Two years ago, Tziporah Gelman weighed almost 300 pounds and knew she needed to make a change, so she stepped into her first Zumba class at her local gym.
Today, Gelman is a Zumba instructor, in great shape and changing the lives of Jewish women in the community for the better. It was love at first dance move, when Gelman took her first Zumba class.
"To me it didn't feel like a workout, it really felt like a party," she said. The Zumba program, which was created in 2001, is like a fitness dance party that uses Latin-themes and international music to create a fun, dance party vibe that gets people moving and burns calories.
Over the next year-and-a-half, Gelman lost more than 130 pounds. When her class at the gym no longer worked with her schedule, Gelman, a schoolteacher and rebbetzin (rabbi's wife), hired her instructor to host private classes for Jewish women, many of whom didn't feel comfortable exercising in front of men. When the response became overwhelming, her instructor encouraged Gelman to become the teacher.
"She kept telling me, 'You have it, Tziporah, you've got the gift. You have it, your community needs it." And when her instructor moved out of town, Gelman thought seriously about becoming a Zumba instructor herself. "Maybe I really could do this for the Jewish community and get my community moving," she said. "I know for myself I was so heavy and couldn't get out of the rut, and maybe I could inspire other people to get in shape and to do it in a fashion that was actually really fun."
So she became a licensed Zumba Instructor and AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America) Certified Group Fitness Instructor and found a small space to open Frumba Chicago, LLC. Fifteen Jewish women came to her first class, 20 came to the next, and, within a month, she had 50 students. So she rented a bigger space at the Bernard Horwich JCC, and currently rents from the Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation on Touhy and Crawford. Eventually her classes got so large that she hired three of her students to get trained and become instructors as well. She now attracts some 300 students.
For people who didn't have an active social life in the Jewish community, Frumba Chicago is their connection. "They can now be in Jewel or Hungarian [Kosher Foods] and see somebody and they smile because they're part of this secret club," Gelman said.
And while many of her students are from the Orthodox community, there are other Jewish women with no affiliation and even women who are not Jewish.
"It's just so beautiful because I could have 90 women in the room and there are just so many parts of the community that are represented," Gelman said. "If we were sitting and talking Judaism, it would probably be a very heated debate, and yet here we come and we exercise and we just have an amazing and great time and it's just pretty magical."
Gelman has been described by women in the community as a crusader to improve the health and lifestyle choices of Jewish women. "I think a lot of women in the orthodox community very often have a lot of kids and they sort of get put on the back burner. Their health and their well-being very often [aren't prioritized] because life happens and it happens very quickly," she said. "My mission and my dream have always been to get the Jewish community moving."
While she says Zumba is not for everyone, she encourages women of all ages and backgrounds in the community to check out a class at least once. "You'll never know unless you come and try."