ORLANDO – Noelia Heelam grew up in a neighborhood in Lima, Peru that struggled with a high poverty rate, and like many other immigrants, she dreamed often of life in the United States, a nation that provided opportunity for anyone willing to work hard while pursuing their dreams.
“I come from a very poor area in Peru,” Heelam said. “I came to the United States looking for a better opportunity.”
That was in 1998, when Heelam arrived in Virginia to take a job working at a local restaurant. She did well enough that Heelam was eventually offered a management position at a sister restaurant in Miami.
“That was in 2000,” she said. “I eventually moved to Orlando because I didn’t have any family in Miami.”
Along the way, Heelam worked hard to carve out a career in Florida. “I did everything you can imagine, from restaurants to working at a gas station,” she said.
Today, Heelam is still in Orlando, and her childhood vision of the United States as a land of great opportunity has proven to be the correct one. Heelam has found a career, and it’s one she loves, and one she hopes to become very successful at. And, in a reminder of just how many opportunities await those who fight for their dreams, Heelam’s career can be summed up in one word: Zumba.
“It’s a very dynamic fitness party,” she said. “It’s a Latin-inspired fitness program.”
Created by dancer and choreographer Beto in Colombia in the 1990s, Zumba – a mix of Latin and International music – really took off after businessman Alberto Perlman marketed it. Today, there are believed to be more than 90,000 Zumba fitness center locations in 110 countries.
Heelam hopes to add to the mix by opening her own Zumba studio in Orlando. A physical fitness buff, Heelam recognized early on that Zumba was certain to develop a local following as well.
“It’s 70 percent Latin music and 30 percent international,” she said.
Heelam got introduced to Zumba about two and a half years ago, when like many new moms, she wanted a way to get rid of her pregnancy fat, and went in search of the right exercise class. She found it when someone recommended she try Zumba.
“After giving birth to my baby, I needed something I could stick with,” she said. “I went to a dance class and I loved it.”
She stuck with it, and then went a step further.
“I became an instructor after doing it for two years,” she said. “I decided I have what it takes to be an instructor, so I went to a training program.”
Today, Heelam teaches Zumba classes at a Baldwin Park studio at 4625 Halder Lane, Suite C, on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. Prices are $10 for one hour and $32 for four classes.
But she’s also branching out on her own, and looking for a place to rent that will become her first dance studio.
“In a studio, it’s more private and people can feel more relaxed,” she said. “I’m basically looking for a good location.”
And what makes Zumba so appealing to the people who attend these classes? As a workout program that’s both fun and effective, Heelam said, Zumba is tough to beat.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s a no-thinking program. You get involved in the music. You don’t need to be a dancer to do a Zumba class.”
She envisions an hour long class with people ready to work up a big sweat.
“You would do your proper warm ups and your stretch, and that’s it,” she said. “Then we play 16 songs. It’s a nice way to lose weight. You don’t feel like you’re exercising. The hour passes quickly. It’s a great workout.”
At the same time, she said, Zumba classes are a terrific way to meet new people and socialize – particularly women who have just given birth and now want to trim down again.
“I’m a mom with two kids, so I don’t go out much,” she said. “This class, it’s to socialize, and relax, and exercise, and reduce your stress. It’s an excellent workout.”
Heelam hopes to expand the studio next year to include other forms of exercising, including belly dancing and kick boxing.
To learn more about Heelam’s classes, call 407-970-8384.