Today at Berkeley Lab

Jeff Philliber Wants the Lab to Get Up and Dance

— By Theresa Duque

As Berkeley Lab’s environmental planner, Jeff Philliber promotes environmental stewardship while helping the Lab look after the health and safety of its employees and neighboring communities. But did you know he can dance?

Every Monday and Wednesday at noon, Philliber inspires employees from all across the Lab to trade in their lunch hour for 60 minutes of fun, fitness, and ballroom dancing in the form of tango, salsa, samba, waltz, foxtrot, and most recently, a Brazilian dance known as “forró.” Philliber also dedicates his Thursday lunch break to teaching Zumba, a Latin-inspired cardio dance program that blends hip-hop with the rhythm of Latin ballroom moves, such as merengue and cha-cha.

“Jeff is the best choreographer. He incorporates different types of moves, and his Zumba class is unique,” says Tennessee Gock, a senior administrator at the Advanced Light Source. Philliber is beloved by his Zumba students and fellow Dance Club members for the extra effort he puts into class preparation. It’s not uncommon for him to study a new move like Bollywood-style Bhangra or K-pop (Korean pop) Gangnam Style on YouTube so he can break down a dance sequence step-by-step for beginning students.

“Jeff is a very good teacher, and he’s very patient. He will demonstrate a move and count it out so everyone knows when to start and whether to go forward or backward,” says Adel Serafino, an active Dance Club member since 2008 and the Lab’s Return-to-Work Specialist/American with Disabilities Act Coordinator.

Philliber’s passion for dance started not during childhood, but as an adult. “I never went to school dances. I always felt uncoordinated,” says Philliber. “I could do sports okay, but it’s something else when you’re trying to make your body do something aesthetically.” His interest in ballroom sparked when a group of friends — “schlubs like me,” he says — showed off their new dance skills at a Christmas party. Inspired and charmed by his friends’ newfound grace on the dance floor, he jumped at the chance to learn ballroom when Joy Kono started the Dance Club shortly after he began working for the Lab.

More than 15 years later, Philliber’s commitment to the Dance Club (and its offshoot Zumba classes) has not wavered. Despite his long commute from San Mateo and the demands of his full-time job at the Lab, he still manages to lead the Dance Club and teach ballroom and Zumba week after week.

And if you think that sounds like a busy schedule, he also serves as the librarian for the Lab’s Ukulele Club, and teaches Zumba and shadowboxing classes at 24 Hour Fitness in San Mateo.
“Jeff’s commitment is amazing,” says Gock. “He devotes a lot of energy in order to make us healthier and happier. We love him.”

The Dance Club’s ballroom dance and Zumba classes are free for all Lab employees. Ballroom dance classes take place every Monday and Wednesday, and Zumba classes take place every Thursday. Both classes meet from noon to 1 p.m. in Building 76-235.