Victoria woman leads Zumba ministry to strengthen physical, spiritual fitness

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Nov. 11, 2011 at 5:11 a.m.

Kelly Johnston leads a Zumba fitness class for women  at Northside Baptist Church. Johnston said  she believes that "along with being spiritually healthy, God likes us to take care of our bodies."

Kelly Johnston leads a Zumba fitness class for women at Northside Baptist Church. Johnston said she believes that "along with being spiritually healthy, God likes us to take care of our bodies."

Waving one arm in the air and gliding across the floor to bass-heavy, Latin-inspired drum rhythms, Zumba fitness instructor Kelly Johnston yells, "Get ready to pull up!"

Energized and perspiring, a classroom of about 30 women mirror the petit Johnston's movements, punctuating their hip and arm thrusts with sporadic "woo-hoos" and "yeah-girls!"

Inside Northside Baptist Church's youth room, where Johnston teaches Zumba two nights a week, KJ-52's Christian Raggaeton remix, "Jesus," booms through the speakers.

At 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, Johnston leads Zumba fitness for women at the church. And while the Zumba movements are akin to any other Zumba class offered throughout the Crossroads, Johnston's class offers attendees the opportunity to strengthen both their physical and spiritual fitness.

"It's a ministry for me. It's a God thing, and I feel blessed that I'm even allowed to do it," said Johnston, 50, patting sweat beads from her forehead. "It's a ministry of joy that we experience as we dance and laugh and pray together."

Johnston, a dental hygienist with Victoria Dental Associates, has attended Northside Baptist since she was a child. And she's been dancing for about the same amount of time, she said.

"I grew up dancing. I took ballet, tap and jazz," she said. "I don't really love exercising, but I love to dance."

At the close of Johnston's women's-only Zumba classes, the ladies are invited to stick around for a Bible-based devotional reading and communal prayer.

"The moves we do are for a purpose. They're for strengthening your muscles. But I think God wants us to be mindful of our spiritual health as well," Johnston said. "We've seen a lot of prayer answered since we started this two years ago."

Not all the ladies attending Johnston's Zumba class each week are members of Northside Baptist. Others may not even be Christian, she said. But many regulars of the class said they prefer her Zumba class over other fitness classes because they spend time in prayer for one another.

"This class is high-impact exercise, but it's high-impact spiritually, too," said Ovelia Rivera, a regular of the class. "There's several places we could go in Victoria for Zumba, but we choose to come here. We stay in shape, and our spirit stays in shape."

Another class regular, Ida DeLosSantos, said she's lost 15 pounds from Johnston's Zumba class, and has improved her overall health.

"I started coming about a year ago, and a friend told me about the prayer afterward. The class has really helped me control my diabetes, and the prayer is very attractive to me," DeLosSantos said. "The women are friends, and all our prayers stay here with this group."

Johnston said as much as her Zumba ministry may encourage those who attend, her own spirit is encouraged each week because she's given the opportunity to pray and serve God with a diverse group of ladies, while using one of her divine gifts to demonstrate God's love.

"I don't know for sure if they're all Christian, but they know I'm a Christian, and I play Christian music," Johnston said. "I want them to see me as Jesus with skin on. I want them to see Jesus in me."

And though some Baptists may oppose dancing as a measure of serving God, Johnston, a lifelong Baptist, said she can only imagine God would be pleased by witnessing his children dance out of worship and reverence to his name.

"There are a lot of Baptists who don't believe in dancing. But in this class, we're about devotion in motion. There was dancing in the Bible. David danced to the Lord, you know," she said. "I feel like God has put something in me that makes me love to dance. I feel like God gifts us all with spiritual gifts and talents ... and I'm doing this for him."



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