“Join us for our newest group exercise class—Zumba!” the flier read. “What the heck is Zumba?” I remember thinking. I was 13 years old in the locker room of the YMCA in Charlotte, NC. When I asked my group fitness fanatic mother about it later, even she didn’t know what the class was. After a bit of Googling, we found out Zumba is, essentially, a dance fitness class.
The following Thursday, my mother (who was just excited that I was finally old enough to participate in the group exercise classes) dragged me to this mysterious dance class. The music was already blasting as we walked in. The instructor was at the front of the room decked out in vibrant clothes with “Zumba” plastered all over them. Class participants were lined up in rows in front of the instructor and the mirrored wall behind her. I immediately made a bee line for the back row in the back corner of the room.
Now, I’d be lying if I said that first class (or that first month) of Zumba was easy…and I’d definitely be lying if I said I looked good doing it. Luckily for me, everyone in the class was new too. We all stumbled through the warm-up dance, a sort of grapevine dance, as we followed the instructor’s moves and her few spoken directions. We laughed our way through some of the Latin moves that us Southern white folk had never encountered. We tried to mimic every move the same exact way the instructor did—and didn’t look nearly as sexy doing it. But here’s the thing: no matter how ridiculous we looked or felt, by the end of it we were sweating, we were invigorated, and we were hooked.
The thing about Zumba is that it’s seriously fun. As a track/cross country runner and a swimmer, this was a completely new experience for me. I’ve never dreaded a Zumba class the way I dread a running workout. The music pumps you up, and the dancing and occasional happy howls of Spanish words (or “Zumba! Zumba!”) from the instructor and crowd just make it feel like a party. It’s incredibly exciting to finally get a dance move down or add your own unique style to a move. You quickly learn that it doesn’t really matter if you don’t hit every step along with the instructor. Some people even do their own thing—which is encouraged. My mom often modifies moves that won’t affect her bad knees, and I often exaggerate moves to incorporate more muscle groups. You make the workout yours, and no one else truly cares.
Week after week, my mom and I came back for more. On a good week, I was doing a Zumba class every other day. I went from the back corner of the room to the front and center, sometimes even getting pulled up by the instructor to demonstrate. I realized that each instructor brought a totally different vibe and workout to the room. Some used more Latin music, some more hip-hop or even rock and oldies music. Some incorporated more cardio, and some added more strength and toning. I got to know instructors’ routines and regularly attended the classes that I enjoyed the most. After getting a decent amount of comments on my dance abilities, I decided to get licensed to teach Zumba myself!
Zumba may not be for everyone, but I’ve certainly seen a huge variety of people participating in it. Most gyms offer general “Zumba,” where I’ve seen women and men, from early teens to late eighties! Seriously, some of you old people can bust a move! The organization even offers different types of classes like Zumbini (0–3 years), Zumba Kids Jr. (4–6 years), Zumba Kids (7–11 years), Zumba Gold (for older adults), Zumba Toning (where you hold weights while you dance), and more! If you’re looking for a workout that is fun yet effective, I’d definitely suggest giving Zumba a try—ditch the workout, join the party!
Photo credit: Simon Schoeters / Flickr / CC BY 2.0