We had the good fortune of connecting with Maryjo Mattea and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maryjo, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Zumba with MJ was a product of the pandemic. I had been teaching weekly Zumba classes at a local YMCA and also subbing classes at a nearby university for several years before everything shut down in March of 2020. It became obvious very quickly that life as we knew it was going to change dramatically for an undetermined amount of time. It also became obvious that there would be a great many needs that would have to be satisfied virtually, entertainment, socialization, and fitness being among them and Zumba happens to address all three.
After a lot of work configuring the high quality audio and video and establishing camera angles, I decided to try leading a class over Google Hangouts for some friends. The thought process was twofold: (1) provide a service to people in need of fun and fitness, and (2) keep my instructor skills sharp whilst the world was under lockdown. Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate that I would be teaching three virtual classes per week a year and a half later, even as individuals get vaccinated and businesses (including gyms and studios) re-open. Since March 2020, we have created our own little global community and I couldn’t be more grateful. Though the vast majority of the participants are total strangers, I welcome them into my home and my life each time I open up the Zoom meeting. I’ll continue to offer the classes for as long as there are people who want to take them.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Zumba with MJ is not my full time occupation, and it’s also not my only side hustle. I’m actually a social scientist and work for a major scientific organization in Washington, DC as my “day job.” Outside of that, I’m a musician and Zumba instructor. I essentially have multiple passions and have never wanted to compromise any of them. I am a firm believer that people will make time for the things they want to make time for; any time someone says, “I don’t have time,” what they’re really saying is, “I don’t prioritize this.” Choosing not to do something because it’s not a priority is perfectly valid, but in my case, I make time for all three endeavors because they are all incredibly important to me. Keeping this complex machine functioning is not easy, though. Good time management, organizational and project management skills, and automation approaches are key.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Though Washington, DC is likely best known as being the seat of the federal government, it is so much more. If I were hosting a friend for a week long trip, we would hit up as many Smithsonian museums and galleries (including the National Zoo) as possible. They’re all free and they’re all incredible. We’d obviously traverse the National Mall, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol and everything in between.
After a full day of the traditional site-seeing, we would definitely need sustenance. There is literally every type of cuisine in the District, but perhaps the one thing you can get here that you can’t get in most other locales is Ethiopian food. My favorite spot in town is called Zenebech. It used to be located in Shaw next to the Howard Theatre, but relocated to Adams Morgan a few years ago. While in Adams Morgan, we could stop in at Smash Records and catch a show at Songbyrd Record House and Music Cafe. A nightcap at Roofers Union might be in order or if it’s getting into the wee hours, a late night snack at The Diner would be the ticket. (Just say “no” to Jumbo Slice. Your body will thank you in the morning, though Amsterdam Falafelshop is a perfectly valid alternative.)
And that’s just one neighborhood. There are unique, entertaining, stimulating things to do/places to go/stuff to see all throughout DC. If we wanted to stick close to home in my neighborhood of Columbia Heights, for instance, I highly recommend Queen’s English, a Hong Kongese restaurant owned and operated by my neighbors, Henji Cheung and Sarah Thompson. Or maybe Red Rocks, which is just caddy corner to Queen’s English, has some of the best pizza in town. And down the street is our hood’s quintessential dive bar, The Wonderland Ballroom. On Thursdays, one of the dudes in the neighborhood sells vinyl outside gourmet grocery store, Odd Provisions.
I really could go on all day… Love nature? Hit up the National Arboretum or the Botanical Gardens or take a hike through Rock Creek Park. Interested in art or history? We’ve got museums galore (most of which are free). Like live music? Get tickets to a show at Pie Shop, DC9, Songbyrd, or Black Cat. Looking to get a drink at the end of a long day? From upscale craft cocktails to dingy dives, we’ve got it all!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to dedicate my shoutout to my partner, Jonny, who has been the biggest cheerleader of this pursuit. Any time I downplayed the importance of my virtual classes–using words like “frivoluous” or “silly”–Jon would stop me mid-sentence to remind that what I was doing was helping people. He also helps monitor classes and set up/break down the room for classes. Though he doesn’t participate in Zumba himself, he’s definitely a huge part of the Zumba with MJ enterprise.
First image: no credit needed Additional images: Jonny Grave