Kathy Monty, Kampala’s queen of Zumba

At 5,5 and 130 pounds (about 59kgs), Kathrina Montgomery is unassuming. She can pass for your average 25-year-old. In fact, on some days when she dons her baseball cap and styles her long curly hair into messy pigtails, you can knock off a few more years and place her into any college setting and she will pass yet again.

Except, this petite mix of African American and Philipino heritage is all of 40 five years old. Kathy, as she is fondly referred to by most, is also a proud mother of three, the oldest, AJ, a 23-year-old boulder of muscle who plays American football. Cirque, the “girly-girl”, as Kathy describes her is 15, while the youngest, Tahj,14, is an avid skateboarder.

When I first attended Kathy’s Zumba class, I was looking for something to keep me busy and fit at the same time. I also found a story.

Meeting Kathy
At the time of my entry, Kathy was away on holiday back home in Tampa, Florida and I was blissfully unaware that this class of diverse, exuberant and happy-looking women was her doing.

There were two women leading the class. I now know one of them as Gerry. The other is Grace, who I found out at the end of that first session was 53 years old. The incredulity on my face was evident.

This woman looked no less than 40! Anyway, a few weeks and a few sessions later, I noticed a new lithe body at the front of the classroom.

I had been warned you see. If I had found Miss Grace impressive, I should await to be blown away by Kathy, and reader, was I blown away! I was glad to find her so forthcoming when I requested to interview her, delving into her personal life and bringing a camera wielding photographer into her dance studio.

Kathy Monty, as her business card states, has been in Uganda a little over two years. When her husband of 25 years, Matthew Montgomery, who is nearly as fit as she is, was posted here, she tagged along leaving their children with the children’s Grandmother in Tampa, Florida.

Setting up Zumba class here
A few weeks into Kathy’s arrival, she realised there was no engaging fitness class in Kabira Country Club, where she was temporarily residing. She spoke to the manager and redid their schedule to incorporate Zumba into the fitness programme.
She admits that her fierce and fiery nature did not immediately endear her to many people, especially at Kabira. “I became aware that women are not given much respect in this country.

For them, I was a woman and I was black, so, I was second. But I was not going to fight to be recognised and they soon understood that I was not willing to compromise,” she flashes a dimpled smile at her husband.

“We get along now,” she adds in her deeply accented lilt, cuing in her husband’s cheeky remark that they used to come to him if they wanted to say something to his wife. “They’d say, “That Kathy, just go to the husband”.

Matthew’s pride in his wife and protective nature is evident. They seem to be caught in some form of teenage love affair. Throughout most of her dance sessions, he seats in the lounge waiting for her.

He is present during spin class too and doubles as her partner during demonstrations. When I called her phone, he was the one who picked it and to answer my hesitant, “Kathy’s phone?” he said in a deep voice that was clearly not hers, “Yes, this is she.”

Matthew’s day job keeps him busy but from the get go, Kathy had assured him she wanted her own life while they were here. “These days, they say to him, “Oh, so you are Kathy Monty’s husband”, she says.

Reaping from her sweat
There is a motherly pride that emanates through her expressions and speech when I ask about the success of her students.

“When I went on holiday for 35 days last year, there was no class in my absence but this time the girls managed the class while I was away.” Grace, Sheila, Naomi, Juanita are all certified Zumba trainers now. Gerry is in the process of getting certified too.

Zumba is a company with a copyright, so to prevent duplication that comes with other exercise routines and arrests, you go through training and became a registered trainer. “I tell them, when you’re teaching, you’ll lose friendspeople won’t always like you but you’re not there to make friends. You’re there for fitness.”
Some of the women came to lose weight but now Kathy says it’s more than that. While some of her students have lost up to 40kgs in the space of a year, many have picked other perks of the Zumba lifestyle. They are happier, emotionally stronger and they have more self-confidence.

One of her earliest students was on joint and depression medication when she joined the class but was able to drop the meds soon after. “Sometimes, they do things for me to show their appreciation, but I do not encourage it. My happiness is when they are happy.”

She speaks of one woman’s husband who had come directly to Kathy to thank her saying she’d done so much to boost his wife’s personality, whenever he travels now, he is sure to buy her some Zumba fitness wear.

When I ask who her favourite student is, she employs a maternal diplomatic air, “They’re all best in different ways. I feel like each of them is a little part of me.” I have been to a few of Kathy’s classes and even if the time table says one hour, the classes border on two hours.

