‘Dreams Come True’ (Exclusive): Zumba Welcomes First-Ever Instructor with Down Syndrome

Yulissa Arescurenaga is breaking boundaries as the first-ever Zumba instructor with Down syndrome

Published Time: 14.05.2024 - 20:31:09 Modified Time: 14.05.2024 - 20:31:09

Yulissa Arescurenaga is breaking boundaries as the first-ever Zumba instructor with Down syndrome.

As the 32-year-old from San Francisco tells PEOPLE, “I feel so happy.”

“Zumba is for everyone,” she says, adding if you want to “see people smiling,” she explains, “take a picture of Zumba.”

But the road from fan of the dance-based exercise to instructor took “so many years,“ her mom, Marlene Palomino, tells PEOPLE, sharing that her daughter took her first class in 2008.

From there, “she never missed any classes,” Palomino said. And then, four years later: “Mom, I need your help. I want to be a Zumba instructor.” 

“I said, ‘Are you sure?’,” Palomino tells PEOPLE, sharing that at the time, no one in her family had any idea how to have a career in Zumba, the Latin dance-based fitness program that offers lessons on its official app.

“‘Are you ready for this?’” she asked her daughter, saying, “‘It’s not like you want to dance at a family party. You have to learn the routines, the steps.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, I can do it.’”

A former two-time Special Olympics gold medalist — Arescurenaga competed in swimming — she showed her mom the routines she’d learned. 

“I noticed, ‘Oh, she knows the steps. She has the rhythms’.”

“So I made some phone calls to Zumba’s office,” she said. “A young girl in her condition, any possibility to be a Zumba instructor?”

As the Cleveland Clinic explains, people with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, which “can affect how their brain and body develop.” They may have weak muscle tone, vision problems, and become more prone to illnesses.

However, Arescurenaga didn’t have any major health issues, her mom tells PEOPLE. As long as she was able to pass her licensing exam, there were no barriers to her becoming an instructor.

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he passed her exam in 2012 and started volunteering to teach classes at local elementary schools. 

“They never see anything wrong or different,” Palomino shared about how her daughter connected with the kids in the schools. “That’s just the Zumba teacher coming in, and it’s fun and dancing.”

“Yulissa started to feel more confident with the kids,” she added. “It’s very nice to see the kids smile and say, ‘The Zumba teacher is coming!’"

Zumba reached out once her daughter started posting on social media and participating in different Zumba events.

“The more Yulissa shared her passion, she felt a part of the nice community of Zumba,” Palomino says. “She practices everyday,” her mom says, sharing that she will rehearse her routines for up to six hours.

“Being on the app —I feel so happy,” said Arescurenaga, whose classes are 30 minutes long and available on the official Zumba app

“As her mom, this is perfect for her,” Palomino tells PEOPLE. “I’m so proud of Yulissa. She never stopped…I’m glad she inspires other people.” 

"Zumba isn't just about movement — it's about celebrating the uniqueness within each of us. Yulissa embodies the heart and soul of our community, proving that passion transcends barriers," Zumba CMO, Carolina Moraes, says.

"Her vibrant energy ignites every class she teaches, serving as a reminder that while we may have our differences, in Zumba, the dance floor belongs to everyone." 

And now, as the first Zumba instructor with Down syndrome, Arescurenaga tells PEOPLE she hopes to inspire people.

“Dreams come true,” Arescurenaga tells PEOPLE.

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