Darliene Ifiorah weighed 290 when she went to a Zumba class two and a half years ago at LA Fitness in Everett.
“I went to the back of the class,” she said. “Everybody was small and they had been there and they knew all the choreography. But it was fun. They told me to keep coming.”
So she did — and she didn’t give up when she lost her balance and fell down during a fast-paced class a few weeks later.
She recently moved to the front of the class.
In July, Ifiorah, 55, started teaching Zumba three nights a week at the Stillaguamish Senior Center in Arlington.
She credits Zumba, a high-energy dance fitness brand, with helping her achieve a number on the scale she hasn’t seen in decades: 188 pounds.
“I’m in a size 14,” she said with pride.
It wasn’t Zumba alone.
She also had gastric bypass surgery to restrict the amount of food her stomach could hold. And she banned sugar and starch from her pantry.
“I have been struggling with my weight all my life,” said Ifiorah, a social worker at Cascade Valley Hospital and mother of three grown children.
She was close to 400 pounds in 2007 when she had the surgery. She lost about 80 pounds, but gained it back.
“I started blowing up again. Everybody said, ‘You can’t gain weight with a gastric bypass.’ Yes, you can,” she said.
“It’s not an easy way. It’s hard. Your stomach will only hold so much, but your brain is still telling you you’re hungry. You have to learn good discipline.”
In 2012, the doctor told her she was prediabetic. She started eating healthier and walking for exercise. Still, she couldn’t get below 300 pounds, too much weight for her 5-foot-7 height.
After a divorce three years ago, she was motivated to further change her lifestyle. She quit eating potatoes, her favorite food. She joined a gym.
It took her six months to get up the nerve to try a group Zumba class. Once she started the rhythmic steps, she kept dancing.
She went through training to be an instructor, which means choreographing routines to music and leading classes of one to 100 students.
Her playlist includes Pitbull, Lil Jon and Nicky Jam.
“People are probably saying, ‘Who’s this African-American lady in her house playing all this music we can’t understand?” she said.
At first she worried that students wouldn’t take her seriously.
“Even though I have a bigger frame, I want them to see me as a competent instructor,” she said.
At the Arlington class, for an hour all that matters is shaking and swaying.
Sometimes five people come. Other times two. Or just one.
No matter. She kicks on the music and the fun begins.
“She is so encouraging,” said student Teresa Klein of Arlington. “I have been trying to get myself back in shape from chemotherapy. We had the opposite story. She was very heavy; I was at 90 pounds. I’ve been trying to put weight back on and get better range of motion.”
Suzie Coar does chair Zumba, moving her arms and legs while seated.
“You have to start somewhere,” said Coar, the senior center’s finance manager. “I can’t jump up and down.”
Ifiorah’s goal is to lose 30 additional pounds. She recently started sessions with a personal trainer.
She does at least 10 hours of Zumba a week as an instructor and a student.
“On Mondays, I teach a class and then I go to two more classes. I go to another class on Tuesday night after teaching my Tuesday class. I do the same thing on Wednesday, then I go on Thursday and Friday evening. If I’m not working, I go to five classes on the weekend,” she said.
She’s about to add more.
“In a couple weeks I will be teaching at 24 Hour Fitness.”