The Nicest Place in Utah: Backyards in Saratoga Springs

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Zumba to the World"

3099

A casual backyard fitness class for friends sparks a movement that brings joy nationwide.

On March 17, Heather Doney dusted off her Zumba routines after years of retirement from being an officially licensed instructor, and invited a bunch of her neighbors to join her for a backyard class. She thought it would be a good thing for friends who wanted to socialize and get a good workout without violating social distancing. About 20 people joined her that day—women dancing on their decks, kids on their lawn joining their parents—as Doney lead the routine from a friend’s porch, blasting Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and shouting instructions and encouragement through a megaphone. The spirit was joyful, captured on video by Heather’s husband Daniel. And it was contagious.

The video went viral, shared by celebrities like Demi Lovato and Khloé Kardashian. An estimated 30 million people have seen it. When Doney found out, she said, “I was on cloud nine!”

Zumba is a dance fitness program, and that’s just what the people in the video were doing—dancing with joy at a time when fear of COVID-19 dampened moods everywhere.

“We have a unique setup with our yards and friendships with our neighbors,” says Doney, 42. “Most of us don’t have fences. At first, it was because they’re expensive, but then we realized how much we all loved having open backyards to hang out in. That made it perfect for teaching a workout class because everyone could see me from my neighbor’s back porch.”

The video sparked a backyard Zumba movement, with other instructors following her lead and starting their own “lawn distant” classes in places like Aberdeen, South Dakota, and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Heather Doney leading a zumba class from her back porchCourtesy Heather Doney
Heather Doney’s backyard Zumba class inspired more than just her neighbors that day.

Doney taught Zumba for six years, until she had to quit in 2017 to deal with some health issues. But the positive reactions she got from her video made her think about how people are looking for ways to exercise at home–and for moments of light in a dark time—and convinced her to give teaching another shot. So she started streaming classes from her basement and posting workout videos on her Instagram account.

“It was so amazing to be part of something that could bring joy to people during such a hard time,” says Doney’s friend Erin Stewart, who was part of the initial workout. “We’re so lucky to live in a place where people pull together!”

The Nomination

Heather Doney, a Zumba instructor, didn’t want her neighbors’ mental and physical health to be effected by social-distancing. Heather took it upon herself to lead a Zumba class from her back porch where her neighbors could see and hear her. People joined in from their own yards, decks and even from inside their own homes! Doney’s husband shared a video online (video is included below) that shows off his wife teaching, dancing and calling out instructions through a megaphone from their porch while Rihanna’s “We Found Love” plays in the background. The video showcases the handful of neighbors–adults and kids alike–sweating along!

The video went viral, with celebrities like Demi Lovato and the Kardashians sharing it on Instagram. It even started the “lawn distant” Zumba trend. After a quick social search, you can see tons of other instructors teaching their neighbors from their own yards! Zumba has mental, physical and emotional benefits — all things we need right now and this act of a Zumba class created a sense of togetherness in a world where we need to be six feet apart.

3099