The hot new fitness trend, Zumba, melds exotic dance moves for a high-energy workout
Think gym, but with electrifying music, roaring cheers and laughter, rousing exotic dance moves and excessive booty-shaking. Zumba Fitness, a Latin-inspired program that infuses international music and dance into a typically hour-long workout party, will leave you happy, energized and healthy.
Zumba—like Jazzercise, a registered trademark—began in Colombia just 10 years ago as an impromptu dance class devised by fitness instructor Alberto “Beto” Perez and has grown into one of the world’s largest dance-fitness programs today. More than 10 million people take weekly classes in nearly 90,000 locations spread across more than 110 countries.
Andreina Botero, 30, originally from Venezuela, started teaching a class a couple of weeks ago at the Community Folk Art Center, 805 E. Genesee St. “Dancing is not just good for your body; it’s also good for your soul,” she says. “It’s much more fun than going to the gym. You don’t even realize you’re exercising.”
The appeal couldn’t be clearer: travel the world without leaving the studio as Zumba explores Salsa, Merengue, Samba, Belly Dancing, Bhangra, Calypso, African Beats, Reggaeton, Hip-Hop and many other colorful dance styles. Feel the rhythm as your instructor breaks down each step in front of you, and add your own flavor as you get into shape.
“The Zumba program targets three parts of the body: lower body like the legs, the core— abs—and the upper body like the arms,” Botero says. “It works out the entire body just by dancing.”
Zumba is for both females and males, regardless of age or size. Although Amanda Rocco, 28, from Liverpool, started teaching classes about a year ago at the Community Center Group Fitness Studio, 311B Towne Drive, in Fayetteville, her classes have been predominantly female. Still, it’s not rare for Rocco to see at least one new face every week. “I’ve seen every type of person come, every type of person love it, and every type of person want more,” she says.
Jessica Smith, 38, of Liverpool, started taking classes about three months ago. She started at the East Area YMCA, but quickly changed venues because it was too crowded and she couldn’t keep up with the instructor. She prefers Rocco because she’s “energetic, fun, always upbeat and always in a good mood,” she notes. “At first, I was embarrassed and felt foolish because I have two left feet, but I love it now. I look forward to coming. I sweat a lot and I burn a lot of calories. I’ve lost three pant sizes in three months.”
Smith takes Zumba classes three to four times a week, but participants can take as many or as few classes as they’d like, Rocco explains. “It’s great cardio,” she says. “It gets you moving. Your body will begin to know what to do before your brain does.”
Rocco recommends wearing clothing made from breathable materials so you can move around comfortably and not be drenched in sweat by the end of class. Also, cross-training or aerobics shoes—something with cushioning and low-traction rubber—work best for movement. Grab a bottle of water and you’re ready to go.
The comfortable and encouraging atmosphere is the best part of Zumba, Rocco explains. She has two rules, which she says in a clear, loud voice at the beginning of each class: “My No. 1 rule is no judgment. No. 2, have fun.”
Some steps may feel foreign at first—and you might feel a little nervous—but through repetition, they become more fluid and your confidence grows. Even Rocco, as an instructor-in-training, was uneasy at first, she admits.
Part of the process included an eight-hour, nearly non-stop day of dance and practice, after which she couldn’t walk for two days, she remembers with a laugh. “But, once you get over the stage fright, it’s so easy. It comes so naturally.”
Instructors learn to modify dance moves so newcomers can gradually improve every time they come. If Rocco sees participants having difficulty with a step, she has her front row (usually the regulars) lead so she can demonstrate a slightly easier, modified version of it. “If you don’t like the hop, leave it out,” she says. “March in place, do some jumping jacks, run in a circle, just keep your heart rate up.”
Rock Your Body
Zumba is a “high-calorie expenditure” that promotes positive self-image, Rocco reads out of the training manual. The class provides a relaxed learning environment with no added pressure.
Anne Marie Riverso, 27, of East Syracuse, started taking classes about two to three months ago with her cousin and sister. “You’re just laughing, dancing, having a good time, and getting a great workout at the same time, so we keep coming back,” Riverso says.
