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Yoga, dance instructors host free classes in downtown Gainesville


Yoga instructor Jackie Moróne was shy when she first got her certification to teach.

She worked up the courage in 2016 to seek more practice and exposure, which led her to Nigel Hamm, the city of Gainesville’s program coordinator for Bo Diddley Plaza.

Moróne proposed an evening yoga class that would be free to anyone.

Now, six years later, Moróne is a full-time instructor who continues to give her time to make sure yoga is available to all who want to try it.

On Tuesdays and Thursday evenings at 7 p.m., participants ranging from college students to local retirees gather on the lawn at Bo Diddley Plaza to stretch and get centered as Moróne takes them through an hour-long series of poses.

Music plays in the background as she leads participants from pose to pose. All the while, the smell of local restaurant specials loft through the air, as downtown visitors mill about the city center.

“We start off nice and slow and get acclimated with our breath and then we start moving with our breath and strengthen our muscles,” said Moróne about her approach to the Hatha/Vinyasa class.

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One moment the class is in the banana pose, while the next she prompts a lion’s breath exhale with tongues out.

Moróne, a Gainesville native, says the community classes are her way of providing, “A good way for people after work to come and unwind.”

Moróne’s classes are quite popular, said Hamm, who has booked a range of exercise activities at the plaza including Zumba and line dancing.

“Everyone has been really excited,” he said. “If it’s a wellness event, most of these events cost us nothing but they mean a lot to the community and people who didn’t have access to yoga.”

Hamm recently added weekday morning yoga classes to the schedule and marquee at the plaza.

Yoga To Go owner LaShawn Hinds approached the City about offering free classes and secured Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

She started a month ago and has quickly grown a list of participants.

Hinds said she wanted to volunteer to teach those working desk jobs nearby and local neighbors who are retired and can walk over to take a class.

Hinds, who grew up in Orlando and before moving to Archer and getting married, said she quit her full-time office job to fulfill her passion, becoming a yoga instructor.

Whether attendees are retired or looking for a break from their job, Hinds said she hopes participants get the most from her classes.

“I want people to be able to take that mental break,” she said. 

At a recent class, Hinds told attendees they have options.

“Remember what I shared at the beginning of class? We have choices,” she said. “We can choose to take care of our bodies and make good choices. We can chose to take time to help others and a make a difference in this world.”

For those interested in moving faster and dancing to have fun and exercise, Smooth Flava Dance instructor and local elementary school teacher Wanda Lloyd rounds out the fitness class list at the plaza.

Lloyd sets up speakers and gets the jam started at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays by teaching basic dance moves that have participants doing a combination of ballroom, swing and Chicago-style stepping.

Participants of all ages show up, including Creative Industrial Services employee Derrick Terrell, who is affectionately known as “Dance Fever” by fellow dancers.

With a towel in one hand, he spins around and twirls it up overhead wearing a huge smile all the while. Terrell and many other participants say the class feels like a celebration rather than an exercise.

“A class is great but if you don’t have anywhere to go, do the dances,” Lloyd said. “People want a party.”

Lloyd also schedules an event on one Sunday each month at the plaza for dancers, their friends, and families to show off their moves. She added that she is grateful that the Sunday dance sessions lead to camp scholarships.

“The City gives us an opportunity to have more exposure,” she said. “Dancing with a purpose has been a positive thing and taken well by the community.”

This summer will mark the one-year anniversary of the dance series at the plaza, which sometimes brings more than 200 people.

Lloyd said one reason she volunteers is to raise awareness and funding to send local students to a summer STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) camp program.

She invites people throughout the Gainesville community, including dance class participants, to take part in a dance workshop fundraiser on June 10 and 11 called “Teach Me To Dance!”

The event is scheduled at the J. Wayne Reitz Union Hotel on the University of Florida campus and features several dancing style workshops that include swingout, ballroom and steppin’.  Lloyd plans to call out the moves and the dancers follow along, often adding their own twists to the dances.

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