At a vacant lot along Al Muraqqabat Street, surrounded by Deira’s charming grid of rustic buildings, a group of women, mostly in their 50s, dance to a remixed version of Sweet but Psycho by Ava Max.
It’s 7am, and the morning rush of commuters hurry to the parallel Al Rigga street, where the nearest metro station is located. Some of them pause and smile at the sight of the uniformed dancing ladies who call themselves Happy Zumba.
Leading them is Rosalie Carpena, 63, whose diminutive figure doesn’t do justice to her rousing energy on the makeshift Zumba floor. She is “Mama Rose” to her group, who would also refer to her as their coach. She choreographs the high-energy dance sessions, and with a microphone, authoritatively commands the group to their formation.
“This is my hobby,” she says.
Carpena is firm when she says she doesn’t ask people to pay any kind of fee: “Everyone is welcome to join us have fun while exercising.”
‘We are family’
The emphasis on fun and community is palpable, with every member of the group referring to each other as family.
“I love this group so much, and whenever I’m dancing with them, I forget about my problems,” one member says.
The group gathers every morning, from Monday to Saturday, near Coral Dubai Deira Hotel. One session can lasts up to three hours with a good dose of casual mingling in between songs.
Carpena, who ensures Happy Zumba sessions take place six days a week, says she treats it like her “full time job”. A retired nanny, she now takes care of her grandchild and occasionally babysits for additional income.
The group, she says, was organically formed two years ago.
“I would always do my walks in the morning and that’s really when I started to meet most of them. Since Zumba is my passion and they also want to try it, we made the group,” she says.
The group has since grown to around 50 members, a mixed bag of Filipino women who have recently retired from their jobs or are still employed but are looking to have an active lifestyle. They come from different walks of life – nurses, beauticians and nannies.
Daisy Oresca, a retired nurse in the Philippines, moved to Dubai two years ago to help care for her grandchild. Aside from being able to exercise, she says the group has helped in her transition to retirement, finding a community of people who share the same life experiences and passion for dancing.
For Carlota Estalane, 62, the community she found in Happy Zumba, helped her deal with the the loss of her husband who died last year.
“I have three children here, and they really encourage me to go out and ease my stress. One day I found Rose dancing in the streets and I just asked her if I could join,” she says.
Rosalinda Arizala is one of the group’s “running ladies”, as Carpena refers to those with full-time jobs.
“I’m off today, but my shift typically starts at 10am, so I really make time to exercise every morning,” says Arizala.
Although the Zumba sessions are not officially a part of Dubai Fitness Challenge, the annual 30×30 event is still a source of excitement for the group. They have all registered for the upcoming Dubai Run.
Making exercise fun
Sense of community aside, some of the members of the group have attested to how the group has helped them have a more active lifestyle as they deal with chronic health issues.
Jana Gonzales, for example, has been taking medicine and supplements to control her blood sugar since 2012.
“Exercise is very important for me, and this group has really helped me enjoy physical activities. This is my daily routine now, Zumba in the morning before going to duty,” she says.
Other members are managing hypertension, hyperuricemia and other lifestyle-related health issues and say dancing has helped them feel more revitalised.
Marites, a private nurse, says she lost a lot of weight since regularly joining the morning dance sessions.
Every member speaks highly of Carpena. “She’s changed our lives,” says one.
Carpena is grateful for the community she’s formed and says they inspire her everyday.
“I get sad every time a member can’t join our session,” she says. “I really found a united family in this group, and I think that is why we always want to wake up early in the morning to dance together.”
Updated: November 02, 2023, 10:03 AM