When Yulissa Arescurenaga took her first Zumba class in 2008, she dreamed of one day making it her life’s work by becoming a certified instructor. The only problem was that there were no other instructors out there like Arescurenaga, who has Down syndrome.
So, the 24-year-old from San Francisco, California, spent years memorizing dance routines and practicing for six hours a day in order to fulfill her dream, becoming a licensed Zumba instructor in March 2012, reports the Alaska Dispatch News.
Now, as the first Zumba instructor with Down syndrome in the United States, Arescurenaga regularly teaches around California. Last week, she and her mom traveled to Anchorage, Alaska, where she led two days of dance classes.
“She was killing it,” Liam Mamikunian, one of 50 students who attended Arescurenaga’s class at Service High School in Anchorage, told the paper. “She didn t miss a beat.”
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Adam Ahonen, a life skills teacher at the school, added that it was inspiring for the school’s students with Down syndrome and Autism to see how Arescurenaga has worked to make her dream a reality.
“It just opens up so many doors, to know somebody’s out there doing it,” he said. “It teaches them they could be the first person with Down syndrome or autism doing something.”
While Arescurenaga fell in love with dancing when she was just one, her mom, Marlene Palomino, said that it wasn’t until she started leading Zumba classes and connecting with the other dancers that she really came out of her shell.
“When she’s with the music, she’s got it,” Palomino said.