Angelina Alfaro, AKA Spicy, has been dancing ever since she can remember, and it brought her into a life of passion and performance. Angie says that her foray into fitness and Zumba® instruction changed her life in many ways – she saw herself and her world through a different light. Angie’s path brought her to a place of love, inspiration, and a strong sense of self. She says, “I knew then that I was meant to use my dancing to heal, to inspire and to bring people together.”… — by Yali Szulanski for Z Club NY.
When did you start dancing?
I’ve danced ever since I can remember. No one taught me how to dance. I guess I was just born a natural dancer. I had the great ability to just move to any rhythm and pick up steps just by watching. But my story isn’t like most dancers that started at the age of 2 or 5 and that attended dance studios or specialized schools. I actually didn’t have any dance training until the age of 16 in HS when I was accidentally misplaced in a dance class. Having heard scary rumors about the teacher, I tried to be removed, but all other classes were full, including my first choice: soccer. I knew I could either be mad about it the entire semester or finally learn some real dance technique. Not only I loved the class that got me to perform at New York City Ballet, followed by joining the school Dance and Theater Company. But the teacher was awesome and became so dear to me. We are in touch to this day.
What did you see yourself growing up to be as a little girl?
When I was little I remember loving to sing, dance and act. I enjoyed dressing up in my mother’s clothes, put on her heels and lipstick and would play like I was in a concert. The mop was my mic and my dolls the audience. I spent hours in front of the mirror dreaming of becoming a famous singer and performer. I sang with the school choir and at the chapel mass until I was 11. At that age a group of friends from the neighborhood and I auditioned for a kids tv show back home as mini Spice Girls. We made it! And from then on I fell more in love with dance, leaving aside my singing inclination.
What guided your evolution into fitness?
Dance was always a big part of my life but my HS training didn’t last very long after graduation. I had to put that aside due to work, school and other responsibilities. Before I was introduced to Zumba®, I had lived a life free of exercise or any workout regimen. Being overweight my whole life was something that I just accepted and had lived with. Growing up I always had a big appetite and enjoyed big meals (I still do). My parents never really worried about getting me involved in any kind of physical activity. They knew I loved to dance and always performed at family functions, school activities and dance recitals, but they could never afford a dance education back home. I was healthy otherwise, and they didn’t see anything wrong with being a cute chunky kid. Unfortunately, they also weren’t very supportive once I started going to castings and getting callbacks for different jobs on tv. I guess the first couple of times they thought it would be fun for me to go, but once auditions and shootings started to affect my school schedule they opposed to it entirely. I grew up to resent that, blaming them for not being able to accomplish my dreams. And I became fearful to go into any of these directions even later on in life. In 2009 after watching a late night infomercial with my boyfriend I decided to try the famous Insanity™ workout. I saw people doing jumping jacks and I thought: “Hey I remember those from gym class. I can do that!”, lol. At that time I was probably around 147lbs and was wearing jeans size 9/10. Being only 4’11 you can imagine how much bigger I looked… As much as I disliked exercising and after crying like a baby on several occasions during this program, I finished it. I sticked with it for two whole months, with the enormous support of my boyfriend, who did it with me, and pushed me passed the tears, the soreness and the pain. He had previously done another famous workout, P90X, and was in great shape. So I had him help me a lot during this time by keeping me motivated. But I had never workout before, it was my first time and it was very intense. Truth is I hated it, and if it wasn’t for him, I would have never finished it I think. Even though I wanted to change my physical appearance, I just didn’t have it in me to do all that work. It just wasn’t as fun as I knew it was supposed to be. For the first whole month I barely even broke into a sweat and found that weird. Dancing always left me drenched, why weren’t these such high intensity interval training exercises doing the same for me? I would look over at him and see puddles of sweat around his mat. How?! I wanted to get to that level. I wanted to be fit but it just wasn’t happening for me even being committed. As a result of my two month insane adventure I didn’t lose a single pound :( However a bit of shrinkage had occurred. Most importantly, I was no longer getting winded when dancing. I was energized and felt lighter. I was stronger than before. I liked that! I suddenly had the feeling that I could do anything. The dreadful workouts had somehow paid off. I didn’t get the results most people got from it, but, I got what I believe I needed then.During college I reached a point where I felt I was lacking something. As I got older I had the urge to find myself, and I knew I needed to find my way into true happiness. I wasn’t happy with the way I looked. I felt I needed to be doing something more. I felt I needed a change. I knew there was something missing in my life, and that was dance. By then, I was beyond the age to join any local dance studio and felt that with all the time that had gone by since I had last danced I wasn’t prepare to join any classes in the city. I was totally intimidated by advanced dancers and big popular studios, and feared being judged. Luckily I found a dance studio in my area, that offered Zumba® and that’s when fitness really became a part of my life. I had no idea what it was, all they had told me on my inquiry call was that it was dance and fitness. Having done the Insanity workout. I thought: “How bad can it be? Dancing wouldn’t make me cry… So I went, I didn’t know what to expect, so I stayed in the back. The class had women of all ages and they seemed to know what they were in for. I stretched around a bit until the music started. The teacher was very energetic, young and fun. I started moving and suddenly realized a lot of the songs she played I knew, and also: “I can totally do this at home” “I can do this everyday, all the time!” I loved it, it was easy for me, because I was dancing, it was fun! And I was sweating! She asked me to move up front but I was
embarrassed. The next few weeks she kept asking, and I still wasn’t brave enough to do it. I didn’t think I was good enough because I was new. Until she said she’d call me out on it, so on my 5th class I moved up. I spent the next year on her right side and we became friends. She encouraged me to become an instructor and guided me into creating my first class, which later on I taught at this same studio’s other location. She played a very important role in my dance and fitness journey, and for that I’ll always be grateful. We’ve continued to support each other over the years and I cherish the beautiful Zumba® memories we shared together. Sheena’s still an inspiration to me as she instructs and judges very talented dancers nationwide. In March 2011 after much anticipation, I became Zumba® certified. I attended training led by the beautiful Tanya Beardsley. I remember that day as one of the most heart opening experiences in my life. I knew then that I was meant to use my dancing to heal, to inspire and to bring people together.
