Sports  Dancing with the neighbours

Shariff talks about her summer community Zumba project

If you lived in the Lower Plateau this summer, you may have had a stranger knock on your door asking if you’d like to take Zumba classes in her backyard. This stranger would have been Shazia Shariff, a U4 International Management and Political Science student at McGill who created Karibuni Zumba, providing five-dollar classes over the summer to neighbours looking to get active while getting to know each other.

Classes were held three to four times per week, first in Shariff ’s backyard, and later in Square St. Louis. There was also an option to pay more than five dollars, with the extra cash being donated to Pour 3 Points (To 3 Points), a Quebec initiative that trains sports coaches to be life mentors for young athletes. The McGill Daily sat down with Shariff to look back at the summer project, giving those who missed it a taste of what happens when neighbours come together from all walks of life to dance.

The McGill Daily (MD): Why did you start Karibuni Zumba?

Shazia Shariff (SS): I always wanted to be a dancer, it was one of those beautiful things that I thought I would be. […] When it came to this summer, I thought of doing something more creative […] so I decided to become a Zumba instructor.

One of the key motivations behind that was the idea of getting to know your neighbours, something that I thought really lacked, that I had not known my neighbours despite living here [in the Plateau] for almost a year. And I realized that people generally don’t know each other even though the Plateau is extremely warm, friendly, has a beautiful community feel.

MD: Did you feel like bringing people together through dance fitness was different than if it had been another kind of community initiative?

SS: The thing with dance is that it just pumps those endorphins. It allows you to get loose. […] And there is nothing better than bonding over embarrassing moments. So I guess that’s what makes it different.

“One of the key motivations behind [the project] was the idea of getting to know your neighbours, something that I thought really lacked, that I had not known my neighbours despite living here [in the Plateau] for almost a year.”

MD: Why did you choose the name Karibuni Zumba?

SS: Karibuni means welcome in a very warm sense of the word in Kiswahili. I’m Kenyan, so it was just natural. […] Actually, my grandparents suggested it. […] They said, ‘call it Karibuni, welcome people to your home.’ And before I knew it, I was welcoming people to my backyard.

MD: That’s sweet. Was it mostly students who came?

SS: Actually no, not really. It was all over. I’d say maybe […] 50 per cent students.

MD: Was there anything else you wanted to say about Karibuni Zumba?

SS: From my heart, I absolutely adored the experience. […] Because you just find time to come [to the class] in your daily life, and because you’re so different and you have very different backgrounds and very different problems, day to day, it’s just something [that] connected us deeper than who [we] were as people, it’s just the experience and the sharing the moment, the idea of just living the moment. […] It was also a great way for me personally to express myself in dance. I really enjoyed the idea that I could just play any different kind of reggae music one day, and Indian music, and I could express any different part of my culture.

MD: Sounds beautiful, I’m sad I missed this.

SS: Yeah, and it was really fun in that sense, you know? It was raining once, [but] we danced in the rain nonetheless, and you just share those moments.