Rey David Aquino Gomez leads a Zumba class on the beach in Veracruz. (Video by Reagan Jackson)
Twilight in Veracruz, Mexico. Salsa music blares as women in spandex gyrate in unison. Atop white steps on a concrete platform beneath the empty flag pole, Rey David Aquino Gomez, age 31, shimmies dramatically as he leads the dancing.
I don’t think I have ever seen someone samba with as much energy or flare. I feel tired just watching him move. Located a short walk down the beach from the aquarium is Plaza de la Soberanía, where Gomez teaches a drop in Zumba class for 10 pesos (less than $1) every evening during the week
The beach by night is like a public gym. During the day it’s littered with umbrellas and people in bathing suits trying to beat the heat, but come nightfall there are soccer fields on the sand packed with people of both genders in shorts and sneakers. Boxers circle up on the sand pairing off to spar. In the plazas lining the board walk you can find yoga, cross-fit, and a variety of other guided classes. Or you can make use of the weight training equipment bolted into the concrete.
“This is my first time,” said Alma Perez Michi, a 31 year old from Xalapa who is visiting Veracruz for work. “I saw them dancing and it looked fun.”
Michi is only in town for three weeks and has to work during the day, but decided that exercising would be a nice way to spend her evenings.
“Not many men come. It’s mostly women, some younger and some older,” explained Margarita Vargas, age 53, a self-proclaimed Jarocha (person from Veracruz) and longtime participant in Gomez’s class. True to her words the only man dancing was David.
Vargas had never tried Zumba before and was shy to dance in public, but now she is hooked.
“It’s through the government. About six years ago the government created a campaign to end obesity,” Vargas explains.
Exercise equipment began showing up on the boardwalk. When asked if she thought it was working she nodded, “Oh yes. You can see a difference.”
“It’s not through the government,” Gomez disagrees emphatically, taking the opportunity to practice his English. He spent four years in Utah where he became certified to be a Zumba instructor. “The government wants to say that this is their program, but they don’t pay me. I have to pay them $35 a month!”
This sparked a hard to follow rant about monopolies and jealousies and how nepotism and political affiliations play a role in who is allowed to teach and who is not.
“When political parties change, if we have an election and someone from a different party wins, then everything changes, people lose their jobs,” he laments.
But over the past four years he’s managed to build a successful clientele.
“In the U.S., many people were looking for teachers. Everyone in my family dances. My brother has an academy. I knew how to teach Zumba. So it became my job,” he says. “I was working, going to school and then working after that.”
You might associate Zumba with exercise studios in suburban American strip malls. But the globally popular fitness program started out as an accidental creation of a humble aerobics instructor in Columbia.
One day, the story goes, Beto Perez forgot the music for his aerobics class and had to improvise with what he had in his car — which happened to be Latin music. That was 1990. Since then, Perez moved to Miami and turned Zumba into a global enterprise with classes in 180 countries, its own music, instructor training program, clothing line, and collective dance party events.
The fusion of merengue, salsa, bachata, and reggaeton has been a winning combination, because let’s face it…it’s really fun.
Here in Veracruz there are currently several free Zumba classes subsidized by the government, but Gomez is an independent instructor.
“I was surprised that people were willing to pay for something they could get for free,” he confessed. But when asked the secret to his success, he said confidently. “It’s because I like it. I learned from my family, my church, and living in the U.S. that if you want to teach something you have to know what you want to teach. You have to prepare. Not everyone does that. And I love what I do.”
In addition to dancing and teaching Zumba, David loves to sing and cook. His goal is to become a TV Host and he definitely has the extroverted personality for it. He just completed filming a pilot of a show called “Buenos Tardes Mis Negritos”.
If you happen to be in Veracruz and looking for an intense but fun work out, you know where to find him.