Healthy Living: Zumba! Principal has fun getting fit

In a workout room at the Claremont Club on Monday, 30 women gave their all, shimmying, samba-ing, salsa-ing and shuffling their way to fitness.

Two brave men were also among their ranks, one of them Steven Boyd, principal of San Antonio High School. A 4-year member of the Claremont Club, he decided 2 years ago to enliven his fitness routine with the aerobic dance sensation Zumba and he’s never looked back.

Like most people, time and a busy work schedule had crept up on Mr. Boyd over the years, adding a few pounds. More disturbing was the severe sleep apnea he had developed, a condition characterized by pauses or disruption in breath while sleeping. It can cause chronic tiredness and, if left untreated, can increase the risk of health issues such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

Mr. Boyd had resorted to sleeping with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, equipment that blows a constant flow of air into the nasal passages to keep the airway open, but he found it bothersome. Increased exercise is among the lifestyle changes that can help lessen the severity of sleep apnea, so he hit the gym with renewed zeal.

Mr. Boyd had dabbled with spin classes, but they weren’t his thing and, while getting in shape was a priority, he didn’t derive much enjoyment from running on a treadmill with his eyes glued to the television.

He saw a Zumba infomercial one Saturday morning and was intrigued. Soon, while working out on the machines, he began to glance over at the glass-walled dance classroom and notice that the Zumba classes were particularly lively.

“I said to myself, they look like they’re having fun,” Mr. Boyd said.

The classes were immediately engaging for Mr. Boyd, but it was rough going for a while. He initially hid in the back of the class, not wishing to stand out as a novice. But it was impossible to see what the teacher was doing from that vantage, so he gradually began creeping further and further forward.

Now he is there 4 times a week, 6 or 7 times during the summer, at the head of the class.

Erikca Brown, an Upland resident who has been taking Zumba at the Claremont Club for 4 years, has enjoyed Mr. Boyd’s presence in the classes.

“It’s nice to have a male presence in class,” Ms. Brown said. “He’s in here holding his own.”

Holding your own is a considerable challenge. Zumba entails an ever-changing barrage of moves derived from an array of music and dance genres, including salsa, merengue, cumbia, hip-hop and even a touch of flamenco. Other than a few brief cool-down periods, the hour-long classes feature music with a beat ranging from festive to frantic. Mr. Boyd estimates that he burns from 1,000-1,200 calories per average Zumba class.

At Monday’s session, Mr. Boyd, clad in a bright orange shirt and shiny sneakers with day-glo soles, burned a whopping 1,500 according to a monitor he wears to chart his heartrate.

Mr. Boyd’s weight has continued to go up and down since he began Zumba-ing, mainly, he admits, because he doesn’t watch what he eats. Nonetheless, he has gained steadily in the kind of endurance you need to get through the classes.

“And in general, I’ve got a lot more energy,” he said. “The more you work out, the better you feel.”

It’s energy that Mr. Boyd can apply to work at the continuation school, which involves taking kids who are “not a good fit for Claremont High School” and helping guide them toward graduation and life success.

San Antonio High School has a population of some 105 kids, ages 16 and up. They have transferred to the continuation school, most after attending CHS, because poor school performance has left them in danger of not getting a diploma.

It may be that a student suffers from poor organizational skills or some kind of attention deficit. Perhaps a student has experienced some personal problems or illness that has caused them to miss classes or lose focus. Other students, those Mr. Boyd refers to as “My Mohawk kids,” may have difficulty following the “lock-step” required for success at a traditional high school.

“They’re high-functioning, just a little odd. They’re intelligent, they just want to ‘rage against the machine,’” Mr. Boyd explains. “They don’t want to fit into a mold. They want to be their own person.” 

SAHS also includes 20 kids, ranging from 7th through 12th grades, who need added supervision due to behavior issues or an unwillingness or inability to complete homework.

“The maturity just hasn’t kicked in yet for some of them,” Mr. Boyd said.

Many students begin to thrive once they are at a smaller school characterized by a high teacher-to-student ratio, lots of access to technology and individualized attention to the difficulties that may be holding them back. In some cases, the real underlying problem is poverty.

“Some of these kids come in with a lot of baggage. I’ll have a kid come in and say, ‘My stomach hurts,’” Mr. Boyd said. “I’ll say, ‘Did you have breakfast?’ and they’ll say, ‘No.’ I’ll say, ‘Let’s get you some breakfast,’ because if you don’t feel comfortable you don’t learn.’”

SAHS has a winning record of doing right by Claremont students who need extra support. Mr. Boyd, who has been principal for the past 9 years, notes that SAHS students have a 90 to 95 percent graduation rate. What they do once they are out of the high school walls is up to the students, but a staggering 100 percent of San Antonio students are enrolled in college when they graduate.

Seeing the upward trajectory is incredibly rewarding, according to Mr. Boyd: “I get to see the light turned back on in students’ eyes.”

SAHS graduations, which for the past few years have taken place at CHS—“If they can’t graduate from Claremont High School, at least they get to walk with their peers”—are particularly emotional, because each student’s outcome was touch-and-go for a while.

“If you look around at a graduation, you know who the San Antonio High School parents are because they’re the loudest,” Mr. Boyd said.  “They’re just so excited, and so thankful. I cry at every graduation.”

Mr. Boyd may be open with his emotions, but he admits that he has a few awkward moments at each Zumba class, especially given that he’s had some of his students’ moms in his classes. There are hip rolls, groin thrusts and more than a little booty-shaking.

“Shake it, Steve!” Ms. Brown jokingly called out to Mr. Boyd during a chest-shimmy move at Monday’s class.

“I feel weird, because I am a principal,” he said.

He relishes the feeling of greater fitness that he has derived from Zumba, however. He’s such an aficionado that he is a sort of evangelist for the exercise genre, though Mr. Boyd hasn’t won many converts yet.

“I try to get my male friends to come, but they just won’t do it,” he said.

—Sarah Torribio


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