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Full-Being Workout-Willa Willis-Jacobs shares her passion for Zumba with West County

Willa Willis-Jacobs

By Matt Larson

Since taking the dance-aerobic scene by storm in the 1990s, chances are that when you hear the word “Zumba”, you’ve already made up your mind about whether you like it or not, despite the fact that you’ve never even tried it and hardly know what it is. But that’s only the case for some people. For many of us, Zumba class is the funnest, healthiest, most invigorating part of the day.

“Zumba is for everybody,” said Richmond’s Main Street Zumba Instructor Willa Willis-Jacobs. She describes it as, basically, a dance and fitness party inspired by Latin music … not your cup o’ tea?

“Don’ say, ‘I can’t.’ Just try it!” she said. “If you say, ‘I have two left feet, I’ve never moved like that!—believe me, when you come in my class I make it so that you will enjoy it, you will like it, and you will come back.”

Born in Oakland, raised in Berkeley, and with a degree in Physical Education from San Francisco State, Willa was first introduced to Zumba in 2008 by her daughter-in-law, Gina Grant, who ultimately trained her as well, alongside Zumba Creator Beto Perez.

An expert dancer capable of any style from ballet to West African, Willa’s been teaching since she was just 17 years old. Her Zumba instructing career has spanned nearly 10 years at locations all over the bay, including Richmond, UC Berkeley, San Francisco, Australia! So the bay, and beyond, let’s say. She’s danced her way all over the world, even traveling to Senegal to fully round her passion of West African dance. But when it comes to her Zumba class, it’s really all about the music.

“I always make sure that my music is on point,” she said. “If you don’t have good music you can’t groove to it. It has to move your soul, your feet, your energy—it has to make you feel good.” Much of Zumba’s music selections hail from Latin roots. You may also hear the musical stylings of international recording artist Dahrio Wonder, who also happens to be her son.

Zumba provides you with a full-being workout: mind, body, and spirit alike. Willa may engage her students in some advanced techniques from time to time, but only after carefully assessing that that particular class can handle such an endeavor. For the most part the goal is to have fun while you’re exercising, without stress or that self-torture feeling.

“I can make it as advanced and difficult as I want, but with Zumba you’re not supposed to,” she explained. “It’s not like a level 1, 2 and 3 Zumba. Zumba is for all.” It’s really up to her students how the class will go that day, and Willa is constantly adapting her moves, ensuring that everyone participating has the best time possible.

In Richmond, under the umbrella of Richmond Main Street, Main Street Zumba is held every Thursday, 6-7pm at the BBK Center, 310 9th St., Richmond. At $5-8 per class, good luck finding a reason not to go! No one will be turned away for lack of funds, but if you’re able to pay they do ask you bring cash only. Wear comfy, loose-fitting clothes; shoes optional. Bring a water bottle and a towel if you want, and stay open to having an amazing time! For more information visit or call (510) 236-4049.

On the fence? Still unsure if you’re going to try it or not? Well, hate to break it to you but that’s all the more reason that you have to try it. ’Tis the new year, after all! And trust that you’re in good hands with Willa at the helm. “I can make sure that people are having fun,” she said. “And when I look around and see that they’re laughing, smiling, moving, grooving—that’s what makes me feel good about what I do.”

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