Flint, MI—Saturday mornings on Lewis street are usually a quiet affair. The road is usually empty, the only sign of life the occasional hiss of an MTA bus braking.
But recently, that changed.
Now, Saturday mornings at the Latinx Tech Center filled the area with the sounds of salsa legends like Celia Cruz and Marc Anthony and are accompanied by the taps of dozens tennis of shoes on concrete and the voice of salsa instructor Ibis Fernandez booming through the loudspeakers.
The tech center and Harambee Wellness have partnered recently to host salsa classes.
The classes have doubled in attendance since they began earlier this summer, with more showing up every weekend, organizers said. Fernandez has taken this growth to mean there is a demand in the city for community-oriented outdoor exercise classes like the one she leads.
“The first class I held, only around 10 people showed up. The next week it was 12 and so on. Now there are 22 students and I love them all,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez, a Cuban immigrant who has spent the majority of her life speaking Spanish, said she was originally worried about how she would interact with people attending her class. She also had concerns about whether or not dancing to Salsa music would be an attraction or deterrent for people to join the class.
After her first class, however, Fernadez said her worries disappeared. In fact, Fernadez said speaking in English during her classes has helped with her English.
“My students are so patient with me. They know I don’t speak English very well so they try and listen closely and we all find a way to communicate with each other. I enjoy speaking with them to the degree that I can, I find it easier to speak with them actually,” Fernandez said.
As for the music, Fernandez said it’s been a hit.
“I enjoy sharing my music. Personally, I’m like a fish in water dancing to Salsa, it’s comfortable for me and everyone else seems to love it. I’m giving them something that’s from my culture and it feels great to be able to share something like that,” Fernandez said.
Marquita Adams, the owner of Harambee Wellness, an organization focused on health, wellness and nutrition, runs a program called Get Fit in Flint. With an emphasis on collective health, GFF offers free community exercise classes every week in different parts of Flint.
Adams said when she started the program, she wanted it to be inclusive. To her, this meant reaching out to Flint’s different communities including the Latinx community.
“We wanted to target all of the areas of Flint so I reached out to the Latinx Center to bring fitness here and we just made it happen,” Adams said.
Being a Zumba instructor as well as a self-proclaimed lover of Latinx music, Adams said she could not have imagined a better outcome for the Salsa classes.
“I can’t really articulate the way this class makes my heart smile. To see so many people who may have never heard salsa before getting into it, moving it and going with the flow and having fun, it’s amazing to see,” Adams said. “Dance is exercise in disguise. We’re getting a really good workout. You’re burning serious calories when you’re moving around this much. You don’t have to run or lift weights necessarily, you can do something that’s fun for you.”
Salsa classes at the Tech Center are held every Saturday morning from 10 to 11 a.m. Classes are free but pre-registration is required. Other classes hosted by Get Fit in Flint include Xtreme Hip Hop Step, Yoga and Zumba.