Lake Norman & Mooresville

Zumba leads to community activism for Denver mom

Denver resident Jennifer Macaluso was a stay-at-home-mom turned real estate agent who sold homes with her two young children, James, 10, and Jessica, 7, in tow.

However, when the real estate market began its decline, she found herself once again in the role of mom-in-chief to her kids, whom she referred to as Jessie-James.

Her husband Sal came home one day from his IT job in Charlotte and suggested that she read an article in Lake Norman magazine about a local woman who was planning to start a Zumba class at the Westport Golf Club recreation center. Signing up for the class would give her a kid-free outlet, he suggested.

“I pointed out that the class would meet on Thursday nights, when I had to take Jesse-James to their respective dance classes (ballet for Jesse, hip-hop for James) at two different studios, so he offered to take them himself,” she said.

And so began Macaluso’s new life, immersed in the world of Zumba, a course that would ultimately lead her into the role of community activist.

When the instructor decided to discontinue the class, Macaluso, now 39, decided that she would become an instructor, and after taking a nine-hour class, she was licensed to teach Zumba.

She joined Denver Health & Fitness in January 2012, and owners Jeff and Valerie Pettit offered her an opportunity to teach a Zumba class on – you guessed it – Thursday nights.

“That first night there were 35 people in the class. I was pretty nervous, never having taught a class before, even though I had rehearsed in my garage ahead of time with my mom and sisters. I was determined that I wasn’t going to fail, nerves or not.”

Success was quick to follow, and she was soon teaching three classes. She now teaches four classes, ranging in size up to 55 or 60 participants, and ages from early 20s to 70s.

Shortly after Macaluso had a committed following of Zumba students, she began to realize she could parlay her classes into fundraising opportunities for causes she cared deeply about. “I’m able to be a stay-at-home mom without a regular 9-5 job, so I feel that ‘giving back’ is the right thing to do.

“My first fundraising activity was a 90-minute class in which participants had to donate school supplies for Rock Springs Elementary School on Highway 16 in Denver. About 60 people took that class, and I was off and running.”

With the support of Denver Health & Fitness, she has held other fundraising classes in support of the Backpacks for Kids program, which provides food for local families, as well as for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization for breast cancer research.

In January, when Leah Caldwell, a teacher at Rock Springs Elementary, was diagnosed with breast cancer, Macaluso and another Zumba teacher, Peggy Reed, offered to hold a communitywide fundraiser. The Zumbathon, called Love for Leah, helped with medical expenses.

Two hundred people attended Love for Leah, and with the help of local businesses that donated goods and services, they raised $6,700. As with the other fundraisers she led, her husband Sal acted as the deejay.

Cancer struck once again, closer to her Zumba home this time, when Marta Howe, a Zumba “regular”’ was diagnosed with breast cancer. Asked what she might need in the way of help, the woman replied that all she needed was prayers.

Reed points out that “Jennifer’s real gift is finding out what the need is and then finding a way to fill that need.”

With that in mind, Macaluso had T-shirts made for all the class attendees, as many as 60, and they wore them to to class every Monday. On the front, the shirts read “Team Marta” while the back read “Nobody fights alone!” Pictures were taken weekly with supportive posters, and these in turn were posted on Facebook for Marta and others to see.

Yet another Zumbathon fundraiser has been dedicated to raising money for MS research, a cause her husband, Sal, also helps to support by organizing a multi-day bicycle rally.

In addition to her career as a Zumba instructor, Macaluso is active at Rock Springs Elementary where her children attend. She is a member of the Parent/Teachers Organization, chairs the safety committee, co-chairs the family focus committee, and serves as room mother in both her kids’ classes.

Reflecting on the profound changes in her life, as well as in the lives of others who have been the recipients of her Zumba activism, she says, “I didn’t realize when I started how much impact I could have in helping people transform their lives, and it’s awesome,” she says. “I have made fantastic friendships with my Zumba family.”