ABU DHABI: In a first for the UAE, an Abu Dhabi woman with Down Syndrome will be employed as a Zumba instructor at a local fitness centre next month. Clara Lehmkuhl, 27, better known as Clari, said she can’t wait for the big day. “I became a certified Zumba instructor last year and have been conducting various workshops across the country. But I will be able to realise my dream of getting a full-time job as an instructor when I join Fitness Express on Dhafeer Street soon.”
Zumba is an aerobic fitness programme featuring movements inspired by various styles of Latin American dance.
Clari said her Zumba skills came to the fore when she was a student under Zumba instructor Hala Alkousi. “It was she who discovered my potential and suggested that I also become an instructor. That was two years ago. Around that time, I also read an article about Yulissa Arescurenaga from the US. She is the world’s first person with Down Syndrome to become an instructor,” said Clari, for whom there was no looking back since. Determined to make the cut, she went on to qualify as a B1 Zumba instructor last year. She followed it up with a children’s instructor course as well.
Her family is all praise for her. “Once she sets her mind on something, there is no stopping her,” said her mother Lizette. “She trains for four to six hours a day using songs from my laptop.”
Lizette said two weeks ago, she met Anastasia Aldaeva, psychologist at Fitness Express, during a programme and asked her if Clari could be employed. Clari had been taking voluntary classes as part of the programme.
Aldaeva, who took up the request with the centre, said, “We were training 17 people with disabilities in our centre. So having an instructor like Clari on board fitted in well with our vision of inclusion.”
She said, “The move to hire Clari gives hope to other parents to train their special children to be employable in the future.”
Peter Maina, founder and lead instructor of Fitness Express, said, “One thing that sets Clari apart from others is that she is very determined and self-motivated. She is a great learner and can figure out moves and routines very quickly.”
Clari, who will be attending the Zumba Instructor Convention (ZINCON) 2018 at Orlando, Florida from July 26 to 29, will start taking classes in August.
“She will begin with three classes per week. We are devising special schedules where she can teach people in wheelchairs as well,” said Maina.
Clari said, “People tell me that I inspire them and that they cannot wait for my next class. It makes me very happy.”
-The writer is an Abu Dhabi-based freelance journalist