Every Saturday, I forget everything,” Marco Belluardo-Crosby says. “That’s the beauty of it. When people come, they don’t worry. If you don’t know the steps, if you don’t know the people, you come and you completely forget what’s going on in your life at the moment.”
If you haven’t danced since high school and worry about looking foolish, consider what’s happening at the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA in Marblehead, where Belluardo-Crosby is an instructor. Hundreds are crowding into dance classes, leaving their inhibitions at the door, tuning into the rhythms and fist pumping, body rolling, and booty shaking to Zumba and Dance Jam. Others are doing choreographed steps to country line dance. Nobody cares if you’re a novice; you won’t be by the end of the hour.
It’s not only students who are benefiting from the break with their weekly routines; the instructors are getting a cathartic release from their daytime jobs as well. When he’s not commanding some 30 women to follow him to the strains of “Let’s Get Loud,” “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” “Daddy,” and other jams on Saturday mornings, Belluardo-Crosby is at the Lynn Community Health Center, counseling people with addictions and helping them find a path back to health.
“I see abuse and neglect, anxiety, depression, psychosis, PTSD victims of war and torture,” says the native of Italy, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in the Urgent Care Center. “You name it. I see Syrian refugees, Iraqi patients that can’t go see their relatives. I see that every single day.”
But for eight years, he’s been a wildly popular instructor. Students in Belluardo-Crosby’s Dance Jam class have their eyes trained on his every move. Their feet, hands, and voices respond when he calls out “Single, single, double,” “Grapevine,” or “Louder! I can’t hear you!” as he inspires them to shout and sing along with the music.
Belluardo-Crosby, who lives in Salem, also leads a Wednesday night Dance Jam for his medical clients in the basement of the Lynn Community Health Center. “It’s quieter. It’s low key. But it’s therapeutic,” says Belluardo-Crosby, who has always donated his dance class pay to the YMCA until this year, when he used it to help rebuild a school in Nepal destroyed by the 2015 earthquake.
Emily Greten suits up in conservative business attire every weekday for her job as a client service associate with the United Bank of Switzerland, a wealth management firm in downtown Boston. She assists clients with everything from paying their bills to organizing their insurance premiums.
“We help them with their total financial picture,” says Greten, who lives in Marblehead. “We help them plan for retirement.”
Come Sunday morning, however, Greten is standing in front of scores of women ranging in age from their 20s to 70s. Starting with the warm-up number, her tattooed body moves with enviable grace tune after tune.
The students emulate her steps, body rolls, and elegant hand movements to “Into You,” “Despacito,” “Loca,” and more. There is pure joy in the gym as students loosen up, stretch, and feel muscles they’d forgotten they had. The dancing goes on non-stop. Those who want to take a break — drink water, leave the room — do so; but the beat goes on.
“Being creative and uninhibited, that’s what centers me,” says Greten. “People come to me and say it’s life changing or this is the most fun I’ve had. We relax, let go, and not worry about being judged. We’re being very present. It changes your body and your mind.”
Crystal Tavares of Winthrop has done all styles of dance — hip-hop, jazz, ballet, tap — since she was 6.
“I started taking Marco’s class five years ago,” says Tavares, recalling that she wanted to lose weight after having two children. “I fell in love with Zumba. Marco said I should become an instructor.”
Tavares teaches Zumba Express on Wednesdays and Fridays after putting in a full day at the Lahey Health Behavioral Services agency in Beverly, where she works assisting families. Tavares advises parents of children with emotional disorders, and assists families when they are in crises: putting them in touch with food banks, affordable housing, and after-school programs.
“So, my own mental health is important,” she says. “You do take the work home with you. Dancing releases pent up emotions and clears my mind.”
Meanwhile, Tavares has lost 70 pounds.
Among her tunes, Tavares plays “Cheap Thrills,” “Broken Heels,” and an occasional classic like “Stand By Me,” which she uses to wind down the class.
Jeanne Smith, who lives in Ipswich, had a career in health, fitness, and personal training, but now has returned to her first love: teaching country line dance for beginners and advanced students.
Wearing cowboy boots and jeans, she shows her students how to get down and turn around to “Tush Push,” “Boot Scootin’ Bogey,” and “Waltz Across Texas.”
Smith was in local dance companies, sang professionally, and had her own fitness business. She created The Y Connection in Marblehead for people 55 and older, which has blossomed into daily hikes, lectures, and lunches.
“I teach the steps,” says Smith. “I go slowly and keep an eye on the class. We do the same steps throughout the song.”
By the end of the song, everybody has learned how to kick up their heels.