Yoga instructor Jackie Moróne was shy when she first got her certification to teach.
So, in 2016, when she set out to get more practice and exposure, she turned to Nigel Hamm, the City of Gainesville 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,” Moróne says about her approach to the Hatha/Vinyasa class.
One minute the class is in banana pose, then she prompts a lion’s breath exhale with tongues out.
Moróne is a Gainesville native and says the community classes are her way of providing, “A good way for people after work to come and unwind.”
According to Hamm, who has booked a range of exercise activities at the plaza including Zumba and line dancing, Moróne’s classes are quite popular.
“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 is growing the 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 grew up in Orlando and moved to Archer after getting married. She recently left working an office job to become a yoga instructor.
“I want people to be able to take that mental break,” she said about her daytime class offerings.
“Some are retired or taking a break from work,” she said about who shows up to practice at late-morning sessions.
At a recent class, Hinds ended it by asking, “Remember what I shared at the beginning of class? “We have choices. We can choose to take care of our bodies and make good choices, we can choose to take time to help others and 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 from kids to retirees.
This summer will mark the one-year anniversary of the dance series to the plaza, and Lloyd said one reason she volunteers is to raise awareness and funding to send local students to a summer STEM camp program (science, technology, engineering, math).
She invites dance class participants and the community 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 Swingout, ballroom and “Steppin” dance workshops.
For that hour on Tuesdays and Thursday nights, Lloyd calls out the moves and the dancers follow along, often adding their own twists to the dances.
Creative Industrial Services employee Derrick Terrell comes after work and 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.
Lloyd even schedules an event one Sunday each month at the plaza for dancers and their friends and families to come show off their moves.
“A class is great but if you don’t have anywhere to go, do the dances…” Lloyd said. “People want a party.”
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.”
Hamm agrees, adding that sometimes, “More than 200 people show up to dance at the Sunday events.”