More than fitness: Dance can lift your spirit and stretch your mind. SilverSneakers LIVE instructor Mweni Ekpo shares her best tips to finding your beat.
Mweni Ekpo is the living embodiment of the phrase “lifelong learning.” After earning a law degree, she began a career in higher education. Today, she is the graduate recruitment manager at Tarleton State University in Fort Worth, Texas. But she remains a student at heart.
The infectious energy Ekpo brings to her SilverSneakers LIVE classes stems from the excitement she felt when she first discovered Zumba.
During a difficult time in 2011, she happened upon a group of about 50 people moving and dancing together on a basketball court. “I didn’t really understand what I was seeing,” she recalls. “It didn’t look like basketball. I couldn’t process it as a group exercise class. It kind of looked like ‘the club’ — everyone having a wonderful time.”
That happy gathering was, in fact, a Zumba class in progress. For the uninitiated, Zumba is a Latin-inspired dance-fitness class that includes higher and lower-intensity intervals designed to improve your cardiovascular health, along with your balance, coordination, and agility — all while having fun. You don’t need a dance background to take part.
Ekpo fell in love with the class as soon as she signed up. “It was such great exercise and so joyful,” she says. She was hooked, and not just on the fitness benefits.
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The Mind-Body Connection of Dance
Dance fitness classes like Zumba don’t just stretch your body. They also require a mental element. That’s what Ekpo loves so much about this fitness method.
“You have to be fully present,” Ekpo says. “You can’t be daydreaming about your grocery list or what you’re going to make for dinner. You have to be ‘in it.’ It’s great exercise, but it’s also great for your brain and for mindfulness.”
In 2012, she made the leap from student to instructor when she took a position at Wiley College, a small, historically Black institution in East Texas. They were looking for an intramural fitness instructor, so Ekpo earned her Zumba instructor credentials in order to fill the need.
“I felt like it would be great for those young people to experience Zumba,” she recalls. “It just kind of took off from there.”
Soon she was teaching three times a week after work, leading students, faculty, and staff. She earned additional licenses to lead Zumba Gold, Zumba Toning, Zumba Kids, and more. When she moved to her current position in Fort Worth, she began teaching at local gyms.
Today, she shares her passion with SilverSneakers members, leading the following LIVE online classes:
- Zumba Gold features easy-to-follow choreography that focuses on balance, range of motion and coordination
- Line Dancing is a fun way to work on your balance, strength, and mobility — all while learning basic line dancing routines
- Gentle Stretch Express is a 15-minute seated class that will help you improve your mobility and range of motion.
Work out with Mweni Ekpo! Check your eligibility, view the schedule, and RSVP here.
“Dance has brought me so much joy, and I’m excited to share that joy through teaching,” Ekpo says.
“That mind-body connection is unique to dance. It lifts your spirits,” she explains. From a physical standpoint, you’re getting stronger and building cardiovascular and muscle strength. “But there’s also a mental challenge to it,” she adds.
“SilverSneakers is stretching me in ways that are unexpected,” Ekpo says. “I came as a one-trick pony, but taking on the new Line Dancing classes has been good for me.”
Ekpo’s Advice for Newcomers to Dance Fitness
What tips would she give to those who’ve never tried Zumba or other dance fitness class?
- Be open to new experiences and give it a try.
- Stick with it for a little while, even if it seems a little bit uncomfortable at first.
- Don’t think of yourself as a non-dancer, “because dance is for all of us.”
“The spirit of dance is just to get people to move and enjoy themselves, and to experience a little bit of community,” she says.
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