Meet the Madrid English teacher sharing his love of dance during coronavirus lockdown

The Local Spain
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Meet the Madrid English teacher sharing his love of dance during coronavirus lockdown
Photo: Ashley Orr

The Local gets to know Ashley Orr, an English teacher in Madrid who is offering free Zumba classes online during lockdown.


Who are you and what are you doing in Madrid'

I’m Ashley Orr. I’m 36 years old. I’m originally from Birmingham, UK, but I’ve been living here for the past ten years in Madrid. I work as a language teacher in an academy during the week and at the weekends I teach Zumba classes. 

How do you feel about the lockdown?

Actually I think I’m coping with it pretty well. I understand why we need to have it, I’ve accepted it and now I’m just trying to get on with it. I’ve always been an optimistic person so I am trying to focus on the positive and use it as a learning experience and as an opportunity to discover new things, find new ways to do things and grow not only personally but professionally too. 

What is the hardest thing?

I'd have to say the hardest thing is not having face to face contact with my friends and students. Although I speak to them now regularly via the internet, it’s not the same online as it is in person. When you live abroad, your friends become your family and your lifeline, so when you take that away, it takes some getting used to.

What is the best thing?

I must say I’m loving not having to commute to work. I have two extra hours a day for myself a day that I can use however I want. I’m trying to use these extra gained hours productively and not waste them. The lockdown has also been an opportunity to get back in contact with people I haven’t spoken to for a long time and reconnect. 

What will be the first thing you do when lockdown is lifted?

Maybe go for a beer on a terrace in the sunshine. It’s one of the little luxuries that I love most about Spain.

Has anything really surprised you since lockdown started (either about other people, the world  in general or yourself?

Well, firstly I’m surprised about how many dogs there are suddenly in Madrid. Apart from that, I’m also surprised about how easily and quickly I’ve managed to adapt to living my whole life online. It’s week two and already things this week have started to feel more “normal”.

The idea of online teaching before sounded horrifying, but actually I’m growing to really enjoy it, and I would even dare to say that actually some of my classes have been better online than in person. It might be the novelty factor, but I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying teaching online. It’s definitely food for thought for my future.

How are you staying sane?

Keeping busy. I’m lucky I still have a job and I’ve been very busy with that transferring everything online. In the initial days of the lockdown, I was watching the news a lot, but I realised that this isn’t a healthy habit so I try now just to get a summary at the end of the day. With the extra time I have, I’ve also been trying out things I’ve never done before.

I’ve tried Pilates classes, learnt some sign language and I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen.  I’ve also been doing jobs around the house that I have never found the time to do; sorting out the important paper drawer, organising my external hard drive, Marie Kondo-ing my wardrobe.

My Zumba classes have also been a big distraction. People just see the hour of class, but there is a lot of preparation that goes in before that can happen and I have had many a late night recently trying to make sure the classes are up to the standard I hold myself to.

Will this period have a lasting effect on your life?

Right now I don’t see this having a long lasting effect on my life. But I guess it depends how long this goes on for. But I will definitely appreciate the smaller things in life that I took for granted before. Even taking a bus right now seems attractive.

Tell us about the Zumba sessions?

Ashley Orr bringing his live Zumba sessions to the living rooms of the confined. Photo: F Govan / The Local Spain

When I originally told my regular students I had to cancel our Zumba classes because of the corona virus they immediately asked me if I could do them online instead. 

I have students who come to class religiously week in week out and even arrange their holidays around classes so I knew it was very important for them to be able to keep the classes up through this crisis.

For many of my students, our Zumba class together is the one hour a week they can forget about their problems and enjoy themselves. We normally have two classes a week, but I thought it was important to offer them classes as often as possible seeing as for many people now, it’s the only exercise they do a day.

So I’m currently teaching 5 classes a week online and people tell me it’s the best part of their day and the thing they most look forward to each day. I’ve asked everyone who takes part in the classes to donate money to La Cruz Roja to help them combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Who is doing them with you?

The online classes originally started out just being for my regular students. They told me how good they made them feel and how much they were helping them cope with the lockdown so I thought it would be a good idea to open the classes up to others going through similar situations in Madrid. Word seems to have grown quite quickly and I’ve had messages this week from people as far afield as Dubai and the USA.

People are even connecting with their families and friends from back home on Skype and doing the classes virtually together. It’s humbling to think that my Zumba class, that I make up mostly sitting on the number 9 bus, can help so many other people not only in Madrid as I originally intended, but also all over the world.

What sort of feedback to you get?

I’ve received positive messages from all the world. I know I will never be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s one of the first things you learn as an instructor; you can’t please everyone, but so far the reaction has been amazing. I love sitting down with my phone after the classes and seeing the photos people have taken during the class and comments they have written me.

Obviously when I do my class, I’m doing it to an image of myself on my laptop. I don’t know who or how many people are watching. I try to reply to all the messages I receive but it’s taking up a lot of my time and I’m spending maybe a bit too much time recently on my phone!

How does that feedback make you feel?

When you see photos of things like three generations of a family all united dancing in the living room together, to mothers and their toddlers having fun together to your choreography, to 5 roommates all sweating up a storm together, you can’t help but smile. Zumba classes have helped me in the past go through some bad times and I’m just so happy that I can share this with others and hopefully help them get through this too. I’m grateful that I can put all the money my mum spent on dancing school fees when I was younger to good use!

How do you think Spain is handling things?

So far from what I can see in my neighbourhood, Prosperidad, I think Spain is doing a pretty good job at dealing with the situation and people on the whole seem to be respecting the new restrictions and just trying to get on with life as best they can. I love that going out to clap at 8pm for the people working in the health service has become as much as a daily habit as brushing my teeth in the morning.

It's a great moment in the day that brings the whole neighbourhood together. Luckily, the initial panic buying seems to have calmed down and if you ignore the masks and one metre distances you have to keep, going to the supermarket is almost a pretty normal experience again.

What do you tell people back ‘home’?

The UK seem to about ten days behind us here in Spain so I’ve been trying to warn them of what’s coming and make sure they are prepared. I’ve always been quite independent so I don’t think they worry too much about me.

What are your biggest fears right now?

My mum is suffering from a rare form of cancer right now back home. I was lucky that I was able to go back to visit her just before this all started but I’m worried about when the next time I get to go home will be. She has been told now by the British government she has to self-isolate for three months so I am worried how she will manage and I feel bad that I’m not there to help. 
To find out about joining Ashley Orr's Zumba sessions follow him on Facebook and Instagram 


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