By Susan Lagsdin
The super-efficient 29-year-old professional who might greet you at the Wenatchee Mayor’s office can find answers to all your queries. She’s new, but she’s gaining in-depth knowledge of civic processes and an on-track vision for inclusionary policies at the city level.
Speaking or writing, she’s served well by both her Catholic University of Ecuador and Gonzaga University communications degrees.
That’s her day job.
Two nights a week she tosses the suit, and in an upstairs room near the waterfront she dances her heart out to evocative, hard-driving music in front of a sweating and grinning crowd.
It’s Golds Gym, and she teaches Zumba.
Annagrisel Alvarez’s spirit is hard to contain with mere written language, but it’s harder to try and dance a paragraph, so words must suffice.
Her younger sister Nilce and her mom Laura popped into this interview; they were both ready to join her dad, Wilson Alvarez, music minister at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, for her Monday night Zumba class.
“My 87-year-old grandmother takes the class too,” she said. “There’s something in it for everyone — once you try it and like it I guarantee there’s no going back. You’re stuck forever!”
Zumba is a rigorous, music-rich cornucopia of choreography, and it’s a great match for her. The woman is in constant motion. She admitted that she’s rarely still, miming a saucy little shimmy while her mother Laura confirmed she’s been like that since birth, restless and rhythmic.
“As soon as I hear music, my body just naturally starts to move. If I’m not dancing, I feel like I’m not myself… it liberates me, encourages me, makes me happy,” Annagrisel said.
All that athletic kineticism was going to waste years ago in Ecuador, until in their teen years Nilce goaded her sister, then actually tricked her, into trying her very first salsa dancing class.
One class — that’s all it took. “I absolutely loved it — it was out of this world!” Mock-scolding her sister, she accused “Why didn’t you tell me about it sooner?!”
The two learned together, joined a dance troupe and eventually performed regionally, familiarizing themselves with Cuban, Colombian and U.S. Ballroom salsa dance styles.
When the family moved to the United States, they lived first in the Tri-Cities area. For Annagrisel, it was a tough time of transition: new country, new status, new work, new language, no friends. “There wasn’t much music, and the dancing I saw at a couple of clubs wasn’t quite my style….”
She missed not only a group to go dancing with, but the rich textures of South American and Caribbean music. However, once again, after much haranguing and wheedling from her sister, she agreed to take a Zumba class, with familiar Latin rhythms, that Nilce was enjoying at her gym. Just one…
And again — she was hooked. Annagrisel said, “That day in 2010 changed my life for the better. The energy, the smiles, the sweat transported me to the days when I was so happy from dancing… I knew I just had to transmit that joy to other people.”
Zumba-ing all the while, she continued her college education and as part of that spent two summers in Italy, where she became tri-lingual, returning to translating and writing work back in the Tri-Cities area. Four years ago, single and unencumbered, she uprooted again back to the family home, now in Wenatchee.
It was a good move, and speaking of moves — Annagrisel quickly sped up the Zumba ladder, becoming a certified instructor. At the local Gold’s Gym, her own love of moving to music (“My dancing fix!”) fuels her work as an instructor. Two evenings a week she introduces her students to full-body workouts choreographed to Merengue, Salsa, Reggaeton and Flamenco music and even a little hip hop or rock.
But she’s also energized by the enthusiasm of her students. She said some people may be hesitant in their first Zumba class, but “I have lots of students who are committed to it, who love all the routines… they’re so happy after class, and come up to thank me for an amazing workout.”
Annagrisel was also selected as one of hundreds of world-wide Zumba teacher-volunteers who bring the joy of dance to their own home towns, not just by teaching classes but by organizing community events that get more people moving.
That’s a pretty close parallel to a personal dream she has for Wenatchee’s future: a Latin dance ballroom venue open to everyone, dedicated to instruction as well as social dancing.
She’s a realist — starting up any arts venture is tough, and she says, “It would take a lot of people who are really interested in that type of dance.”
Propelled by Annagrisel’s energy and optimism, in the next few years more of Wenatchee might just be rocking out to new kinds of south-of-the-border rhythms.