Gerry Opoka is a certified Zumba Instructor and proprietor of Soul Fitness Limited, a boutique studio that focuses on fitness and general wellness through Zumba, yoga, cross fit training and boxing.
INTERVIEW | AGNES E NANTABA | It’s a space for women who aim to shade off stress and leave the place rejuvenated. Zumba is a dance fitness style that fuses all the different dance styles into a workout. With origins in Columbia, South America, Zumba is a substitute for aerobics. Opoka says each Zumba dance move works a certain part of the body.
“Dance fitness is a smart escape from life’s stressing issues and all the bad life,” says Opoka.
Unconventionally but not surprisingly, Opoka has taken Zumba dance to inmates of Butabika Mental Referral Hospital in Kampala to help nurture wellness among patients. Opoka says she was visiting a relative when she heard music playing in one of the wards at the hospital. A few days later, she wrote to hospital management seeking dance classes with patients in the drug and alcohol unit.
The hospital instead approved the classes for all patients at the facility.
Full of apprehension about how to deal with such patients, Opoka went along with some colleagues for the inaugural dance in September 2016. To her surprise, a good number of them quickly picked up the moves. The Wednesday afternoon sessions soon became routine; with patients dancing, screaming, and others just running around and across the room. Many addicts have danced out their addictions.
Opoka likes to share her moments at Butabika on social media platforms as a way of letting people know about the life there.
She says some patients like to be photographed with the instructors. But the hospital management is opposed to sharing photos. They say many families of patients would not like it.
“The families are more stigmatised by the illnesses,” she says.
Opoka’s dance journey dates back to 2014 when she left formal employment at Airtel Uganda. She started as a trainee who was later certified and when the trainer, an American lady opted out, Opoka chose to take on the ride.
Aside from dance, the sessions of usually 25 people per class involve self-positive talk as women.
Opoka maintains that dance fitness only served to reawaken her childhood talent. At Progressive Secondary School where she spent two years of advanced education, Opoka was well known for dancing and organising school promos; including dance competitions.
But dance fitness was also an escape route from formal employment after spending more than ten years in the field. Opoka joined formal employment right after graduating from Makerere University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration working on a project with DFID. She left to MTN Uganda where she spent close to ten years before joining Broadband. She ended her formal career with Airtel Uganda and crossed to dance fitness.
Opoka is a middle child of the 11 children of Francisco Obuli Opoka, born and raised in Muyenga, Kampala. She started school at Kampala Kindergarten, Buganda Road Primary School, Stella Maris Nsuube Girls’ boarding school and Kings’ College Budo before joining Progressive Secondary School.
During her third year at the university, Opoka met her husband and father to her two children, Oscar Kagimu Ssebunya.