How did you come across Zumba® and Z Club NY?
I discovered Z Club NY while job hunting. I saw their website and thought it would be so cool to teach in the city and join their talented team. I saw pictures of all their Instructors and remembered Shahidah, who I had met the day I was trained. I knew then, these instructors were high caliber, and almost seemed pretentious of me to try out for the job. In my mind, I felt I still had a lot to learn and to grow as an Instructor, so I put it in my list of goals to accomplish. Teaching for Z Club NY sort of became a dream for me. I’m a person that’s lived with a lot of fear and self doubt for a long time, and I’ve struggled to overcome those fears for the majority of my life, I still do. Becoming an instructor was a huge thing for me. A very big step that opened up many doors and that allowed me to get not just the body I always wanted, but to find my inner strength and to be in touch with my talents. At the end of the very first class I taught I went into a dark room, closed the door, and cried with such sentiment, even talking about it now almost 5 years later, still brings me to tears. I was free, I had done what had seem like not only a dream, but something impossible, just because I was afraid to take chances, because I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. But so I vowed to myself that I’d get to Z Club. That I would put in the work needed, and that the opportunity will come to me when God felt I was ready. And in 2013 he told me I was ready :) I auditioned for Edmee in November of that year and been with the company since. I felt good to cross it out my list.
Can you talk about your experience working as a dancer and performer?
Dance is my passion, so to me it’s absolutely rewarding. I love the learning process, I learn not just from choreographers, but from my fellow dancers, and even myself. I enjoy meeting new people and building new friendships. I love everything that goes with it, long rehearsals, training, all the madness backstage, costumes, props, makeup, the lights, etc. Experiencing different concepts and feelings for a dance is just amazing. Dance is the hidden language of the soul and when I get to perform and tell a story through a piece, it’s like energy shooting across. This energy connects with people, as we are all made of energy, love and light. My goal is always to make the audience feel what I feel. As I’m on stage i feel like waves traveling and circling around; it’s exciting, it pumps your heart, it takes you high. All that I feel on stage is transmitted
into the audience through my movement, and that’s simply a unique explosion of joy and beautiful energy. You know that you’ve done that when you hear the audience respond. That energy, that feeling you project onto them is given back through their applause, and that is the ultimate satisfaction. Seeing their faces light up and smile and cheer… That’s how you know you did your job right, that they understood it, they felt it, that it was well received, they enjoyed it, and that’s golden! :)
What inspires you about Zumba® and teaching the format?
Zumba® really is all kinds of dancing with a fresh dose of cardio that’s why I love it. Zumba® is music, color, movement, health, love and culture, that is a great deal of inspiration and motivation. I grew up dancing and performing folkloric Peruvian music, from jungle dances to African beats, and I miss that a lot. I’m actually considering getting back to some of that this year. But, that’s why I love it, because it embrace
s all backgrounds of dance from cumbia to soca. It allows people from all over the world to open themselves to various rhythms and to diverse ways of movement while getting fit and staying healthy.
Can you talk about what inspires you to create your choreography and dances?
Inspiration is everywhere. I personally try to find it in everything I encounter in my everyday life. People, children, love, animals, my dog, flowers, art, my loved ones, my amazing teachers, other dancers, my students, music, songs, lyrics, my mood ,how I feel, different places, a trip, smells, a dream, a nightmare, my own thoughts, my fears, a story, the way my body moves, shapes, things that have happened to me, bad experiences, good experiences, etc. I could go on… I also try to surround myself with good energy people. Individuals that will motivate me, educate me, and help me grow in all different aspects of my life. Therefore, I can stay within that state. Creating comes easily or just continues, never ceases. When I overcome obstacles or reach new goals that is when I feel the most inspired,because I feel accomplished and my mind starts racing and that is when all these wonderful ideas start flowing.
