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Moving to the beat gives elderly new lease on life

Zumba classes for Pacific elders are helping to improve health and address social isolation.

Every Tuesday morning, Tangata Atumotu Trust (TAT) Community Health Support Worker Vaili'a Afoa trips across Christchurch to pick up a van-load of keen Zumba-goers.

“It’s the only time some of them are going out,” she says of the elderly participants. 

Afoa says Zumba was launched in 2013, when she first started with TAT.

“Because of the loneliness, people were staying at home, and as you could see earlier today, they are so excited to join the group.”

The men and women like to get themselves ready for pick up from as early as 7am - which is well ahead of Afoa’s scheduled arrival time. 

Afoa says many of the enthusiastic group will even arrange medical appointments around Tuesday’s session - “because they are looking forward to our group exercise”.

“I love our people… I was brought up by my grandparents, so looking after the elderly is my passion. It’s grown from there.”

Although Zumba class starts at 11.30am, those who can drive or find their own way to the hall, like to enjoy a cup of tea and crackers well before 10.45am.

Afoa says the Zumba instructor will often struggle to get participants away from their pre-dance games of cards or dominoes. 

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Every member that walks through the doors of the Hei Hei community hall is greeted with hugs and laughter by the group.

TAT Pacific Mobile Community Nurse Alo Collins carries out health checks on arrival.

Zumba participant Sue Kaisa joined the sessions two years ago. 

She doesn’t shy away from the front row, and gives it all her all throughout the hour.

“I love it. It has given me something to do, as a retiree,” she says.

She brings her husband along - although they stand on opposite sides of the room when dancing.

They assure the group they don’t get too competitive when it comes to learning new moves. 

Kaisa says she loves practising at home - “when nobody is watching”.

“I just do it whenever I can.”

By the end of the hour-long dance session, she is ready for some relaxation.

“Sometimes the instructor is moving but I’m not.”

Mauba Eseta is equally enthusiastic about the Tuesday fitness session. 

“We are really happy when we come together,” she says.

 She admits to practising at home as well.

When the music ends, marking an hour of moving, a light lunch comes out of the kitchen and a prayer is said for the food, before the chatter resumes.