Malaysian fitness and Zumba instructor Ivy Yeoh Seow Inn has always loved being active.
When she was in secondary school, she was involved in judo, competing in and winning judo tournaments. She also participated in high jump and swimming.
Then, while at university in the 1980s, she joined the Reserved Officer Training Unit (Rotu, or Palapes in Malay). After three years of training, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Malaysian Armed Forces. Yeoh was also a lifeguard, and gave swimming lessons.
Yeoh moved to Texas, the United States, in the year 2000 when her husband was posted there by his employer; the couple now have two daughters.
“After years of living a sedentary lifestyle, I joined the YMCA near my house and tried all the formats offered. I fell in love with Zumba and was attending classes several times a week,” Yeoh recalls in an e-mail interview.
“I started at the back of the class as I was uncoordinated and self-conscious, but eventually moved to the front. I loved the Zumba classes – they made me come alive and the camaraderie was amazing.
“Then the instructors began pulling me on stage to dance with them.
“One of them told me that I should get certified. That had never crossed my mind: I had never thought of becoming a fitness instructor.
So Yeoh proceeded to register for the Basic I Instructor Training Workshop, out of curiosity.
“After getting certified in May 2013, I began subbing at various gyms. It’s a lot of fun – learning and creating new choreography and teaching them. Plus, I became healthier and more confident of myself,” says Yeoh.
“I am grateful to those instructors who coached me and exposed me to all sorts of Zumba events. They gave me opportunities to teach in large classes with up to 100 people, and also in small studios with fewer than 10 students.
“Many Zumba rockstars come our way here in Houston, Texas. I have attended events with Beto Perez, the founder of Zumba, and with international presenters/trainers such as Kass Martin, Gina Grant, Loretta Bates, Steve Broedt, and others. I have also attended the Zumba Convention in Orlando, Florida.”
Yeoh’s first audition was at the wellness centre of an oil company.
It was successful, and she was hired in September 2013. She began with one class a week; class sizes ranged from three to 15 people. She deemed it “a great start for a newbie”.
From there, she went on to teach at three different companies.
In December 2013, she joined a leader in the fitness industry that has 400 clubs across the United States.
“My first Zumba class had about 20 people. Since then, I have been teaching classes with 20 to 100 people, depending on the club and location. Special events are huge – attendance could go up to 150,” remembers Yeoh.
Of all the fitness formats, why did she zoom in on Zumba?
“I love to dance and that makes Zumba an obvious choice. There’s never a dull moment in dance, no endless boring repetitions. I get to pick the music that I like and modify the choreography to suit my students. Zumba, being Latin-based, is rich with flavour, and diverse styles and rhythms are encouraged.”
Another reason she loves Zumba is that it “makes people happy!”
“No one leaves a Zumba class sad. The party atmosphere causes participants to drop their inhibitions and have fun.
“Before you know it, you’d have danced an hour away and burned between 300 and 1,000 calories, and made 7,000 steps. Dance fitness is a great cardio workout which improves our coordination and creativity.”
In addition to Zumba, Yeoh has been teaching U-Jam, a dance fitness format with urban flavour, for four years. And in 2016, she started teaching Bootybarre, a body-sculpting workout that fuses techniques from dance, yoga and Pilates.
“Being an instructor has made me a better, happier and healthier person, and I have the opportunity to help others to be better, happier and healthier too,” says Yeoh.
What keeps her going in her profession? She gives the credit to her students.
“I am blessed with wonderful students. I wake up every morning with a mission. I know they look forward to class and to achieving their fitness goals,” she says.
“I have students who tell me that my class is the highlight of their week. For many, that one hour is their ‘me time’, away from their responsibilities and worries. They come to spend that hour to work out and have fun.
“I give my best and make sure I have something new for them every week. I will keep teaching for as long as I can. I am enjoying every minute of it!” Yeoh concludes.