October 19, 2012

Kennebunk prostitution case gives Zumba bad name

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

When Kristin Sutton, a Zumba instructor, got a Halloween party invitation in the mail with the words "Free Zumba Lesson" handwritten in red on the envelope, she assumed the sender was just trying to make sure she would attend.

click image to enlarge

Alexis Wright, left, listens to her lawyer Sarah Churchill during Wright's arraignment Tuesday at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

In this April 2011 file photo, Alexis Wright leads a Zumba dance demonstration at Pura Vida Studio in Kennebunk.

Jill Brady / Staff Photographer

Then she opened the envelope.

And a condom fell out.

It was another example of a friend finding humor in the case of Alexis Wright, 29, a Zumba instructor who is accused of prostituting herself and secretly recording sex acts at her dance studio in Kennebunk.

Sutton wasn't amused.

"Enough with the flak about the Zumba instructor, already," said Sutton, general manager of the Avant Dance Center in Westbrook, where she teaches Zumba and tap.

Wright's case has created a national media frenzy. She's known on the Web as the "Zumba Madam" and has inspired everything from T-shirts to fan pages on Facebook.

Suddenly, Zumba -- a fitness program that combines Latin dance with aerobics -- has become synonymous with sex.

Like other Zumba instructors in Maine, Sutton has heard her fill of prostitution-related jokes and innuendo. "I feel like it's giving Zumba and the local instructors a bad name," she said.

People may not know what Zumba is, but it seems everyone has heard about Wright and the accusations that she was doing more than shimmying and shaking with her clients.

"This was an unwelcome intrusion into a very wholesome activity," said Susan Sinnett, who owns Studio Fit of Maine in Portland and has one of the largest Zumba followings in the area. "No one enjoys the smear it's put on the Zumba name."

'It's just a big party'

This week at the Studio Fit of Maine dance studio on Warren Avenue, a Zumba class of mostly women and a couple of men swung their arms, bent their knees and kicked to an eclectic mix of contemporary and Latin music.

Sue Goran, of Freeport, who takes Zumba classes a couple of nights a week, had never exercised before and knew she had to try something to soften the blow of turning 60.

Sinnett told her to come to a class and "just have fun."

"It's just a big party," Goran said. "You don't care that you are sweating. I'm in the best shape of my life."

She said, "When I hit 60 in August, I didn't feel so bad."

Goran said Wright's alleged transgressions are unfortunate but "won't stop anyone from taking Zumba classes."

Sinnett has more than 1,600 students, ranging in age from 7 to 82.

Susan Trammell of Scarborough, who started taking classes in April, now takes them four times a week.

She said, "It's too bad it happened with a dance that everyone loves, but Zumba lives on."

Kelley Lachance of Saco started taking Zumba classes in June. She said she has had to endure a lot of jokes as a result.

"I just look at them and laugh and say that (prostitution) is not what Zumba is about," Lachance said.

So what is Zumba about?

Besides being a crater on Mars and a city in Ecuador, it's a fitness program with Latin roots in dances such as flamenco, salsa and tango.

The Colombian choreographer Alberto "Beto" Perez created Zumba in the 1990s when he blended an aerobic dance workout with Latin music. He later moved to Miami and, with Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion, founded the Zumba Academy, which licenses the Zumba Fitness program and certifies instructors all over the world.

According to the academy's website, more than 14 million people take Zumba classes in more than 150 countries. Representatives from the Zumba Academy did not return calls seeking comment.

(Continued on page 2)

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