This article was first seen on the Huffington Post. For this installment, we are joined by Marisa Stani.
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself?
Hi!! My name is Marisa Stani and I am a Zumba-holic. But seriously. I am 24 years old, loving life, following my passion, and being successful along the way! I have been dancing since the age of 22 months old, and music has driven my soul ever since.
Today, I am fortunate enough to share my passion with the world, one step at a time. I am a Zumba Jammer, which means I teach choreographies to other Zumba instructors while helping to improve their skills (and having a blast doing it!!) I am also the owner of FIT HAPPENZ, LLC, a studio in Buffalo, NY, where fitness fanatics can come and get their party on!
A few words to describe myself would be happy, positive, and determined. I am most known for my contagious smile (and energy!) and I am a firm believer in the fact that “positive energy creates positive energy.”
What inspired you to get involved in the dance world?
Dance has always been my passion. I started off by taking a “Mommy & Me” dance class at age two…later evolving into a dance lover! By the time I was 12, I was taking Tap, Jazz, Ballet, Hip Hop (#fav), & Lyrical classes weekly, which amounted to over 11 performances at each recital. My mom used to “try” to take me running to increase my stamina for my recitals. I. just. couldn’t. do. it. My common excuse would be “My legs are rusty” or “I’ll run in place…meet you home!!”
One day, my mom pulled me into a Zumba class. She said it was like dancing, but an amazing workout. I went once. Then twice. Then 4 times a week. That was it, I was hooked. After going for a few months, I saw a training to become an instructor. Without hesitation, I signed up.
Since I was only 16 years old, I wasn’t instantly hired at my local gym. I would go and support my mom (who was hired) and stand in the front row to be her biggest fan. The owner of the gym saw my passion, and hired me on the spot!! Since then, my class grew from 15 to 150 people! And now it’s not just a “class” with students, it’s a family reunion a few times each week.
What role did Zumba play in your life, before you became an instructor?
Before I became an instructor, I always sat outside the doors to a class at the gym. I would watch for the hour, with my eyes peeled to the door in excitement, seeing how much fun these ladies (and guys!) had just feeling the music and having fun. There was no wrong way. Everyone did their own thing, yet they were in harmony. This was a huge turning point for me.
Isn’t it amazing how music and dance can unite so many different people? Isn’t it amazing how people can smile, sweat, and get along for 1 hour? Isn’t it amazing how nothing else matters, not even stress of your day?? I put one step in the door and never looked back. Not only is Zumba® a workout for your body and mind, but boy does it do a soul good!!
As you decided to make a career out of your passion – what were your biggest stumbling blocks along the way?
My biggest stumbling block was confidence. Will they like me? Who will follow this little girl? Do I really have to shake my body like that?! All of these doubts were running through my head. Then I realized….these thoughts will only be true if I continue to act upon them. Doubt is one of the biggest reasons for failure. I learned to be the example for my students. If the teacher wasn’t confident, why would the students be? Eye contact, what is that? All it takes is for you to smile at one person, and they will pass it on. Try it! I dare you.
After messing up my choreography, shaking body parts I didn’t know I had, and giving the cheesiest smile to anyone who looked at me….I let go of all of my fears. The rest is history.
How do you use your passion for fitness and dance to help give back to others?
After hitting a record number of having 223 in one class….I sat down and thought….”Wow, this is so incredible how all of these people can come together to workout. Imagine if we did something bigger. Worked together. For good. Think of how all this positive energy can just multiply and have a domino effect.”
My mom and I teamed up and decided to host a Zumbathon Charity Event. What is this? It’s a Zumba charity event. We charge an admission ticket and donate 100% of proceeds to a specific charity organization. Over the past few years, we’ve donated to Susan G. Komen, American Heart Association, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and Make-A-Wish Western New York. This past year, we’ve raised $23,500 in one event, granting 3 wishes for local children in our community. Cumulatively, we’ve raised over $150,000. By dancing!!! Did I mention we burned over 1000 calories this day too?!
This is the most important part of my career – giving back. No matter where you come from or what you have, it takes $0 to be a friend, to give a hug, or be there for someone, even if it’s just listening about their day.
What made you decide to open up your own fitness studio?
I have always had a dream about opening my own studio. In dance class, when my teacher would ask “Ok, who wants to be a teacher and open their own place when they grow up?” I would raise my hand higher than anyone else. It has always been in my mind since that day that I was determined to fulfill that promise to myself.
A few months ago, the local gym at which I taught my classes at, was bought out by another company. I had been looking for my own space to teach for years, but never found “the one.” The new owners informed me that continuing forward I would not be allowed to teach Zumba Toning, & Zumba Step, two specialty formats that I teach on the regular along with taking hours away from my regular Zumba classes. I was devastated. How does someone just “stop” doing something they love? This wasn’t going to be ok. I had people that were counting on me.
