Five years and 100 pounds ago, Bradford West Gwillimbury resident Amber Harris-Carniello was just getting familiar with the world of Zumba, a Latin American style dance program that encourages movement with fun, upbeat music.
She remembers starting her first dance class where she stood in the back of the room, covered in a long sleeved shirt and pants. She was self-conscious and hesitant and only went because she had received a free class pass.
After her first lesson, she was hooked. She knew she had found something she enjoyed that could also help her lose weight.
Nearly a year later, she had made her way to the front of group and even started teaching her own beginner Zumba class at a local fitness club.
“I love bringing the joy of dancing to people, even ones who think they can’t dance. To look out and see people smiling and laughing all while exercising is amazing,” she explained.
Even though Harris-Carniello was having fun and losing weight with her dancing, she felt like she could be doing more to help with her weight loss.
“I needed a major change,” she said.
It was in October of 2015 she decided she was going to alter her eating habits entirely by going on a keto diet. Keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet with a goal to make it easier for your body to lose weight.
She began researching various recipes online and finding alternatives to ingredients to assist with her new diet.
“You have to think about what you can eat, not what you can’t,” she explained.
As she continued her keto diet and Zumba classes, Harris-Carniello found herself in a better state emotionally and physically.
She said her kids were her biggest motivation for losing weight. She wanted to encourage healthy lifestyle choices in their everyday life.
After her first year of keto dieting, she lost 70 pounds, and, by April 2017 had lost a total of 100 pounds.
In February 2018, she had developed relationships with many women through her Zumba classes and weight loss journey, so she decided to start her own Zumba club, Evolve Zumba with Amber.
“I think people can relate to me more as a teacher that I’ve gone through that process (of losing a large amount of weight),” she said. “It makes people think, ‘Well if she can do it, then I can do it, too.’”
Every week, Harris-Carniello teaches to a group of women, regulars and newcomers alike.
One of her regular students, Gillian Milr, said she enjoys attending every week.
“I like the class because it’s not intimidating and it’s fun,” she said. “Amber is a lot of fun. She’s very energized and easygoing. She’s happy just to see people moving.”
Teresa Auekma is another longtime student who said Zumba allows her to let loose and have fun.
“I enjoy coming to class because of all the fabulous ladies! The energy in the room is absolutely amazing and positive,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter if you are off beat, walking the wrong direction, or missing steps, (Harris-Carniello) encourages you that as long as you are moving you are burning calories. We are all there just to have fun but get in some exercise at the same time.”
Evolve Zumba with Amber meets every Monday at Green Valley Alliance Church in Bradford from 7-7:45 p.m. There are registered sessions as well as drop-in programs available.