Dancing to the Tunes of Willpower

Meet the First Blind Zumba Instructor in Egypt
Noha Gamal teaching Zumba to a number of young people. (Photo Courtesy of Noha Gamal)

Although she is now 25, Noha Gamal has experienced many painful lessons in life that taught her a lot. Gamal is the first blind Zumba instructor in Egypt. Her story can be an inspiration to many.

Gamal was normal until she was 11 and a student at a primary school. 

“My sight was 6/6. One day, I woke up suffering from a painful headache and couldn't see my hand clearly, as if there were a mist,” Gamal told Majalla.

Her condition was diagnosed as extreme uveitis in her right eye first, then it appeared in the left one. Her eyes were injected with cortisone and she underwent eye surgeries for three years. 

“My sight was improving, but suddenly I suffered optic nerve inflammation. When I turned 15, I couldn't distinguish between light and dark,” Gamal recalled.

During these years, Gamal didn’t attend school. After the trauma of losing her sight, she was shocked, sad, and was frustrated for a long period.

“If I were born blind the matter would have been easier for me. But I was deprived of it gradually and felt helpless. It was very painful.”

Her family helped her overcome the ordeal. Gamal is now in her third year of studies in the psychology department, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University.

“My mother and family members help me a lot in studying. Before I learned Braille, they read and recorded the curriculum  and I listened to it.” 

“Last year I received an award  for excellence at college,” said Gamal, who hails from Mansoura, about 120 km northeast of Cairo.

Noha Gamal performing Zumba. (Photo Courtesy of Noha Gamal)

THE JOURNEY TOWARDS ZUMBA

After Gamal lost her vision, she was thinking about how to manage her life with this overwhelming fact. At first, she found the solution in music.

She used to go to culture centers in Mansoura and attend concerts and rehearsals to enjoy listening to the music. She went just to listen, not to learn.

At one of the rehearsals, a maestro was playing and saw a blind girl reacting with her hands to the rhythms. 

“I caught his attention. He asked me to imitate the melodies which he was playing on the music keyboard. I did it,” she said, happily.

He was proud and surprised by her talent. He advised her mother to develop this talent and to buy a keyboard for her to practice. She learned to play different types of songs and music, even the difficult ones.

She then took part in many competitions in Mansoura and won first place.

Gamal used to go to gyms when she was taking cortisone to treat the extreme uveitis, as she put on extra weight. She went to the gym to do aerobic exercises to get fit. She succeeded.

One day, when she was doing exercises at a gym, the trainer taught Zumba to the exercise class.

“I listened to songs well but I wasn't able to see how the instructor dances,” Gamal said, adding that she returned home, sad and frustrated.

Her mother was there for her help. She kept watching Zumba instructions on the internet and taught her daughter in stages how to do it.

“My mom found that I quickly learned some difficult steps that can only be done when a person sees them. She was astonished. I did it,” she says with a smile.

Noha Gamal playing on musical keyboard. (Photo Courtesy of Noha Gamal)

Gamal joined the Zumba classes at the gym along with her sighted counterparts. The gym’s owner saw her while practicing Zumba and admired her talent. She contacted Gamal to be a Zumba instructor at the gym. 

“This news made my day,” she said. “But I was afraid about how I could teach people. How can I know if they follow my instructions or not?” she asked herself. 

Her concern was valid. On her first day as a Zumba instructor, the trainees stood in front of her, looking at her, rather than standing behind her to imitate her instructions, wondering how a blind woman would dance Zumba.

“I told them my story. I told them how Zumba is very important to their fitness and health. They were happy and proud of me. They told their friends from other gyms to join my classes,” she said.

She created her own dancing style. She expresses the words of the songs by her hands, body and legs moving to the rhythms of the songs.

Gamal will soon open her first gym which she rents for three days a week. She dreams of reaching people in many governorates, starting from the Egyptian capital.

She hopes one day that Zumba will join other sports in championships like gymnastics. "I will fight to make this happen,” she said.


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