Right as this take over happened at the gym, “THE” perfect spot was available. I said a prayer, and trusted that my love for my passion will carry me into success in my new location. Not only did all of my clients follow me, but everyone is so much happier (including myself!!) As the saying goes….. FIT HAPPENZ.
Do you recall the single moment in time you decided to empty your bank account to do this?
Ohhhh yes!! This had to be one of the scariest moments in my transition. In two hours, I quit a facility I taught at for 7 years, signed a lease for a new building, and opened an LLC. I had coins and singles saved up from all of my “Tooth Fairy” and “Bake Sale” days set aside for a perfect opportunity such as this!! I paused for a minute as I was doing this, and then realized this is what I waited my whole life for. I knew this was right.
You opened sooner than expected; can you tell us more about that?
You’ve heard the saying “Everything happens for a reason.” Sometimes people just say that to make themselves feel better about a situation, but the reality of it is that it is 100% true!! My initial plan was to open the studio on August 1, right after the Zumba convention, allowing myself time to mentally prepare myself to leave my gym. The landlord had to present the idea of a fitness studio to the board. It was approved! ….but the wrong date was written on the lease. A month earlier. My choices were to readdress the studio with the board, or open a month earlier. I felt that the wrong date was written “for a reason” and it was “meant to be” that I opened sooner. The day after I made this decision, the new gym asked me to sign a “non- compete” form, meaning that I would not be allowed to teach anywhere else. Had I not signed the lease for the earlier month, I would have been without a class for a whole month!!!
It was a Thursday. I had my farewell class at the old gym. My next scheduled class was Saturday morning. You guess where I had it. Yup, at the new studio. A blessing in disguise.
What do you hope to accomplish with the studio?
In the studio, I want love, happiness, freedom, and positive vibes only. I want my students to come in feeling like it’s their second home! How they can be themselves, go crazy, act silly!! Dance like nobody’s watching, smile from ear to ear, and look forward to coming to classes. I want to help other instructors, host instructor trainings for other specialties such as Strong by Zumba or Zumbini, and even sell Zumba clothes!! Most importantly, I want everyone to have fun.
For example, one of my classes that I take a lot of pride in is the “Guest Instructor of the Month.” What does this mean? When a student who takes my class, gets their license to teach Zumba, we call them a graduate. All of our “graduate” pictures are hung on our walls. Each month, a new “graduate” is asked to teach their first class ever at the studio! This gets their jitters out, gives them a great start into the fitness world, and a huge confidence boost. When you first become an instructor, finding a place to teach is a big concern. I provide this opportunity to show that I will always support them and they can always come home.
How important have the people around you been when it comes to your success?
I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be the person who I am without the people around me. My mom has been my #1 supporter since I was a baby! She dragged me into this fitness world, and I am so lucky to share this passion with her as she is also an instructor. We team up and host charity events to help others. She is my biggest fan as I am hers!
From carting my butt back and forth to dance school multiple hours a day, to helping me remember my dances by letting me teach her, to even riding around in her convertible car dancing to “Soulja Boi.” She definitely ranks the coolest mom. My dad and grandparents have also helped my success. Paying for all those dancing lessons can add up quickly. These past few years, I have been lucky enough to meet a guy that I not only love, but get to work with through instructing. My boyfriend, who is also a DJ, creates music for my classes, helped set up an incredible sound system in my new studio, and is my Mr. Fix It when anything breaks. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful family.
Not all “family” is blood related. I consider my Zumba students to be my family. Every birthday, they never forget- Orange Chocolate is my favorite and they even text me at midnight to send me their wishes!! Their support through the years, from Zumbathons to pool parties to crazy new choreography that I “try out” on them is so special to me. These are more than students, these are friends, these people are my Zumba family.
If you could only choose one thing, what would you tell your younger self?
If I could tell my younger self one thing (and I would listen), it would be to not let anyone’s opinion of you sway your decisions. Many people have opinions on what they think is right, but only you know in your heart what is right. I think this can apply to a lot of people. Ultimately, you are the one who controls your destiny, your mood, your thoughts. Start by believing in yourself, and you can start changing the world.
What are your biggest life goals?
My biggest life goal is to become a Zumba Education Specialist. These instructors travel to train enthusiasts who have that passion and drive to become instructors. They teach how to motivate, how to properly exercise, but also how to love. They explain that teaching Zumba is not about how well you can dance, but how you make your students feel. I am so blessed to be working as a Zumba Jammer now, meeting and helping instructors all around. I also want to continue to be successful in my fitness facility so I can continue to help others and the community.
Outside of the fitness world, my goals are to continue to give back to the community – as much as I can. Whether it be a helping hand, financially, or with a smile. I want to get married and have children on my own. And hopefully they will love fitness as well, so I can carry out the tradition that my mom and I have. But most importantly, to love unconditionally and live life to the fullest.
Where can people go to learn more about you online?
Stay tuned for the next interview of Real Talk Real Women!