Local woman dances into her 70s

by Tori Hamby

Zumba instructor Joyce Pruitt calls out the name of the next dance move to her Zumba students at Curves Fitness Center. (Tori Hamby/MIM photo)

CHARLOTTE – Zumba instructor Joyce Pruitt enthusiastically shouts the names of a dance routine’s next move as she zips around the workout room at Curves Fitness Center, a women’s gym in the Mountain Island area.

Shifting effortlessly from country line dancing to Indian Bollywood numbers to the Cupid Shuffle, she barely breaks a sweat.

While Zumba Fitness, a workout that combines hip-hop, Latin and international dance moves, has become a popular fixture in gyms throughout the world, Pruitt isn’t your average Zumba instructor. The woman leading the high-paced workout at the front of the room recently celebrated her 70th birthday.

“When I sub workouts at other Curves gyms around Charlotte, people are sometimes surprised when they see me,” said Pruitt, who celebrated her birthday June 18. “I sound like I’m about 30 on the phone, so they don’t always realize that I’m there to teach.”

Pruitt started working out at Curves two years ago when her husband, Norm, bought her a membership at the gym, located at 2910 Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road, Charlotte, for her 68th birthday.

She soon began participating in Curves’ Zumba in the Circuit classes and found that decades of dance training gave her an advantage when it came to mastering the moves. When one of the gym’s two Zumba instructors left about a year ago, Pruitt was approached about leading classes.

“One of the other instructors came up to me after a class and said ‘Joyce, I’ve been watching you,’” Pruitt said. “My first thought was, ‘Oh, have I been doing something wrong?’”

All potential instructors who want to lead official Zumba workouts and use the program’s copyrighted music must first complete a training workshop to receive certification. The course breaks down the workout’s rhythms and moves with about five or six hours of dance instruction and a couple hours of physiology and group fitness lessons.

A month later, Curves paid for Pruitt to participate in a Zumba Fitness certification program that passed through Charlotte and after eight grueling hours she walked away the certification needed to teach the class at local gyms.

“Doing her classes is always a lot of fun,” Liz Eagen, a Curves fitness instructor, said. “One of the best parts is the interaction she has with the women who take her class. They get really motivated.”

Many of Pruitt’s students, Eagen said, are older women who feel comfortable with Pruitt because she is closer to their age. She uses fluid, graceful routines that might be easier for them to handle and enjoy.

Pruitt’s passion for dance began at an early age, Pruitt said. Throughout her lifetime she has taken point ballet, jazz, belly dancing, clogging – even hula dancing when she lived in Hawaii for a few years. She got her first job teaching dance at a Fred Astaire Dance Studio near Arlington, Va., at 19-years old when she lied about her age to get the job.

“My first job out of high school, I worked as a receptionist, and on the second floor of the building where I worked was the Fred Astaire Dance Studio,” she said. “They asked me if I was 21, so I crossed my fingers behind my back and told them ‘yes’ and signed up for the teacher training program. When I left to go to Hawaii they told me they knew about my age all along.”

She also taught clogging for 20 years in Elkin before moving to Charlotte five years ago and still treasures the experience.

“I saw (my clogging students) go through braces, boobs and boyfriends and now they’re married,” she said.

And Pruitt doesn’t slow down outside of the gym. She taught all of her guests various hula and line dances at her Hawaiian-themed 70th birthday party June 16 at Christ United Methodist Church.

“I’ve always said that if I’m on my deathbed and someone put on music, I would start dancing,” she said.

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