â€śOne. Two. Three. Blake TV!â€ť
This began Urbanaâ€™s exercise session with world-renown Zumba instructor Nathan Blake on June 15. More than 60 enthusiastic â€śZoomies,â€ť assembled in Urbanaâ€™s Fire and Rescue Department, crowded before Blakeâ€™s camera, held aloft for good measure.
Zumbaâ€™s motto is, â€śDitch the workout, join the party!â€ť A mĂ©lange of salsa, hip-hop and merengue dance moves and traditional exercise regimen, Zumba first gained popularity in the 1990s when a dancer and choreographer improvised an exercise session from tapes of salsa dance music. Blake, who holds a dance degree from Hofstra University, brought Zumba into the limelight with his popular YouTube channel, Blake TV. Each video bears his trademark opening â€” a fervent one-two-three introduction from his fans, accompanied by a few boisterous Zumba-esque moves.
In this respect, at least, Urbanaâ€™s time with the master was no different. Blake, sporting a black fedora and a sequined glove, led attendees through a fast-paced Michael Jackson medley, complete with moonwalk. As the medley segued into Jacksonâ€™s â€śThriller,â€ť Blake directed Zoomies into one half of the firehouse. Together, they performed the dance montage made famous by Jacksonâ€™s zombie-apocalypse MTV music video.
â€śZumba has changed how I exercise,â€ť said Linda Bidlack, a coordinator of the event. â€śI forget that Iâ€™m exercising â€” Iâ€™m having so much fun!â€ť But Bidlack was in attendance for a more personal cause. Proceeds from the event, totaling $881, went towards Kids Connection Haiti, an organization that seeks to provide job-training and financial assistance to young Haitian adults.
Bidlack sees in Haiti both tragedy and opportunity.
â€śWhen I was 8 years old, my family was stationed in Port-au-Prince for USAID (United States Agency for International Development),â€ť said Bidlack. â€śThree months into our stay, my 5-year old brother fell into a coma and died â€” we didnâ€™t know why. We had to leave the country. It was too heartbreaking to stay.â€ť
Years later, as a student at Georgetown University, Bidlack met Astrid Fitzgerald, founder of Kids Connection Haiti. Despite painful memories of the past, Bidlack found herself willing to return to Haiti as a volunteer. She and her son, Will, will return to Haiti this summer as volunteers for Kids Connection Haiti.
But why Zumba? Bidlackâ€™s sister, Amanda Strand, knew both Blake and the Zumba regimen. Blake was invited to Urbana to aid in the fundraising effort.
â€śLetâ€™s have the two sisters come to the front,â€ť Blake said before the Zoomies gave their one-two-three. â€śNow, tell about your cause.â€ť Strand and Bidlack came to the front of the crowd. Looking into the camera, Bidlack outlined, once again, both her story of the past and her hopes for