Sara Pennington: Dancing Queen of Peace Plaza

If you’re energized by group fitness and love being outdoors, Zumba® on the Plaza is the thing for you. 

Back for its fifth summer, you can join Zumba on the Plaza on Mondays at 5:30 p.m. “It’s a fun workout,” says founder, Sara Pennington. “And it’s gotten bigger every year.”


The first year, Zumba on the Plaza was held during the lunch hour. A smattering of people attended, but many let Pennington know they’d prefer an evening session instead. The next year, Pennington changed things up by scheduling the class at 5:30 p.m., and that’s when it really took off.


A Rochester native, Pennington, 39, has a few other things going on—she’s got a day job, is helping her mom move into a condominium and has cleaning to do. But Zumba calls her name.

Originally introduced to Zumba at Work Out World, Pennington
shares, “It took me forever to get the guts to go into the class, but I did. I loved it—just loved it, right away.”

Prior to Zumba, Pennington could be found doing cardio on the treadmill or elliptical, but the new endeavor won her over immediately. It was the first group fitness class she’d ever taken. “It was just a fun workout, and the time went by super fast,” she says. So she kept going back. “What I noticed most was I kept getting better at it. It was something I was excelling in. I saw myself improving, and I owned it. It was the biggest thing. It boosts your self-esteem and confidence.”


Pennington attended a day-long training in the Twin Cities to become a Zumba instructor. Then she devised the idea to host Zumba classes on Peace Plaza. She checked with the Rochester Downtown Alliance, who gave her the go-ahead.

But first, she had to overcome her fear of doing Zumba in front of people in public. Fellow Zumba instructors helped, providing encouragement along the way. “It’s a lifestyle for instructors,” she says. “They’re always happy and having fun.”


Pennington says her goal was to bring that Zumba energy to people on Peace Plaza. She invited all of Rochester’s Zumba instructors to be a part of the fun, and a few joined her.

It’s hard to count heads while leading a Zumba class, but Pennington estimates as many as 130 people attend the Peace Plaza Zumba sessions. She’s also discovered that this is a gateway for people to discover Zumba. Many have never tried it before, but the allure of a free outdoor class on the plaza is too enticing to resist, so they end up dancing the night away.


Take Maxine Pfeifer, who has been attending since the class launched five years ago. This summer, Pfeifer, 30, plans to bring her young daughter who also loves to dance.

“I love dancing, seeing friends, being outside, and I’m all about free entertainment,” Pfeifer says. “It’s so much fun and always a great workout. Usually there’s a great breeze coming through the plaza area, which keeps it comfortable, even on warm days.”

Joellyn Beber, a 68-year-old retiree, discovered Zumba at the Rochester Area Family YMCA. She then found her way to the plaza, and she’s been attending for years. “How can you resist?” Beber asks. “Outside? In the sunshine? The crowds are big, and you meet new people. I’ve met many people through Zumba on the Plaza, and I can hardly wait to get back this summer and meet up with them again. It’s quite the special atmosphere.”

Beber also appreciates that while Pennington is the lead instructor, she includes various other Zumba instructors each Monday throughout the summer. They each add their own energy, flare and musical variety to the fun, says Beber.

Pfeifer and Beber echo Pennington’s affirmation that Zumba is for everyone no matter their age, gender or ability. Having male instructors doesn’t hurt, Pennington says.

“It’s all kinds of people who come,” she says. “There are kids ages 3, 4 and 5 and up, and mostly women from teenagers up to their 60s and a few guys sprinkled in. Probably the only time that you’ll see guys doing Zumba in Rochester is on the plaza.”


Pennington says she never envisioned that Zumba on the Plaza would become this popular, but here it is. She’s got more than 100 people dancing outdoors to international music.

“I wanted to expose people to Zumba,” she says. “And I wanted to get people to lead a more active lifestyle, spend more time outdoors, get involved in a particular community like the Zumba community. It’s so amazing that the people you meet, everyone is there to have fun, of course, but everyone also wants to do something good for themselves.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the 1990s Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez created Zumba, a high-energy dance fitness program. The choreography incorporates hip-hop, merengue, salsa and cumbia to Latin rhythms and popular dance club songs. 

Zumba on the Plaza
Downtown Rochester on Peace Plaza
Mondays at 5:30 p.m.
June 5 through August 28, 2017
Weather permitting. Free.

In preparation: Wear tennis shoes and exercise clothes and bring a sweat towel and water bottle. Water refills available as supplies last.

Sponsors: EDGE Fitness (title sponsor), Move on the Plaza, Rochester Downtown Alliance, CWS, Hair Studio 52, The Salon Professional Academy, Nalu Float, RAK Chiropractic, Jakobson Management Company, Evolv



Renee Berg is a Rochester freelance writer.