For some students at Virginia Tech, a trip to the gym isn’t a fitness booster or a stress reliever — it’s a lifesaver. Stephanie Mateus, a senior psychology student, is able to pinpoint the exact moment that a trip to the gym transformed her life.
Mateus was dancing long before she learned to find her way to her classes during her freshman year. After five years of participating with Sensazao Dance Fitness in Alexandria, Va., Mateus sought a local fitness routine that matched her rhythm. She discovered it waiting for her on campus, and said it helped her survive.
“The only time I didn’t miss home was in my (dance) class,” Mateus said. “McComas was my getaway, my haven.”
In the beginning, Mateus was dancing for herself. Dancing was a way to escape homesickness and roommate issues. Over time, though, the spirit of community on Tech’s campus changed her perspective. Last year, she learned about how valuable teaching a class could be to others. She now teaches Zumba classes at McComas Hall.
On what started as a regular day of work, Mateus received a card and a gift from a woman who had been taking her classes. The message inside it left Mateus in tears.
“She told me (in her card) that her husband had passed away a few years ago, and she started dancing again because needed something to get her spirits back up,” Mateus said. “She told me ‘Thank you for bringing the dance back into my life.’”
From the beginning, Mateus was also affecting the lives of students at Tech. Kabemba Kapanga, a senior psychology, French and international studies major, started dancing because she attended Mateus’ class during her freshman year.
“I saw these two girls dance, Kabemba and (her roommate) Brittanie. They were up there in front with me and they knew all my dances by heart,” Mateus said.
Kapanga was an athlete in high school, but dancing was still new to her. She said she saw Free Week of Fitness as the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill without any pressure.
“The first class was difficult for me, but I still went back and tried to see what I could do,” Kapanga said. “You go to your first class and you’re watching someone dance, but the more you go, you become the one who is leading yourself.”
Her perseverance led to success. Kapanga became a regular at Mateus’ dance classes and was certified to teach last September. Mateus said she knew how much dance had done for her, but had never imagined she could affect people in the same way.
“Things like that can come from an hour of your effort and hard work, and it really changes their lives,” Mateus said.
Likewise, the inspiration Mateus ignited in Kapanga continues to pass from instructor to participants in every class. Every week, the two women give and take inspiration from their students in dance.
“I teach with my roommate and we’ve had several girls come up to us and tell us ‘This is making me want to choose a healthier lifestyle,’” Kapanga said. “To see what happened with myself in Stephanie’s class is awesome.”