Because of the heavy traffic jam, Kathy discloses that she pushes the class for longer. It is the same in Spin classes where her one hour becomes two or one and a half.

Kathy the no nonsense instructor
Kathy is a whole different creature in Spin class, her students, including myself, having attended one class for the specific purpose of this article, will testify. Last year, prior to their match with Kenya, the coach of the MTN Heathens, a rugby club, to prove to them that they were not in quite as good shape as they imagined, brought them to Kathy’s Spin class.

They could not keep up. The class involves synchronised movements on stationary bikes but Kathy incorporates weight lifting and endurance techniques. Good heart thumping music is an ever present ingredient in Kathy’s classes. I am not in the worst shape personally but that class left me feeling like a vegetable, albeit a happy one.

It is easy to notice that Kathy is not about quantity either, but quality of your work out. She will occasionally turn off the music and yell at the class to do the right thing after demonstrating which body part is being targeted.

Kathy also goes the extra mile to give out little Zumba gifts like bandanas to anyone aside from the old members who’ll come to the front and lead through a routine she has taught. There are other challenges like the four-hour Zumbathon where the women dance for four hours straight.

They have also participated in a flash mob that took place at Acacia Mall in June to aertise the new classes in the location. It is a revolution with challenges that leave the women craving for more.

Kathy says while the men hardly ever come, the class is not for women alone. She is also in the process of trying to get paperwork so she can begin certifying people, so they do not have to travel to get certified.

What is
Zumba dance?
Zumba is a Latin inspired fitness dance party with a blend of Latin and international rhythms. Zumba’s choreography incorporates hip-hop, soca, samba, salsa, merengue, mambo and martial arts. Squats and lunges are added too. Kathy holds classes for zumba at Kabira Country Club on Monday, Thursday and Friday at Shs15,000 per class. Other days, she is at Paradise Fitness Centre at Acacia Mall where she charges Shs20,000. Each class has about 30 people 40 on peak days at Kabira. These are women from 18 to 55 and of diverse calibre. When you ask around you discover that men are just under the impression that it is a woman only thing but men are invited to these classes too.

Kathy, Zumba and her fitness secrets

Although Zumba started in 2001 worldwide, it did not catch on for Kathy until she was encouraged by her friend, Ricardo, a certified trainer himself to get certified when she was just about to come to Uganda in 2011.

She had originally figured it was just another fitness hype that would go away with time. Kathy has been dancing salsa all her life, and had been a fitness instructor at a military base back home. When she came to Uganda, she confesses that she nearly got frustrated.

“There was no real Zumba in Kampala when I started. I had to break people in. It was like teaching them to walk!” She barely registered any real success for the first two months. “Of course, you cannot learn all the moves in one day, I tell the new girls all the time.

Zumba is the same every time, once you master the basic steps it’s onwards thereon…a few slight additions and different music each time, but the concept is the same. Everyone just seemed to be unable to get it at first.”

I ask how she manages to keep in such amazing shape. “I work very hard, I always tell the girls that you’ve got one body, you got to take care of it. Just like you have a house or shoes that need cleaning, same way you got to take care of your body. It’s no miracle.” Here her husband chimes in. “There’s another trick. Did you know that one pound of muscle burns five calories per day just doing nothing? Nothing at all.

This is the only…no…the main reason my beautiful wife remains thin. She’s mostly muscle. She can eat anything she wants and the body will just burn it all. The body prioritizes muscle after the organs.” Kathy does not diet. “Why suffer working out if I cannot enjoy food and life?” she quips.
“Most women get married and get complacent.

They say, why do I have to work out anymore? I am not dating. But I say, are you happy? You take care of your husband and your children and make them happy but no one is happy if you’re not happy and confident inside and out. To make people happy, you’ve got to have happiness to give.” I ask how she’s able to keep it all up. Doesn’t she get tired?

“Of course, but now I have all these women who are proud of themselves and I am happy too. This gives me purpose.” She adds that it is up to the individual, “When you’re ready to change your lifestyle is the only time this can happen. You eat every day, you got to burn the food you eat!”

Spin class?
The indoor cycling class involves synchronised dance-like movements on stationary bikes with weight lifting and cardio and other endurance techniques. Good heart thumping music is an ever present ingredient in Kathy’s classes.

I am not in the worst shape personally but that class left me feeling like a vegetable albeit a happy one. It is easy to notice that Kathy is not about quantity either she’s about the quality of your work out.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor