For Roni Tarver, the expression "lose yourself to dance" has taken on a whole new meaning.
Over a year ago, the high-school teacher, 29, embarked on a journey that would help her lose 100 pounds and the kinds of crippling aches and pains that had once threatened to immobilize her. The secret to her success is one that you can probably find at your local gym.
Thanks to 14 months of dancing, diligence, and discipline, Tarver has slimmed down from a size 22 to a size 6.
But the astounding change is more than skin-deep. At her heaviest, Tarver weighed 235 pounds and suffered from unrelenting back pain. She not only felt humiliated by her size, but also guilty that she had seemed to let herself go.
"My husband never said a thing to me about my weight, even when I was getting bigger," said Tarver. "I had this really sweet, wonderful husband, and he didn't want to hurt my feelings. But I knew I had to change."
She resolved to begin moving more and eating better. After a few months of exercising on her own, Tarver signed up for her first Zumba class: "I just thought, you know, I need to do something that gives me some accountability. If I can find something fun and know that a group of ladies is expecting to see me every week, that's when something is going to happen."
She was right. Known by her friends for her bubbly personality, Tarver took to fast-paced Zumba routines immediately and began sampling evening classes as often as possible. After ten months of Tarver's own personal Dance Dance Revolution, instructors she now considers friends encouraged her to earn her teaching certification. She began leading aerobics classes at the Fitness 2000 Gym in North Richland Hills, Texas, over four months ago.
For Tarver, there's no turning back.
"After I lost the first five pounds even, my husband could see the difference in how I felt and how much I smiled and how happy I was. When you're doing something that you're enjoying so much and that's doing such good things for you, you don't want to stop," she says.
And while Tarver may give her husband the credit for inspiring her transformation, Tom Tarver is quick to point out that the benefits his wife has reaped are all her own.
"It might have started as something she did for me, but the way she felt after getting into the routine turned [it] into something she wanted to do for herself," he says. "It's not only about her appearance. It's really about how she feels."
That body-positive attitude is one that Tarver is eager to share with other women. Knowing that complicated combinations can intimidate newcomers, Tarver emphasizes camaraderie over perfect form. "Honestly, the biggest thing I try to communicate is that the women in these classes are all here to do the same thing. The calories don't know if you're moving right or left. They'll fall away no matter how you move. You just have to keep at it."
Her spirit of inclusiveness has resonated with gym-goers. Fitness 2000 Gym manager Phillip Crow confirms that women flock to Tarver: "There will be people who will drive...from as far as 30 minutes away to be at her classes. That's not typical."