By Nazifa Islam

Do you know what it’s like to develop and execute a program on short notice?

Campus recreation professionals are renowned for their ability to think on their feet, collaborate, and pursue their goals with passion.  With only ten days of lead time, Grand Valley State University’s Campus Recreation Department managed to plan, market, and pull off an incredible Zumba Halloween Party that not only got student participants up and moving to Halloween songs like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” but also successfully promoted the department’s group exercise classes.

The seed of what would become the 2014 Zumba Halloween Party sprouted when Lee McLaughlin, GVSU Fitness Coordinator, was approached by Zumba instructor Hillary Dalrymple, who was “very eager to plan a Zumba event for the fall semester.” Given the success of the Zumba Parties the department’s held in celebration of Rec Day—those particular events welcoming over 200 participants each—GVSU Zumba instructors had talked about wanting to offer a large-scale Zumba event every semester.

Lee McLaughlin bought some Halloween decorations to add some flavor to the dance studio. | Photo credit: Grand Valley State University

Weeks into the fall semester, and with no Zumba event yet planned, Lee explains that “Halloween seemed like a perfect reason to celebrate” and have a Zumba Party. Committed to the idea, and eager to make it a reality, GVSU campus recreation staff quickly sprang into action.

An event can be incredibly compelling and well thought out, but it won’t be a success without a whole host of excited attendees. GVSU rec staff did their best to promote the Zumba Halloween Party.  Grassroots marketing is a great way to connect with potential participants, as Lee reminds us: “Our marketing student put together a flyer with the details of the event. We posted a few of these around the buildings, and sent it out throughout the department. I had our group exercise class instructors announce the event during their classes and hand out quarter-page flyers. Some instructors took these flyers into their academic classes and handed them out to friends and classmates.”

“I noticed so many people laughing, smiling, and enjoying themselves!”

To make sure word of the event spread to more than just regular recreation center attendees, the department promoted the event on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and “also added the Zumba Halloween Party to the University Events Calendar and to the events calendar on its own web presence.”

And word really did spread! On Halloween night, some 100 students joined the three Zumba instructors—Hillary Dalrymple, a senior majoring in education; Hannah Nass, a junior therapeutic recreation major; and Amanda Ellis, a sophomore majoring in exercise science—over the course of the 2.5 hour event, which was free and open to the public. In addition to the three Zumba instructors and Lee, event staff Sierra Williams helped man the Zumba Party and had a blast “taking pictures and watching everyone’s fantastic moves.”

Lee discovered just how well their attempts to promote the event went when she learned that some PE class instructors were actually offering their students extra credit to attend, participate, and take a selfie with one of the three Zumba instructors. But the majority of the student attendees weren’t regular group exercise participants—most didn’t already own a group exercises pass. After the event, though, Lee was approached by several students who wanted to purchase one. The timing of the event allowed the three instructors to highlight the half-off markdown on GVSU group exercise passes, and made students want to take advantage.

The Zumba instructors really enjoyed getting to work behind the scenes to help plan the event. | Photo credit: Grand Valley State University

There was a line of people waiting to get in when the dance studio doors first opened at 7:00pm on All Hallow’s Eve, and according to Hillary, “the energy in the room and excitement of everyone coming together to do Zumba was incredible!” Many participants got in the full Halloween spirit, dressing up in simple costumes that “were a good choice” given that they were soon working up a sweat. “One participant,” Lee says, “is studying to be a dentist, so she wore wings, had floss with her, and wore a shirt with a tooth on it. She was indeed the Tooth Fairy!”

“The energy in the room and excitement of everyone coming together to do Zumba was incredible!”

But the rec staff relied on more than just the allure of a Halloween theme to bring in participants. They wanted to make students feel comfortable and so had the event in the dance studio as opposed to the gymnasium where there would have been a lot more spectators. Participants were free to come and go as they pleased, and the staff also counted on the quality of the Zumba instruction to really appeal to students.

The Zumba instructors met a couple of times in the days before the event to put their playlist together and chose to break the two and a half hours into three segments with instructors rotating every four to five songs. They included some fun, Halloween-themed songs and line dances as well as the typical songs they teach during their classes. It was a successful formula, and many students told Lee how excited they were to be there. “I noticed so many people laughing, smiling, and enjoying themselves,” Lee says.

Around 100 participants joined in on the fun at this year’s Zumba Halloween Party. | Photo credit: Grand Valley State University

Lee describes a Zumba Party as “a large scale, high-energy event that requires minimal planning with an unfailing, successful end result.” The GVSU Zumba Halloween Party was indeed a success, but here at NIRSA Headquarters we can see that beyond the intrinsic appeal of Zumba, the GVSU rec staff’s dedication and efforts were the key to making Halloween Zumba happen.

And Lee has even bigger plans for next year. She would “love to really crank up the decorations—smoke machine, fun lights, an extreme entrance into the studio—and have a contest for the best costume.” She would also like to offer “a bit of an incentive for dressing up in costume.” The rec staff laid the groundwork this year and is going to plan further ahead next year—giving themselves more than a week to pull the next Zumba Halloween Party together. They are already talking about needing to look into the possibility of using a larger venue too. Though, she notes, “there was something fun about being in the studio. It was enclosed and it seemed like participants were comfortable coming out of their shell and dancing.”

When the GVSU rec staff made this year’s Zumba Halloween Party come to life in just ten days, we can only imagine what a spectacular event they’ll be hosting next year! This event illustrates that fantastic low-budget rec events that appeal to all types of students can be a reality when passionate rec professionals and students work together!

NIRSA wants to know what you or your colleagues are up to! Send us an email and let us know; we might feature it in a future issue of the NIRSA Know.