What is your biggest inspiration in life?
I’d have to say LOVE. Love is the answer and solution for pretty much everything!
My mom is a big inspiration for me. She’s worked really hard all her life and she has an incredible strength that I can only wish to build with years. She never ceases to amaze me at her efforts to live life in the best way possible and to do it with a smile on her face. No matter what knocks her down, she’s always gotten up and kept moving. She’s done and obtained everything she’s got on her own, and for, that is why I am so very proud to call her my mom. My dear sister is also an inspiration to me. I’ve never met someone as giving and as devoted as Cecilia. My sister is an actual sister and she’s always taught me to give without expecting anything in return. I admire her faith and her patience with others and with life. To follow her example, I constantly remind myself to practice more patience, not just with others, but specially with myself.
Can you talk about your observations – being a part of the Z Club NY community, what have you noticed over time? What is the community like in your classes?
People really love to dance, to be fit and they love Spanish music. Z Club NY people work hard and I have noticed everyone loves a good booty shake, lol. It’s beautiful to see their commitment and dedication to themselves, and to sticking with a class schedule. Everyone, if not most people that take my class know each other by name, or because of certain songs, or moves. I always encourage my peeps to be friendly and interact with each other in class, just as I do with them. It is all part of the fun. When we spread love and light and good energy around, we sweat more, we shake more, we burn more. Over time in my classes I’ve noticed people loosening up, gaining coordination, dropping pounds, coming out their shells, which I love to witness! I’ve seen my students grow into better dancers, and become more sociable, happier and overall more fun.People that started in the back, are now confident to be up front, and I love that they are confident to take that step, I also really appreciate their assistance. You also have the ones that love Zumba so much, they go on to get certified too! That rocks.
How has your teaching inspired you to get through difficult moments?
I happened to have had two very difficult years between 2014-2015 ,very challenging personally and professionally. Specially last year when I was not healthy for a long period of time. Through it all my students were my biggest motivation and strength to overcome all the obstacles presented. Without their sincere love and support, I just don’t know where i would be. Teaching for me is a way to connect with people, to spread love and to share my work, which I put my heart into. To guide people into an active life is key to a happier life. If I can make them happy then that makes me happy. During my darkest days ,shaking it with my peeps was my only light. Dancing is the most amazing release for me, teaching a class, and seeing my students, was all I would look forward to. Their smiles and cheers are always the fuel that keeps me going, good or bad day.
What kind of lessons/values to you hope to pass along to students or future teachers?
*SELF LOVE a lesson I constantly run into because I easily forget. I’ve never spoken publicly about this but I have always had a hard time loving me, giving myself credit, taking care of me, putting myself first, understanding that I’m important and that I’m enough. Self esteem is something I’ve sort of lacked my whole life. And it’s not easy, we should all be able to love who we are and embrace our beautiful selves. Believe me, I’ve come a long way. But it’s something that’s taken me years and I’m still practicing self love everyday, so do it for you too. Dancing is part of loving myself. Dancing makes me happy, therefore I feel good, I look good, I do good and I give good, boom! I’m empowered.
*Do everything with love and practice kindness. Give your best without expecting anything in return. Easier said than done, I know, but the feeling you get afterwards, no one can take that from you. Do things for you, not for others. Do it because you know in your heart is the right thing to do.
*Respect and value other people. We are all important, we all have light and we can all shine, we just have different color lights, but they are all beautiful. Just shine bright so that others see in the dark and realize they can do the same. I feel that’s what eventually can make a better world. If you put good energy out to the earth the same will be given back to you.
Please share any story, idea, wisdom you’d like to pass on from your years of teaching and dancing…
People always tell me how much I inspire them ,and motivate them ,but the truth is it is them that do that for \me. In more than one occasion people have confided in me, telling me that they were so immersed in problems and depression, that their minds had thought of the unthinkable until they found me. As if God had put me in their path for their chance to find happiness and comfort. A gracious opportunity to turn their lives around and focus on something positive, something meaningful and more productive. I feel blessed and touched when I hear these stories, because the feeling I had when I became a Zumba® instructor, that idea, of healing, and spreading light, hasn’t gone away. That’s what I wake up to do everyday and it’s absolutely important and special to be a person that can change people’s lives in a positive, healthy way. So I invite you to come to class, because you never know how it could change your life.I can only look forward to keep educating myself in this beautiful art, to spread my wings onto other forms of dance and fitness, staying true to me, to my roots, and to my philosophy. I hope I can reach more people all over the world with my work, and I promise to stay Spicy for ya’ll :D