If you’re like me, dance lessons rank right up there with root canal surgery — and yet I’m a huge fan of the dance craze known as Zumba. And why not? It’s a great way to have fun while you exercise.
The thing that distinguishes Zumba from dance lessons is the way you learn. Occasionally the teacher has the class rehearse a few steps before going into a song but, for the most part, beginners can jump right in. As the music begins to play, the teacher starts to dance, and the class follows his or her steps, picking up the choreography as they go along. There is virtually no wrong way to do Zumba — students are just encouraged to move. In fact, the Zumba motto is, “Forget the workout and join the party!”
The history of Zumba
During the 1990s, an aerobics instructor in Columbia named Alberto Perez forgot his usual aerobics music for the dance class he was teaching. He had to make due with the salsa and merengue music he had on hand and improvise a Latin dance sequence. Needless to say, his students loved it and his classes became very popular. In 2001, he teamed up with Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion to trademark and market Zumba Fitness. Now some 15 million people take weekly Zumba classes all over the world. The music is very energetic, and the choreography incorporates many different dance genres, including salsa, hip-hop, merengue, mambo reggae, flamenco and tango.
“Zumba is exercise in disguise and its health benefits are numerous,” says Ashley Springett, a licensed Zumba instructor at the Greater Beverly YMCA in Beverly, Massachusetts. The dance-inspired workout incorporates squats and lunges, which improve functional strength, and it has been shown to burn up to 600 calories in an hour, increase aerobic fitness, build endurance and improve mood. “It also offers a positive social community, which is great for your mental health,” she adds.
Zumba for diabetes: Tips to get started
Zumba is offered in many gyms, including YMCAs. In fact, Zumba.com has a database for finding Zumba teachers and classes based on geographic location. Zumba.com sells Zumba DVDs and equipment, and Zumba DVDs can sometimes be found at your local public library.
Zumba also offers specific variations, based on a person’s age and the level of exertion involved. These include Zumba Gold, designed for newbies and older folks. Zumba Toning, using toning sticks or light weights, offers not only a great aerobic workout, but also strength training for the abs, thighs, arms and other muscles throughout the body. Zumba Gold-Toning is a muscle-toning workout for seniors that emphasizes strength, balance and mobility. Strong by Zumba, introduced in 2016, incorporates high-intensity interval training with synchronized music. Aqua Zumba classes are held in shallow water in a swimming pool, which decreases impact on the joints and adds water resistance to tone the muscles. Zumba Kids and Zumba Kids Jr. offer workouts for children, and Zumba Sentao is a workout in a chair designed to strengthen and tone the body.
The idea of joining a Zumba class can be intimidating, especially if you have “two left feet,” but that shouldn’t deter you from trying it out. “Zumba is great in that it offers non-verbal cuing so as not to distract from the music,” says Springett. “Try to find a spot where you have an unobstructed view of the instructor so that you can more easily follow along.”
“Remember that it’s OK not to know all the moves and routines. The more consistently you go to a Zumba class, the more comfortable you will become with the various rhythms, footwork and movements. Also, don’t get discouraged. Some of my ‘Zumbamigos’ say that it took them three classes to feel that they got the hang of it. It’s a judgment-free zone and easy to get lost in the music, so just get out there and groove,” says Springett.
Want to learn more about exercise and diabetes? Read “Exercise Myths and Facts” and “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals.”