08/29/12 8:00am
08/29/2012 8:00 AM

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | JABS founder Jill Schroeder at a Zumbathon fundraiser in Southold last year. Ms. Schroeder is currently leading Shape magazine’s poll to determine America’s most inspirational Zumba instructor.

Hundreds of East End Zumba fanatics have concentrated their motions over the past couple weeks to just their hands, repeating one specific maneuver over and over for hours on end.

No, they aren’t participating in marathon exercise sessions. These women are pounding their fingers on keyboards, voting in a national online contest to support their favorite instructor.

So far, it’s working. As of Monday afternoon, three Eastern Suffolk County Zumba instructors were in the top 10 of Shape magazine’s “Inspirational Zumba Instructor Search” after just 12 days of voting.

Sitting atop the poll at No. 1 is Cutchogue resident Jill Schroeder, who’s blowing away the competition with 206,712 votes. The next closest is one of Ms. Schroeder’s former employees, Christine Locrotondo of Manorville, who has received 186,606 votes.

The winning instructor will be eligible to be featured on shape.com and in Shape magazine. Shape is also taking into consideration testimonials from clients.

“The community’s support has been amazing,” said Ms. Schroeder, owner of JABS, a fitness studio she opened on Pike Street in Mattituck last year. “It just goes to show you how much heart I put into this business.”

Fellow JABS instructor Carol Leonard of Southold is in eighth place with 13,370 votes.

Ms. Schroeder said she first became interested in Zumba five years ago after taking a class in Nassau County, which she said was the closest studio that offered the Latin dance exercise at the time.

“I fell in love with it right then and there and decided to jump the gun and become a licensed instructor,” Ms. Schroeder said.

Created in Cali, Colombia during the mid-90s by aerobics instructor Alberto “Beto” Perez, the fitness program is an international sensation. To become an instructor, one must be licensed by Zumba Fitness, the organization that holds the trademark on the program.

Since voting in the Shape competition began Aug. 15, Ms. Schroeder said her students have spent as much time on the computer as they have in the studio. Her clients are even bringing their laptops and voting together in groups before and after class.

Ms. Schroeder said she has also gotten the word out by telling her clients about the contest in her business’ weekly email newsletter and on her Facebook profile.

Ms. Locrotondo, who now teaches Zumba at Leg Works Dance in Mastic, said she learned about the contest after one of her clients sent her a Facebook invite to an event called “Vote for Chrissy.”

“After that, it just got huge,” Ms. Locrotondo said.

Her supporters have even hosted “vote-a-thon parties,” in which they get together and vote until the morning hours.

“I never thought so many people would want something as good as this for me,” Ms. Locrotondo said. “I feel very lucky.”

But the contest hasn’t been all fun and games.

A third party wrote on Shape’s Facebook page, accusing instructors in the top 10 of using software to send automatic votes electronically, something both Ms. Schroeder and Ms. Locrotondo deny.

Ms. Locrotondo said her placement at the top of the leaderboard — both her and Ms. Schroeder have held the No. 1 spot at times in the competition — is the result of her friends, family and clients voting multiple times. She said she believes other instructors and their supporters didn’t realize individuals could vote multiple times when the contest began.

In an effort to allow others to catch up to her, Ms. Locrotondo asked her supporters to suspend their campaign for roughly 36 hours at one point last week.

“I don’t want to win if people think I didn’t win the right way,” she said. “We decided, let’s tell the world you can multi-click to vote and give them time to catch up.”

Still, she and Ms. Schroeder are far ahead of third-place contender Tiffany Callaghan of Melbourne, Fla., whose 74,987 votes have her more than 130,000 votes off the pace.

Ms. Locrotondo and Ms. Schroeder say the fact that they know each other has made the competition both fun and fierce.

“When people are voting for something it’s usually because they are passionate about it,’ Ms. Schroeder said. “In this case, the Zumba instructors on this poll have inspired many individuals whose passion drives them to vote. What I take from this, as a trainer, is that we have done our job in creating excitement for Zumba, and more importantly, for fitness.”

jennifer@timesreview.com