Camille Craine does not remember specifically how she felt about joining her mother at a Zumba class when she was in middle school.
She does recall not thinking the experience would be life altering.
“I remember not being 100% enthused the very first time I went,” she said. “I wasn’t like, ‘My life’s changed. This is for me.’ Everyone was doing something as if it was another language.”
She was either naïve back then or just simply could not have imagined the transformative effect that trip would have on her future self.
Nowadays, Craine, a clinical social worker on the adult inpatient psychiatry unit at University Hospital, teaches Zumba classes regularly — even taking her passion internationally.
After being introduced to it by her mother, she ramped up her involvement in Zumba during her undergraduate days studying psychology at LSA. She would enroll in semester-long Zumba classes and even brought “homework” back to her residence hall.
“I loved the classes so much that I would accidentally memorize the choreography, and when I was in my dorm room by myself and wanted to work out I’d just do the songs I knew,” she said. “Eventually I was like, ‘I could probably teach this and it could be a lot of fun.’ I got certified, and I love it.”
She received her teaching certification about the time she graduated with her master’s degree from the School of Social Work in 2015, and not long after stepped to the front of the class for her debut teaching performance.
It was a small room in the School of Kinesiology, but dozens packed into it, many attracted to the free admission and stress outlet that came with the classes during final exams week.
“There was a lot of pressure to do it really well, and I definitely know I’ve come a long way since then,” she said. “It wasn’t my best teaching — I think I messed up once or twice — but all things considered, it wasn’t too bad.
“I just went with how well I knew the choreography and how much fun I was having, so I leaned into that so people could follow along.”
That was a simple approach to what is a complex activity. Instructors are tasked with selecting upbeat music, creating a vibrant and supportive environment for participants, and ensuring attendees have a quality workout and experience.
Many, Craine included, design their own choreography for their songs, provided they meet with the Zumba brand’s standards. Zumba instructors also have access to a repertoire of moves and songs, with new choreography released every two months to ensure a fresh experience for participants.
“I’m someone who enjoys choreographing the song. That’s a creative outlet for me,” she said. “Every once in a while, I’ll use one of theirs if I like it, but for the most part I create my own.”
Craine teaches three classes — one that meets Tuesdays through MHealthy at U-H South, and one on Mondays and Wednesdays through Group-X in Recreational Sports. While she enjoys teaching those, the highlight of the year is when the classroom is the field of Michigan Stadium.
Craine has been an instructor for each of the Zumba classes at Michigan Stadium as part of the Be Well in the Big House event in the fall. The Big House has hosted yoga, Zumba and football skills classes since 2017 for Be Well in the Big House — with the exception of 2020 — and Craine said she feels privileged to have been selected to be part of the instructor team for the Zumba portion each year.
“It’s the best, it’s my favorite thing of the year,” she said. “I wish more people could understand the moment, but I think to some degree you have to know how much I love Zumba to know how cool it is.”
This year, she and fellow instructor Shannon Zuniga led 500 people in a 45-minute Zumba class under a gorgeous sunny day — “Knock on wood, every year has been good weather,” she said of the Big House event.
They met a month prior to plan songs and moves and trade choreography so they could practice each other’s moves in advance. But preparation cannot completely stymie nerves, and Craine said that in prior years the scope of the event has affected her — but not this year.
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“This year was the most relaxed I was teaching the class,” she said. “I wasn’t nervous and I was aware of that in the moment, which was really weird, because even if I do Zumba every day, doing it at the Big House is nerve-racking.”
In addition to Michigan Stadium, Craine has participated in and taught Zumba on vacations with her husband. She likes to scope out Zumba classes while in other countries and take part, and often an instructor will invite her to teach a song or two once they learn she is a fellow teacher.
The first time was in Aruba in 2016, and she did so again in Italy in 2018, in Puerto Rico around Christmas 2021, and in Greece last year. In Puerto Rico, the dance studio in which the Zumba class took place had a large mirror upon which was printed: “Objects in the mirror are as fantastic as they appear.”
“That’s the Zumba spirit,” she said. “If I think back to all the classes I’ve ever gone to, it’s an unwritten rule that that’s just kind of the atmosphere. It’s just about being yourself and dancing around and having a good time.
“It’s always this unanimous light-hearted and welcoming atmosphere to work out.”