This Houston doctor offers a Zumba class for your mental health

If Dr. Barry Gritz isn’t with a patient, he’s most likely busting a move — not in the middle of a dance floor, but in the front of a class.

The psychiatrist, who has practiced in Houston for more than three decades, is also a Zumba instructor. He has taught the cardio classes inspired by Latin-dance for the past five years.

Gritz leads a class almost every day of the week at four different gyms. He also heads Aqua Zumba courses. Picture water aerobics with a beat.

Grooving to a melody is simply his passion — and always has been.

“If you ever went to a dance club and saw some guy dancing by himself — that was me,” Gritz said with a laugh.

Teaching Zumba gave him a whole new venue — and a whole room of dance partners.

“I love this, because I get to do what I love to do — and that’s dancing,” he said. “I’m also a lecturer. I love educating. This allows me to do both.”

Recently, Gritz combined his passions even further with “Dancing with a Doc for Wellness.”

Dancing with a Doc combines cardio via Zumba with an informative health session. It’s offered at 8 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at Clark Park, 9710 Clark Road, in north Houston.

The next session is Tuesday, June 13.

Zumba and education meet emotional and mental health in this course offered by Memorial Hermann’s Community Benefit Corp., which aims to build healthier communities.

The sessions, which combine cardio with an informative session, are offered at 8 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at Clark Park, 9710 Clark Road, in north Houston. The next Dancing with a Doc is Tuesday, June 13.

“This is the most unique — it’s a perfect fusion,” Gritz said. “What I am promoting in both psychology and Zumba is health. There really is a parallel.”

Isabel Vázquez said the sessions are entertaining and she enjoys Gritz’s musical selections.

“The energy and friendliness of the doctor makes it fun and special,” she said.

Josefina Sandoval said exercising in the morning with Dancing with a Doc helps her stay fit. She recommends others sign up.

“The classes help reduce stress and keep us healthy, apart from being a lot of fun,” she said.

Dancing with a Doc is the most recent addition to Community Benefit Corp.’s work at Clark Park, which centers on making the greenspace a safe place for the community to enjoy.

It started in 2018, when data from nearby Burbank Middle School revealed a high incidence of pre-diabetes in students, said Carol Paret, senior vice president and chief community health officer with the healthcare system.

The corporation asked community members why children were not exercising — and parents noted the lack of sidewalks and feeling unsafe in the park.

“That’s where we needed to focus,” Paret said. “Our work needs to be about what the community sees as important to moving their health forward.”

The organization has four intersecting pillars — access to health care, healthy food, exercise and emotional well-being — all aimed at the under- and uninsured, Paret said.

In 2019, the organization partnered with the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department to renovate the basketball court and build a new junior soccer field at Clark Park.

Making improvements to neighborhood greenspace is a critical part of the equation, she said.

“Parks are only great if people are using them,” she said. “And just because you have greenspace in the area does not mean it will be used, if the community does not feel safe there.”

Updating the facilities alone was not enough to guarantee neighbors would use the space, Paret said. Developing programs in the park would be the key.

That’s how StepHealthy walking clubs launched. Walk With a Doc, where a physician joins the group and discusses health topics, was also added to offerings.

In addition, Memorial Hermann developed the StepHealthy Connects program, which helps area residents become professional group fitness instructors.

The more community members take ownership of their parks, the better, Paret explained. For instance, the walking clubs have led to clean-up events.

“We’ve seen a lot of social connection, as well as pride in the parks,” Paret said. “One thing builds upon another and another.”

Dancing with a Doc is part of that evolution — and has become a popular offering.

“Exercise is medicine,” Paret said. “People find that exercise really helps with their stress and anxiety.” And both were on the upswing after the pandemic, she added.

A fun Zumba class outside in the sunshine “felt like a natural extension of what we were already doing,” Paret said.

Finding just the right doctor to be the star of the show was serendipitous, she added.

“He’s a wonder,” Paret said. “He’s not your run-of-the-mill everyday psychiatrist. And he’s truly dedicated to this.”

The first hour of the class is all about movement, Gritz said. And he tells attendees not to worry if they don’t master the footwork.

“As long as you’re moving and grooving,” he tells them.

Gritz keeps the music pumping, rotating between Colombian cumbia and rock, salsa and Bollywood, and hip hop and reggaeton.

“Believe me — Zumba, it’s a party,” he said. “That’s exactly what it is, a dance party. But with Zumba, it’s like you partied and worked out too.”

The second half of the class, Gritz focuses on a health topic. Each month, there’s a different theme such as anxiety, depression, Attention Deficity Disorder and postpartum issues.

Gritz’s presentations focus on managing emotional health. He teaches self-care techniques and takes time to answer questions.

“I like to consider myself an edu-tainer,” he said. “If you can treat people with education and entertainment, then that’s a good thing.”

Zumba helps him personally. “For me, it’s such a stress-reliever,” Gritz said. “Exercise helps you feel good.”

And at Clark Park, when he sees the smiles and hears the laughs emanating from the crowd, he knows others are benefitting from Zumba, too.

Music and movement can truly improve mood and reduce stress, he added.

“It’s our duty to move our booty,” he said.

Peyton is a freelance writer based in Houston.