Zumba — a fitness ‘dance party’ uniting the world

Posted on 19 September 2012

News Writer

Perhaps the most popular new workout program is something called Zumba — if you’ve never heard of it before, it sounds like it might be a kind of Latin dance, but that’s just scratching the surface of what has become a worldwide fitness phenomenon.

Zumba defies almost any program that has come before it: it’s more like a dance party than an aerobics class, participants typically burn 500-1000 calories in an hour and there is very little cost involved. Instructors use easy-to-follow, visual “cues” to keep participants on the right track, which has helped Zumba take root in more than 125 countries.

Zumba is inspired by Latin music and incorporates dance and aerobics moves into a high-intensity workout. It was created by Alberto “Beto” Perez, of Colombia, in the 1990s, who improvised an aerobics class with a soundtrack of traditional salsa and merengue music. Perez moved to Miami, Fla., in 2001. With the help of two friends, he created Zumba Fitness. An infomercial for Zumba workout videos led to a demand for instructors and classes.

A typical Zumba class, taught by a trained, certified instructor, lasts about 60 minutes and features about 10-15 songs, said Joanie Williams, who teaches Zumba classes at the Bainbridge-Decatur County YMCA. About 80 percent of those songs fall into the genre of “World Beat” — such as music from Jamaica, Africa, Latin America and Asia — while about 20 percent of songs are popular U.S. favorites in the genre of hiphop or electronic dance.

There are other aspects that make Zumba a unique fitness program. All of the dances are choreographed to exercise different parts of the body and can be modified by participants who have limitations, such as back problems or stiff joints. The Zumba program itself can be mixed with other workout types, age groups and environments; there are eight officially-recognized Zumba programs in all.

There’s no doing Zumba “the wrong way,” as Zumba classes are comprised of students of all age groups and dancing experience levels. Williams teaches Zumba four nights a week — two of the nights are more beginner-friendly, but some people attend every night the class is offered. Williams currently has a class of about 15 to 20 regular participants, including everyone from working professionals, college students and stay-at-home moms. While it’s mostly women, there are a few men who do Zumba, as well.

Williams has been doing Zumba for about two years and has been a certified instructor for a little more than one year. She’s taking additional training to teach “Aqua Zumba,” which blends Zumba concepts with traditional aqua fitness disciplines, at the YMCA pool. The YMCA is also gauging interest to see if it should offer Zumba Gold and Zumbatomic, which tailors the program for senior citizens and children aged 4-12, respectively.

Benefits of Zumba include weight maintenance and loss, general fitness, boosted metabolism and energy and even increased self-confidence.

Williams said students leave her classes feeling exhilarated and ready for more.

“I’ve had people who start out as beginners and end up leading the rest of the class for one of the songs,” Williams said. “We take turns leading each other through the movements and encourage each other while dancing. It’s all about having fun and feeling good while getting fit.”

One Zumba regular at the YMCA is Sharron Chrispen, who likes to pump up her fellow classmates by shouting encouraging phrases like, “Here we go now!,” and by counting out rhythms. Williams estimates there are about 50 to 60 songs that rotate in and out of her Zumba classes. About 80 percent of them feature original choreography by Williams, while the remaining 20 percent have official choreography she learned at Zumba Academy.

The calorie-burning aspect of Zumba is no hype: Williams said she has used a pedometer — which counts steps by measuring the movement of the wearer’s hips — to verify that she burns 800 calories or more during a one-hour class. That level of activity comes from the high beats-per-minute songs that are typically danced to, as well as the fact that Zumba has no traditional “breaks” during the workout.

Yes, there are no breaks, Williams said. Instead, Zumba is designed for participants to keep moving as much as possible, with about 10 to 15 seconds allotted in between songs for quick water and muscle rest. Towards the end of the hour, there are a handful of “cooldown” songs, which are not quite as fast and are choreographed for participants to allow motions that are more akin to stretching or light exercise than dancing. Sessions intended to be more beginner-friendly work in more cooldowns and slightly longer micro-breaks between songs.

With its “dance party” vibe and the flexibility of its “no-strain” routines, it’s no wonder that Zumba has grown as popular as it is. It’s estimated that there are about 12 million people worldwide taking Zumba classes on a regular basis. There’s also several Zumba DVDs, a clothing line called Zumbawear and even a video game series that has sold several million copies.

To learn more about Zumba, people can check out a Zumba class held Monday through Thursday at the YMCA — there are prices for members and non-members and even a low-cost trial offering — or check out the official Zumba website at www.zumba.com.

Zumba is taught Mondays and Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information on cost, call the YMCA at (229) 243-0508.

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