EAST ELMHURST — Lunch tables were folded up and pushed to the side at P.S. 148 recently as nearly 20 pairs of feet stepped and shimmied along to bachata and reggaeton music, led by enthusiastic instructors who shout out encouragement and instructions in Spanish.
The lunchroom at the school on 32nd Avenue has turned into a gym, but it's not the students who are getting a workout — it's moms, grandmas, a bus driver and one dad who stayed to do Zumba after dropping their kids at school.
Guillermina de Jesus, 35, and Juana Reyes, 32, sisters from Jackson Heights, started the program at P.S. 149 on 34th Avenue two years ago after Reyes, whose son Marc, 10, goes to the school, noticed some of the other parents didn't speak to one another, dropping off their kids and leaving instead.
"My sister came up with the Zumba idea and the PTA loved it," she said.
Now the women, both certified instructors, teach the fitness dance craze at two local schools for the busy parents and others affiliated with the school who may not make time for themselves.
The classes are offered in the mornings after drop-off and in the evenings around the time parents pick kids up from after-school, according to Reyes, who works as a server at Madison Square Garden.
The timing helps encourage participants — mostly moms who stay home with their children or work part-time — to take the class without sacrificing their other responsibilities.
"It's an easy way for them to stay," Reyes said. "Some of the moms say if they go home they get lazy."
"They said they eat, watch telenovelas," added de Jesus, who works security at Citi Field and has children as well.
Participants pay what they can at P.S. 148. At P.S. 149, classes are free for parents and are funded through the city's Beacon after-school program. The classes are fun and active, and anyone can enjoy them, regardless of experience, the sisters said.
The goal is to accommodate the community, including new mothers. At one recent class, two babies sat in strollers nearby as their moms learned new moves.
"We have time for TV, husband, kids, work in the kitchen — but we don't have time for ourselves," Reyes said.
The duo said they teach five approximately hourlong classes and more than 100 students a week. Evening sessions are held Monday and Thursday at P.S. 149 starting around 6 p.m., and morning classes are taught at P.S. 148 on Tuesday, Thursday, after drop-off and Saturday around 9 a.m. and at 2 p.m.
They even gave a class for teachers last year at P.S. 148, which they hope to bring back, and the Saturday classes also allow kids to participate.
Reyes said she found the parents who came to Zumba became more involved with the school, no longer rushing back home after dropping off their kids but staying to meet other parents or volunteering.
"These two ladies are amazing," said school aide and parent Tati Grullon 45, who was also president of the PTA at P.S. 149, who participated in the class.
"Zumba is not just to keep you in shape or to lose weight, it's to give you energy, to feel comfortable with yourself and have something to do."
Mary Murillo, 46, drives a school bus for P.S. 149 and takes the class a few days a week.
"I love Zumba. I lost 10 pounds already," she said. "But it's not only the pounds, it's everything. When I'm here, that's it. I have stress at home, with my family — but I forget the stress."
That was the goal all along for de Jesus and Reyes, who said their neighbors work hard but also struggle with obesity.
Maria Mejia, 30, drops her daughter Jasmin off at P.S. 148 then gets right to class.
"It's a chance to forget my problems," she said. "I come here to have fun."
Murillo said most of the moms have found it to be about more than just keeping in shape, too.
"They need something for an hour. This is their moment," she said. "Not only for exercise — it's a family here. If they have a problem in the house, somebody here can help them."