Photo Courtesy of aarp.org
“Spiritually, I make every day my birthday. The dance floor gives me that feeling.”~Wanda Bamberg Tia
Wanda’s exuberance enters a room before she does. It’s as if an aura of energy and charisma permanently surrounds her.
I first met Wanda when I started teaching a Pilates mat class at Work It! - the vibrant, dance-based fitness studio she owned in one of D.C.’s most energetic neighborhoods. Fit, statuesque, and flashing a smile that is pure joy, Wanda is a woman on a mission. Her perpetually-packed Wanda Woman dance class was undoubtedly the heart of the studio.
My class followed Wanda’s on Monday nights. I remember hearing the Beyonce blaring from the speakers, feeling the humidity from a studio full of women aged 18 to 80 sweating off the stress of the day, and listening to Wanda’s vivacious voice booming as I entered the space.
Wanda was recently selected to join the Washington Wizdom, the official senior dance troupe of the Washington Wizards NBA team. At 63 she is a powerhouse of love, fun, possibility, and inspiration. I am incredibly excited to bring some of her joyful, resilient spirit to you here.
“The tragedies of my youth made me a sharp business woman.”
My initial intention for writing this piece was to convey that we really can be whatever we want for as long as we want. Aging is what you make it. I wanted to punctuate that by highlighting a woman who has chosen to live in confidence and dance jubilantly into her sunset years.
What I discovered was a woman who had endured through some incredibly rough patches while growing up, experienced unspeakable pain, became a mother at age 16, and divorced before the age of 20. Wanda let none of her pain go to waste. She discovered the lessons, and repurposed those experiences from impediments into fuel. She used them to move to Washington D.C. from South Carolina in the early 1980’s at 24 years old; as motivation to leave her retail job and take a chance by applying to work at a high-end health spa downtown; and to proudly become the first Black woman to own a fitness studio in downtown D.C.
Wanda’s decision to take that first step out of the clothing store and into the health and self-care field was pivotal. It was only about a year and a half later that she rented space on the bottom floor of the building where she lived and started charging $5 per class, launching Wanda Woman Aerobics.
Over the past 37 years, Wanda has opened several studios, and partnered with key figures in the D.C. fitness domain. She will admit that not all of her moves were well-informed, but maintains that they all were in service of her commitment to uplift, empower, and heal through dance. Being that source of encouragement and a testament to what is possible for women of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels has always been at the core of Wanda’s work.
Today, Wanda stands firmly in what she knows to be her purpose – to serve people through dance and movement. Cultivating the nerve to live that truth was incredibly challenging having been taught to reject certain forms of dance from a young age. Throughout her mid twenties, therefore, she eased slowly and cautiously into her role as dance / movement healer.
This looked like removing the identities that she thought she was “supposed” to pursue - for a time she considered being a nurse, then a real estate agent, then a business executive in the corporate world - and instead following what came naturally. She also had to fully embrace and embody that community fitness leader inside of her waiting to reveal itself. Once she allowed herself to own that role things began to shift.
Dance is freedom in Wanda’s world. She said, “It allows me to flow within my own spirit. Every time I get out on that NBA floor, I feel like it's spiritual, like I’m soaring. Things transform there for me. All of the hurt from my youth changes. The fear dissolves.”
Dance lead the way for Wanda to push through her greatest fears. It opened up a myriad of opportunities to do work that aligned with her purpose: “I got to that place where I’m not fearful. I can share joy with others. People support and encourage me to continue to inspire.”
She also sees dance as a connector. Wanda met her husband through dance and music. They didn’t speak the same language when they first met, but rhythm and movement became their primary form of expression and have been a powerful force in their relationship ever since.
“If I want it I must assert myself and I don’t mind taking risks.”
Wanda sincerely believes that she would not be who she is or where she is today had she prioritized safety. “Every time I took a risk in business,” she says, “it turned to success.” Her need to feel safe early on in her endeavor was a hindrance. She had a breakthrough when she shifted her focus to why this matters: what is she trying to accomplish, and what will the world miss out on if she doesn’t do this?
Although she has changed the location of her business nine times she knows and believes that “every time something breaks, something else is created to push me.” Wanda declares that the biggest lesson she has learned is to take the first step: “You have to just start even if you don’t know everything about what you’re doing.”
I would also add that Wanda’s ability to be agile was a huge asset in her career. She was able to see shifts in the needs and preferences of the market and adjust while remaining authentic.
I ended my conversation with Wanda by asking if she ever feels pressure to conform to a more settled way of life. Without pause she said. “I feel no pressure. I’ve never felt the need to be self- conscious about my age either. My mind, body and soul don’t tell me I’m 63. It just pushes me to gain new heights.”
Wanda is CEO and Founder of Wanda Woman Enterprises and Work It! Fitness www.workitstudio.com
Check her out in action here: http://videos.aarp.org/detail/video/5705281990001/disruptor-with-the-moves:-wanda-bamberg-tia-%E2%80%94-aarp
Janine Rudder is a coach and Co-Owner at Manifestara LLC - https://manifestara.com/