In our series, “My Money-Making Side Gig,” we get the scoop on enterprising folks who are getting ahead on their financial plans by burning the midnight oil.
The goal? Go behind the scenes to learn exactly how they're doing it—so you can see if the side job could be a fit for you too.
Today's side gig spotlight: One woman who teaches kids and adults to get up and dance—even those who claim to have two left feet.
Kristen Fonte’s path to the side gig life began as many do. She was a broke college student trying to make ends meet between classes and other side jobs, like waitressing. After all, the thought of graduating with piles of student debt terrified her.
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By her sophomore year of college, she was introduced to and hooked on Zumba, a Latin-infused dance workout trend. When she saw how much fun her instructors had leading classes, she thought: What better way to put a love of working out to good use than getting paid to sweat?
Six years, two academic degrees and two Zumba licenses later, Fonte teaches classes at local gyms and community centers around Long Island, New York, on top of her full-time hospital job helping patients recover from physical illness and injury.
Here’s what keeps Fonte moving.
The Side Gig: Zumba instructor
My Day Job: I have a bachelor’s degree in human services and a master’s degree in occupational therapy. I currently work as an occupational therapist at a hospital in the inpatient rehab department, so I help adults recover from various conditions such as stroke, orthopedic fractures and other illnesses. My mission is to help them get stronger so they can return home with as much, or close to as much, independence as they had prior to their illness or injury.
How I Got Into Teaching: I was always into running and going to the gym in high school. To change up my routine, I started taking Zumba classes the summer after my freshman year of college. I became officially hooked on the trend by sophomore year, taking two to three classes a week, and thought it would be a cool experience to teach after seeing how much my instructors enjoyed it.
The following summer, I made it a personal project of mine to become a licensed Zumba instructor.
It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Teaching was my main source of income while I was in school. And even though I have another full-time job as an occupational therapist now, I still love teaching in my spare time and could never imagine giving it up.
What It Takes to Become a Zumba Instructor: To become a licensed Zumba instructor, you are required to do a one-day training course that lasts about nine hours. Additional licenses that Zumba offers (like Zumba Kids/Kids Jr., which I also teach) require another one-day course.
Of course, being a good instructor goes beyond just the training. It takes a lot of outside time afterward to develop a full class playlist. You need to offer a variety of rhythms, dances and fitness moves to keep each class motivating, tough and—most important—fun.
Where I Teach: When I started out, I mostly taught at gyms, which is really fun because they tend to have large classrooms, great sound systems and mirrors.
Over the past couple of years, I've transitioned more into teaching at community-based programs, like recreation centers and libraries. I love getting to know the people who take my class through these programs. I still substitute frequently at some of the gyms that were my old stomping grounds, just to switch it up.
How Much Time I Dedicate to It—and the Payoff: Depending on the location and age group, each class lasts about 45 minutes to an hour, and on average I teach three classes a week. Sometimes I teach an additional few classes if fellow instructors need a sub, or if I participate in any special events or fundraisers.
Outside of class, I spend about two hours a week coming up with new choreography if I'm looking to add new songs to my classes.
How much money I make depends on where I teach. I've found that gyms tend to pay less per class, particularly because most offer a deal in which members pay a monthly fee that gives them access to unlimited classes, including Zumba.
On the other hand, I can make a bit more through community programs where people pay per session or for a season. I also find that booking special programs, like teaching Girl Scout troops or at kids’ birthday parties, can be pretty lucrative while still being flexible. For example, I may say that if you can guarantee a group of 10 kids, I’ll charge a $100 flat fee (at $10 per head). But then, if you have any additional kiddos up to 15 total, they’ll be included for free in the final charge.
What I Do With My Side Gig Income: I've always been a saver and rarely indulge in material things, so I use my Zumba income to supplement my regular paycheck for expenses like vacations and spending money on social outings.
Back in my college years, I was able to balance teaching at least three classes per week while I was getting my master's degree. That allowed me to not have to worry as much about day-to-day expenses, or weekend activities like movies and dinners with friends. To this day I’m grateful I didn’t have to completely go into debt with tuition bills and student loans, thanks to my side gig income. I've actually been able to pay off all my student loans since graduating.
Now my Zumba income is nice extra money for special occasions, birthdays and holidays. I have three close friends getting married next year, so it'll be helpful to have that extra cash for those events.
The Best Thing About My Side Gig: For me, it’s getting that one hour to completely disconnect from the world and have a great time while working out and motivating others to do the same.
One thing I've learned as an instructor is that how you portray yourself can completely make or break the energy of a class. No matter how terrible my day has been, I try to shut that out for the hour, as hard as that may be. I put a smile on my face because that smile then shows up on the faces of the people taking my class, which helps the session fly by and makes me feel like I've made a difference.
The Most Challenging Thing About My Side Gig: Putting that smile on my face when I'm in a bad mood or exhausted! Also, ensuring that my playlist is current enough to keep it fresh, but also balancing it with enough repetition so that anyone, no matter the fitness level, can make it through the whole class.
My Best Advice for Someone Who Wants to Try This: Start by taking classes from a variety of instructors so you can see that every class is different but amazing in its own unique way. After all, Zumba is meant to be a creative format.
If you decide to become an instructor, find an experienced teacher who will let you ease into teaching by doing a few songs in their class. You may be awesome at dancing, but it’s a whole different ball game when you're up there leading in front of everyone. Remember to teach and modify moves as needed so that everyone can enjoy it—even the people who claim to have two left feet.