Aline Moses, 35, originally from Brazil, started teaching classes last June at Go Figure Gym, a women-only studio at 3787 Milton Ave., Camillus. Samba, a lively Brazilian dance that moves the hips, legs and shoulders, is her favorite rhythm along with Brazil’s Axé and Colombia’s Cumbia right behind. “It’s high energy,” Moses says. She continued practicing the steps after class was over with a huge smile. “We don’t stop. You drink a little water in between songs and keep going.”
Cynthia Sedgwick, 56, of Camillus, started practicing Zumba about a year and a half ago. “It’s a hard workout, but you enjoy it,” Sedgwick says. “I’m really committed to fitness and health, and I think that Zumba is an inexpensive, fun way to do good for your entire body.”
About 16 to 17 different songs play during an hour-long Zumba class. The first couple of tunes are meant to warm up the group and the last song is to cool everyone down for a final stretch. The bulk of the routine, about 40 to 45 minutes, is particularly upbeat, designed to get every part of your body in motion.
While most of the songs are compiled by the company, instructors have the freedom to include some of their personal favorites. Still, they must abide by a rule, where at least 70 percent of their songs reflects Latin and international styles like “Zumba Mami” (Latin) and “Lo que pasó, pasó” (Reggaeton).
Once teachers are a part of the Zumba Instructor Network (ZIN), the company sends new music every month and new choreography every other month so they can stay up-to-date and fresh, Moses explains. “We try to keep the same songs for about four weeks, and then introduce three new ones at a time,” she says. “I don’t like to change the whole class. Everyone likes to get to know the music and choreography.” She added a few popular songs like “Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You)” and “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” to her current routine.
Patricia Reid, 15, of Syracuse, started taking classes about a year ago after Sherry Barnes, her 55-year-old grandmother from Camillus, convinced her to try it. “I heard a lot about it in the news and on TV, but I never really paid attention to it,” Reid says. “When I finally went, I fell in love. Instead of exercising and feeling stressed while you’re doing it, you just have so much fun. It feels like you’re just hanging out with your friends.”
Mary Merritt, 49, of Marcellus, started exploring Zumba about a year ago. “It’s a great aerobic workout,” Merritt explains. “When you’re dancing with a group, it kind of motivates you to keep going and you motivate yourself to try to be better at the routine every week as you learn the songs and movements. I pretend I’m in the chorus of some huge Broadway show and I’m learning the movements so that I can go on stage. It’s fun and it improves my mood. It’s really the first time I’ve been committed to a program and haven’t grown bored with it.”
Moses also teaches Zumba at Ja Spa and Fitness, 16 W. Main St., Marcellus; R Total Fitness, 3800 Lee- Mulroy Road, Marcellus; and Gazella Performance and Wellness Studio, 3986 Jordan Road, Skaneateles. “It’s really nice to be able to pass on a little bit of my culture,” Moses says. She glanced outside the gym to see the snow fall. “Being in this weather—so far away from home—it’s fun to have something Latin and hot to dance with.”
While Zumba tends to cost somewhere between $5 and $10 per class, most fitness centers offer savings with the purchase of a punch card. Generally, classes are considered full with 20 people, but instructors are flexible. Classes are sometimes as small as five and as large as 30, depending on the day (usually busier on Mondays and Tuesdays and trickling toward the end of the week), and can run anywhere between 45 and 60 minutes. So forget the treadmills and exercise bikes. Forget you’re even working out. Just dance!
Room to Zumba
Wild variations of Zumba bring the exercise rage to seniors, children and those who would rather work out in the pool. Check with your gym or dance studio to see if these are available.
Zumba Gold targets the active older participant. It modifies the moves and pace, but keeps the fiery music and invigorating atmosphere.
This is still Zumba, but with toning sticks. It blends body-sculpting techniques and Zumba dance moves into one calorieburning, strength-training class.
Aqua Zumba brings Zumba into the pool. Similar to water aerobics, it’s a choreographed, water-based workout perfect for conditioning and toning.
This variation gives kids an opportunity to dance and have fun. It gathers boys and girls, ages 4 to 12, for a dance workout party that improves their focus, confidence and coordination.
Zumba IN THE CIRCUIT
This workout combines Zumba with circuit training. Participants move from one exercise station to the next as they boost their metabolism and strengthen their muscles—all in 30 minutes.