In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 6:05 PM on Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Zumba and more at homer's community recreation


By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer NewsPhoto provided

instructor Maria Santa Lucia, left, and class participant Jessie Alward lead the moves in Monday's Zumba class

Exhaustion from a too-short weekend, a jam-packed Monday and a long to-do list evaporated Monday, no match for the Latin music flooding Homer High School's green room. Maria Santa Lucia cranked up the volume and the energy in the room transformed into a room filled with smiling faces.

Welcome to Zumba, "an exhilarating, effective, easy-to-follow, Latin-inspired, calorie-burning dance fitness party," according to the city of Homer Community and Recreation's description.

As my mind and body slipped into the music's beat, I heard Santa Lucia invite us to make the movements fit our capabilities and to let the music lead.

More than once I moved this way instead of that, missed a step pattern and was the only one with gray hair, but young and old were having a good time.

"It brought out good, positive energy in those young girls," said Laura Asbell, a school nurse at Paul Banks Elementary School who also was tn the class. "It really seemed to touch them spiritually."

Zumba, with 70 percent of its moves Latin-inspired, is "easy to do and yet you find yourself getting a very good work out, you find yourself feeling happy afterwards," said Santa Lucia.

This is one of several classes offered during the fall and winter by Community Rec. There also is a play group for youngsters 0-5 years of age, as well as a preschool story hour. There's basketball for all ages, karate and gymnastics. Want to learn silversmithing? No problem, with a three-day class this month and again in January taught by Art Koeninger.

Kayaking classes include everything from the basics to races, taught by the Alaska Kayak School. Ping-pong? Fencing? Rock climbing? Got 'em. Basketball? Soccer? Volleyball? Yup, them, too. As well as dance, fitness classes, the use of a weight room and even a hunter's safety class taught by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Mike Illg is Community Rec's full-time coordinator. He's been with the program for eight years, when it was operated by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. In 2006, the district asked Homer to take over operation for the southern peninsula.

"(Homer City) Council agreed to take it over for a year, letting the community decide whether or not the city should assume the program as a city function through a community wide vote. It passed overwhelmingly, by a two-to-one margin," said Illg.

Classes are offered at the Homer High and Middle schools, with the program charged a flat annual rate of $6,000 by the district. Part of Illg's duties involve avoiding conflicts with school district and other community activities.

"We make sure we put ourselves on hold so other activities have access to the facilities," said Illg.

Some classes require a minimum number of participants; others do not.

"Sometimes there's so much activity, we don't have enough room to expand," said Illg. "Every class, every function is unique and different."

And there's room for more. For instance, Illg is developing a list of individuals interested in forming a running club.

"It's never a dull moment, that's for sure," said Illg.

Clearly, that was the case in Monday night's Zumba class. While some enthusiasm could be linked to the music's infectious rhythm, it also could be accredited to Santa Lucia. After taking a Zumba class while visiting the Lower 48, she became a certified Zumba instructor. In addition to Community Recreation, Santa Lucia teaches Zumba classes at the Bay Club and Midtown Café. After Monday's class, she headed to a Girl Scout meeting where she'd been invited to lead the troop in a couple of songs.

"I never thought I'd love it so much," she said.

"I knew this would fit who I am. It just has got better and better."