For the past several months, my friends and I have been raising money to help Roxanne Martinez, a 30-year-old new mother who beat cancer and job loss while pregnant.
Supporters in more than 20 cities hosted fundraisers to benefit Roxy’s cancer treatment fund. Roxy’s younger brothers called the movement, Team Roxy.
When my pal, Yanira Robinson, told me that her Zumba instructors were willing to host a Zumbathon for Roxy in Central Florida, I was thrilled.
When the day of the Zumbathon came along, I (in typical form) had overbooked myself and was exhausted and stressed.
I was supposed to present a resume workshop for a young women’s organization, attend a blogger conference and make it to a magazine launch party on the very same day.
Something had to give, but it wasn’t going to be the Zumbathon.
Within 30 seconds of meeting Yanira’s instructors, Jessica Sanchez and Judy Suarez of Goddess Rising Fitness, I knew I was going to have a blast – and literally work my butt off.
The ladies went all out for Team Roxy. Donned in matching outfits, the instructors kept us dancing and laughing throughout an intense two-hour workout.
I felt the toxins and stress leaving my body and smiled through the burn.
Afterward, we fueled up on delicious sandwiches, fresh fruit, deli meats and cheeses. Not only was Goddess Rising an incredible host, they donated 100 percent of the event proceeds to Team Roxy.
I had to learn more about these amazing women. Like many good stories, this one begins with struggle.
After a successful 11-year retail career, Goddess Rising founder Jessica Sanchez was laid off.
“I remember thinking, ‘Well now what am I going to do?’” Jessica recalls. “I just knew that I never wanted to be dependent on a company ever again.”
That night, Jessica tossed and turned in her bed. Around 1 a.m., she had the answer. Pole dancing fitness.
“I had always wanted to try pole fitness, but never had the time,” Jessica says. “Well, now I had all the time in the world.”
She did her research and found a studio owner to teach her all about pole dancing. Then pregnant, the woman had her baby and went on maternity leave. When she returned, she discovered a new and improved Jessica.
“By this time, my body had started to reflect the time I was spending,” Jessica says.
The studio owner encouraged Jessica to teach pole dancing, which she did for a few months. Before long, Jessica decided to go out on her own.
“I knew that there was nothing like this in Deltona, and I started Goddess Rising with just the clothes on my back,” Jessica remembers.
She bought a few ties, shirts and chairs and began looking for studio space.
After a studio opened near her parents’ home, Jessica stopped in to see if the studio offered ballet classes for her daughter. By the time Jessica left, she had talked the owner into letting her teach a sexy chair dancing class.
“At the beginning, everyone told me, ‘Yeah, I’ll be there! Count me in!’” Jessica says. “But on the first day only one girl showed up.”
Jessica put on a smile and conducted the class for the sole participant, and went home completely disappointed.
But she kept at it, and soon the class started to grow week-by-week.
That’s when Judy Suarez shimmied into the picture.
“She tried the class, and I noticed how great she was at Zumba," Jessica says. "I suggested that she get Zumba certified, and Judy told me she’d consider it.”
Judy turned out to be a go-getter and returned two weeks later as a certified Zumba instructor.
Jessica was elated.
She hired Judy to manage Goddess Rising’s Zumba classes. In about one year, Goddess Rising has grown to 60 members.
In June, Goddess Rising began holding its 15 weekly classes in Studio 13 Dance Academy on Deltona Boulevard.
The name Goddess Rising Fitness was inspired by the goddess rising pole move.
“This is about allowing the goddess inside you and sexy side of your personality to rise confidently,” explains Jessica, who requires that her students dress at some level of sexiness.
Oversized shirts and worn-out sweat pants don’t cut it at Goddess Rising Fitness.
Jessica and Judy have watched the goddess rise from within their students. Lou is one example, Judy says.
“When Lou first started classes, she’d watch us do the moves and say, ‘My butt or my waist doesn’t move like yours,’” Judy says. “Now that she’s been here a year, she brings it!”
Though Lou didn’t intend to lose weight, she returned from a trip to the Keys ecstatic, Judy recalls.
“She came in saying, ‘I have muscles! I have muscles!’ “Judy says.
Another student posted a photo of herself in a bikini and thanked Jessica and Judy for her healthier body.
In addition to helping its students, Goddess Rising has remained active in the community by performing in numerous community festivals and offering Zumbatomic classes for kids.
They are supporting an upcoming Volusia County back-to-school school supplies event and planning for breast cancer awareness month in October.
In the future, they plan to apply for grants to expand Zumba to local schools.
Jessica daydreams about having her own studio, completely equipped with poles.
“With Zumba, you’re having too much fun to realize that you’re working out. You immediately receive the benefits of a healthier heart, and better sleep,” Jessica says. “I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather shake my butt for an hour than run on the treadmill!”