be fit, that’s a big difference,” Ariella says, now with a smile.

Getting fit at the library

A couple of years ago Ariella came here to the library to check out fitness videos, and she started with Zumba. It’s a popular exercise that combines dance and aerobics. Thanks to these videos and changing her diet, Ariella started losing weight and became healthy again. She even got her mom, Wendy Sanchez, to exercise with her. When Wendy's doctor told her that she would have to take insulin, she agreed to exercise with her daughter and has been doing so every morning since. She lost 55 pounds. 

A safe place to exercise

Libraries aren’t the most practical place for an exercise dance party, but the library decided to make an exception. The 81st Avenue branch is in a high-crime area of East Oakland, so it’s always looking for ways to get people together over something positive. When Ariella approached the library about leading a class, Anthony Propernick, the Senior Library Assistant here, didn’t see why not.  He says, "If the community wants a Zumba class and it's something we can provide and make sure it's something that doesn’t spill over into the library, we should share it with them.”

When the class starts, Ariella doesn’t seem so afraid to be in front of the room. She even speaks to the women in both English and Spanish. She emphasizes that she is mostly there to keep everyone motivated. The video starts, and the 13 or so women standing behind Ariella mimic the moves on the screen. Occasionally, Ariella turns around and smiles or gestures to the class to step it up a notch. Everyone looks to be having a good time.

"They're not alone"

When the class is over, Ariella makes her rounds to find out how she did. That’s when she meets Kenya Ruffin who comes to the library weekly to meet with her counselor. “I have a leg injury,” Ruffin tells the young instructor, “I was shot three times, twice in one leg, once in this leg,” she points to her thigh, “so it’s a little hard to keep up.” Ariella nods and tells Ms. Ruffin to keep coming to the class and drink plenty of water. 

Ariella only lives a few houses down from the library. Most of the women in this class also live nearby. They talk about the gunfire they hear at night and not feeling safe. Two of the women say they appreciate having a safe space to go and exercise during the day.

“I’m doing it because I want to motivate people out there to come here and work. They're not alone; I’m here for them,” she says.

Moments later, Ariella’s riding her bike down 81st Avenue with a huge sense of accomplishment. One hand is full of video tapes, the other is on the handlebars, her chin up. She looks ready for next week's class.Libraries are where many people go to exercise their brains, and now there’s at least one where you can exercise your body. The 81st Avenue Branch Library in East Oakland is finding that what people want in their neighborhood is to work out. And, they didn’t have to go far to find the right instructor.

When I meet fifteen-year-old Jennifer Estrada she's in the upstairs room of the library and she’s getting ready for class. She looks anxious. “My name is Jennifer but I go by Ariella,” she tells a class of about 12 people who are about to work out with her. “We’re going to do a workout video for people who are overweight,” she says.

Battling obesity

This is the first class Ariella’s teaching, with the help of a video. She’s normally downstairs in the library with all of the books. That’s where she has come for years to check out books about nutrition and health.

“I used to be overweight, people made fun of me. When I started working out, they laughed at me,” she says.

Ariella carries difficult memories with her about her weight, like of the kids at school making fun of her for her clothes being too tight, and of that horrible day when her doctor told her she was obese, weighing nearly 200 pounds.

“I don’t want to be skinny, I want to be fit, that’s a big difference,” Ariella says, now with a smile.

Getting fit at the library

A couple of years ago Ariella came here to the library to check out fitness videos, and she started with Zumba. It’s a popular exercise that combines dance and aerobics. Thanks to these videos and changing her diet, Ariella started losing weight and became healthy again. She even got her mom, Wendy Sanchez, to exercise with her. When Wendy's doctor told her that she would have to take insulin, she agreed to exercise with her daughter and has been doing so every morning since. She lost 55 pounds. 

A safe place to exercise

Libraries aren’t the most practical place for an exercise dance party, but the library decided to make an exception. The 81st Avenue branch is in a high-crime area of East Oakland, so it’s always looking for ways to get people together over something positive. When Ariella approached the library about leading a class, Anthony Propernick, the Senior Library Assistant here, didn’t see why not.  He says, "If the community wants a Zumba class and it's something we can provide and make sure it's something that doesn’t spill over into the library, we should share it with them.”

When the class starts, Ariella doesn’t seem so afraid to be in front of the room. She even speaks to the women in both English and Spanish. She emphasizes that she is mostly there to keep everyone motivated. The video starts, and the 13 or so women standing behind Ariella mimic the moves on the screen. Occasionally, Ariella turns around and smiles or gestures to the class to step it up a notch. Everyone looks to be having a good time.

"They're not alone"

When the class is over, Ariella makes her rounds to find out how she did. That’s when she meets Kenya Ruffin who comes to the library weekly to meet with her counselor. “I have a leg injury,” Ruffin tells the young instructor, “I was shot three times, twice in one leg, once in this leg,” she points to her thigh, “so it’s a little hard to keep up.” Ariella nods and tells Ms. Ruffin to keep coming to the class and drink plenty of water. 

Ariella only lives a few houses down from the library. Most of the women in this class also live nearby. They talk about the gunfire they hear at night and not feeling safe. Two of the women say they appreciate having a safe space to go and exercise during the day.

“I’m doing it because I want to motivate people out there to come here and work. They're not alone; I’m here for them,” she says.

Moments later, Ariella’s riding her bike down 81st Avenue with a huge sense of accomplishment. One hand is full of video tapes, the other is on the handlebars, her chin up. She looks ready for next week's class.

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