Volunteer Zumbas for the love of her mom

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Carol Sorgen

Shirlee Dinkin had a lifelong love of dancing and even performed as a youngster in her father’s local restaurant. Today, the 83-year-old resident of Sunrise at Pikesville suffers from dementia and can no longer dance.

But her daughter, Debbie Shavitz, carries on the family tradition by volunteering as a Zumba instructor at senior facilities throughout Greater Baltimore. The popular fitness craze called Zumba, created in 2001, is a Latin-inspired dance-fitness program.

Shavitz also hosts an annual Zumbathon for Alzheimer’s to raise funds for research. “This is a difficult disease,” said the 58-year-old Pikesville resident. “I just want to give back to my mom, who did so much for me.”

From student to teacher

Shavitz had a long career in sales, but when she began caring for her mother about eight years ago, she found she needed a break from the worry and anxiety that was a constant companion. Shavitz herself had always loved dance, so she began taking Zumba lessons.

With the encouragement of the teacher — who told Shavitz that she should be teaching the class, not taking it — Shavitz became a licensed Zumba instructor. She is now a volunteer Zumba instructor at such facilities as Sunrise at Pikesville, the Weinberg Centers, the Jewish Community Centers and others.

“Teaching the classes is just a natural progression of caring for my mom,” she said.

“Zumba transcends age, gender, color and religion,” said Shavitz. “You can be seated in a chair, like the seniors I work with, and still enjoy every second of it and get a wonderful workout.

“Everyone thinks that the seniors should have slow moving, bland music, but it’s quite the contrary. They rock when they hear a beat they love, and when you give them a set of maracas, look out!”

Shavitz said she doesn’t take it easy on the seniors in her class either. “I keep them smiling but I work them hard,” she said, adding though that the participants are, of course, free to dance at whatever pace they can.

Zumba-ing for a good cause

The classes have become so popular — as many as 50 people at a time attend her Sunrise classes — that Shavitz decided to branch out and established the annual Zumbathon for Alzheimer’s.

Attendees take part in Zumba classes taught by Zumba education specialists, and also enjoy a 20-minute performance by some of Shavitz’s students.

The third annual fundraiser will be held on Sunday, Nov. 4, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Beth Tfiloh Synagogue’s Sagner Auditorium. A $20 donation at the door is requested.

Shavitz emphasizes that all funds raised at the Zumbathon support research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association. The first year, Shavitz had 125 attendees and raised $6,000. The second year, she had 150 attendees and raised $8,000. This year her goal is $10,000.

Being a loving caregiver is easy for her, said Shavitz, who visits her mother every day for lunch or dinner. “I get to give back to my mom what she gave to me through my childhood and my life thus far,” she said. But she admitted that it’s hard to watch the debilitation on a daily basis.

“I don’t want my daughter to [have to] do the same for me,” she said. “That’s why research is imperative, the way to find a cure, and why I designate all proceeds from the Zumbathon to research. Just to know I can give back in some way does my heart good.”

For more information or to donate, contact Shavitz at dshavitz@aol.com or call (410) 581-8033.