“Move. Dance. Walk. Just do something,” Dalia Nogueda says, encouraging the women assembled in front of her. “Anything you want to do is fine, as long as you are moving.”
On a recent Wednesday evening, the early September temperature was backing off from the nearly 100 degrees it had been earlier in the afternoon. But it was sizzling inside the Ramona Grange building. Even with the air conditioning on, there was no getting away from the positive vibes the 20 adults attending Nogueda’s Zumba dance class were feeling.
Latin-inspired music bounced across the open room, invigorating and inviting. It was hard for anyone to sit still.
But looks of anticipation changed to confusion and concentration as Nogueda demonstrated the new dance moves.
“Good, you guys are doing great,” she shouted over the music as they began the class.
As the women became more familiar with both the music and the moves, their looks of caution changed to confidence. Grins of accomplishment replaced worried brows. And all were moving their feet, laughing as they mastered—or missed—the latest twist in tempo.
“This is what I love to do,” Nogueda smiled during a quick water break. “Helping people, helping my community—doing something.”
It’s not a coincidence that Nogueda’s students become inspired. As she teaches the dance moves with a fluid grace that comes from years of practice, it’s hard to believe that this is her first class as a teacher. Her confidence is infectious, and the women respond by letting go of their fears. There is really no time to be self-conscious. The moves change too much, the music has a hypnotic beat, and no one wants to be left behind.
In many ways, she understands the struggles of her students more than they know. The cool, calm fit instructor was once a professional modern jazz dancer with a troupe in Mexico. Well-known in the area, Nogueda said they were regulars on television and in the local theaters.
Happy and confident, she fell in love with a man she met while on tour.
“We met and married in ‘92, but moving from Mexico City to Ranchita, Calif., was total culture shock,” she said.
Unable to speak English or even drive, and with few friends in the area, Nogueda immediately looked for something to do.
“I have a degree in clinical psychology from Mexico, so I started taking classes in San Marcos,” she said.
She quickly became proficient enough in both the language and her driving skills to work at her husband’s company.
But after five years, she decided to go a different route, and took a job as a waitress at the Ramona Café.
“Many people know me there as Dalia Martinez,” she said. “And many people know the story of my kids.”
That’s because both of her children were adopted, and their adoption made ads and billboards across the county.
“After nine years of marriage, we adopted Jonathan in 2001. He was only 10 months old. Two years later, we adopted his sister, Jenny, when she was 4 weeks old. San Diego Adoptions used our story in a lot of their advertising to help get these kids out of foster care and into families of their own,” she said.
As the children grew, she decided to try another move and became a real estate agent. But when the economy crashed, she found herself—and her family as she knew it—grinding to a halt. The music had stopped. She and her husband divorced.
“We had to file bankruptcy,” she said. “I lost my house, I lost my job, I lost my marriage, and I lost my dignity.”
She battled severe depression. “I was really bad for quite a while. I gained weight and didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I had no purpose.”
Finally, with the help of friends and family, she once again began to feel needed.
“Sonja Steiner, the owner of Ramona Café, insisted I go back to work,” sha said. “And I took a job as a waitress at another restaurant in Descanso, which I just recently quit. I’m also back in real estate. But going to work, seeing all my old friends and making new ones really helped me get through the tough times.”
But with a load off her mind, as a former dancer Nogueda really wanted to take the load off her feet.
“It was then that I discovered Zumba,” she said. “The dancing and the exercise really work, and it’s fun—you want to do it.”
Never one to stay idle, she not only mastered the classes, she became an instructor. Once again, she was dancing to life’s beat. And in true Dalia fashion, her first mission was to help others.
“The Zumba fitness classes will be taught here at the Grange, and the money from the Wednesday night classes will be donated back to the Grange,” she explained. “The Grange does so much good for Ramona, I’m glad to help. I’m really happiest when I can do what I love and help someone else.”
Dalia Nogueda teaches Zumba fitness classes in Ramona Grange, 215 Seventh St., Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. For more information, call 760-271-5064.