Finding Freedom With Darbie Andrews
● By Melissa Mendonca
Rhythm & Writing
By Melissa Mendonca
Photo by Alexis LeClair
Darbie Andrews has discovered that once you let go of fear, new worlds open up. She started on the dance floor with Zumba and has moved to the page with writing. Now she’s at a point where both are flourishing.
“I used to be afraid of someone telling me I had no business being here,” she says of her work as a Zumba instructor. “I had issues with dancing in front of others as I first started. I’m not a gym rat. I don’t have a toned body. But then I did it. It felt really freeing.”
Once she discovered what that freedom felt like, she wanted her students at Salisbury High School, a continuation school in Red Bluff, to feel that, too. She decided to move from Zumba student to instructor. “Be free in your body – I try to teach that to them,” she says of her Salisbury students.
“Zumba was for my job, for my kids. Zumba was also a way to recover from my divorce,” she adds.
“I really didn’t like to exercise much until it came to Zumba,” says Andrews, noting the challenge of finding something enjoyable when you have concerns about feeling large. (Though, at size 14, Andrews is absolutely average.) The dance was so liberating and made her feel so good, however, that now she says, “I don’t care anymore. I’m not shy.”
That sense of freedom and confidence opened opportunities she never thought imaginable, such as securing an opportunity to dance with her students at a Sacramento Kings game last year.
When she put the Zumba story to paper, she also found success in her writing career. Late last year, Andrews’ short story, “A Woman My Size,” found its way into publication in the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book, “Curvy and Confident.” The story opens the chapter on the joy of exercise, and it chronicles her process of becoming a Zumba instructor and subsequent ability to maintain her joy despite a backhanded compliment from a man who said she moves well for a woman her size.
“It’s emotional for me,” Andrews says of writing. “If it doesn’t have a certain emotion about it, it’s not correct.” It’s a craft she’s been honing since elementary school, when she began entering essay contests. In college at UC Santa Barbara, she says, “One of my professors asked me to write about a trip I took to Sacramento with Vietnam veterans to the Memorial. It was my first time being published.”
Now, she says, “I want to write books.”
Success keeps coming, with her first young adult novel about to published. “¡¿Him?!” is an “edgy, contemporary” story of a Mexican-American teen looking for her biological father while dealing with her mother’s poor choice of boyfriends. She hopes to find him before her quinceanera, a cultural celebration of a Mexican girl’s 15th birthday.
It’s a coming-of-age story of resiliency and coping, qualities Andrews witnesses and guides every day in the classroom at Salisbury High School. The book will be released this year and is under contract with All Things That Matter Press.
Andrews moved to the North State 10 years ago from Southern California, where she had begun her teaching career as a bilingual elementary teacher. Over her 24 years in teaching, she has moved up the grade levels to middle school and then high school. She’s been at Salisbury for 10.
Her oldest son had breathing problems, she says, and she wanted to find a place where he could breathe better and they could more readily experience “openness, nature, lack of traffic, lack of air pollution, an affordable home.” They landed in Cottonwood. “My son was on breathing treatments in Southern California, three a day,” she says. “Here, none.”
Once up here, she adopted a second son through the foster care system. Their home is often filled with kids, from friends of the boys to current and former students needing a safe place to hang out and a compassionate ear to listen.
The Writers Forum in Redding was the first group she joined when she settled in the area. “They teach a lot of basic information about what you need to do to become a published writer,” she says. She’s a former secretary of the organization.
Vulnerability has been a theme in development as both a writer and a dancer for Andrews. With a huge public performance behind her as a dancer and her first book about to be published, she’s proof of the power of resiliency. “I’m excited to be on the more confident side of it,” she says. •