Around the Island

Zoom Zumba class vs. Quarantine: Double Z wins

On Shelter Island, an assembly of 50 people is rare unless you’ve got barbecued chicken or a baseball game to offer. Why then, do upwards of 50 people click on a Zoom link at 11 a.m. three or four times a week and dance together?

The draw is Susan Putignano Binder, teacher of Zumba Gold, a 45-minute exercise class that was held at the American Legion for anyone with $5 and a pair of comfortable shoes, and recently moved online. Ms. Binder’s class is fitness dancing to a soundtrack of Bollywood, reggaetón, bachata, and salsa. She leads the class to shake what they’ve got with all the vigor they can muster.

Three years ago, Ms. Binder went from being an avid student in Melanie Matz’s Zumba class to a teacher when Melanie decided to go away for a few months, and asked Ms. Binder to cover her class. “I was really embarrassed,” she said. “But people here are so supportive.”

Although she had Zumba training, on her first day of teaching she feared she was in over her head. “I was a hot mess,” she said. “I had a Fitbit at the time and I burned 1,000 calories, I was so nervous. And I fell in love with teaching.”

Ms. Binder realized that with Ms. Matz coming back, there would be an opportunity to teach Zumba Gold, a less vigorous form designed for people who are starting out. “I reached out to my mom, to Christine Lewis and a few people who I knew would show up for me,” she said.

Garth Griffin, the town’s recreation director at the time, arranged for Ms. Binder to hold the class at the Legion, on the condition she would eventually add a class for seniors.

When Ms. Binder announced to her class on March 13 that the town might be closing them down because of COVID-19 precautions, it was clear that the Zumba must go on. “The group of people who come are so dedicated,” she said. “They show up for every single class. I knew we couldn’t stop.”

Her oldest child, a software engineer, informed her that she would have to move her class to Zoom, a platform that was created for business meetings, not for teaching merengue. With the camera trained on Ms. Binder’s ever-smiling face in her own home, she saw enrollment shoot up from an average of 17 per class at the Legion, to over 50 online. Using gestures, and count-down fingers, she guides her classes through a series of exercise and dance moves accompanied by world music and Top 40.

Jodi Sisley had taken the Zumba class at the Legion a couple of times over the years, but when she decided to leave the city behind in March and hunker down on Shelter Island, she joined the ranks of Zumba followers who refuse to miss Ms. Binder’s class. “She has been an extraordinary gift,” Ms. Sisley said. “Susan’s energy and smile lift me.”

The new students log in from all over. “There is someone who takes class from Argentina, and a couple of people from California who roll out of bed to take class at 8 a.m. their time,” Ms. Binder said. “I know how the Argentina connection happened, but I’m not sure how the California people came.

She misses teaching in person. “I miss seeing if people are getting the routines, but the emotion, the joy of moving with other people is still there,” she added.

To join, check the Shelter Island Zumba Facebook page for login information at 10:45 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Ms. Binder also teaches a seated Zumba class for seniors at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, with about a dozen people participating.