If you haven’t tried it yet, you’ve no doubt seen fellow gym goers swivel their hips to Shakira in group fitness studios or seen the infomercials on TV. Zumba, a Latin-inspired, calorie-burning dance-fitness party developed by Alberto “Beto” Perez, has become an international phenomenon. With more than 12 million devoted groovers in 125 countries, what keeps people coming back? Kass Martin, a Zumba celebrity instructor, and Shirley Archer, contributing editor to IDEA Fitness Journal, certified group fitness instructor, and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, gave us their views on why Zumba has taken the globe by storm.
Perez, a fitness instructor from Colombia, created Zumba unintentionally during the mid-1990s. He was scheduled to teach a dance aerobics class, but forgot his usual music. So Perez popped his salsa and merengue CDs into the boom box and improvised a Latin-based dance sequence. Say hola to Zumba.
In 2001, Perez brought Zumba to Miami and joined forces with entrepreneurs Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion. These three Colombian natives established their business, Zumba Fitness, and produced DVDs and infomercials in the hope of hooking the masses. “I think Latin dance excites a lot of people and interests those who aren’t turned on by boot camp–oriented activities,” Archer says. “They know they should do some form of exercise for their health, and this is the ticket.”
As the craze sizzled, the trio created the Zumba Academy to license instructors to teach classes, designed Zumbawear apparel, and compiled branded music mixes. Today, with more than 110,000 locations across the globe offering classes, Zumba is the world’s largest dance-fitness program. (Search: Dance tips)
A 60-minute Zumba class incorporates elements of merengue, salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, and hip-hop, and features exotic rhythms set to high-energy Latin and international beats. While traditional dance classes use counts to pace steps, Zumba teachers have students repeat a series of movements. “When you’re just moving to music, you become more free and relaxed; it’s like being on the dance floor,” says Archer. Instructors focus on a single step when designing a routine and add arm movements to work the upper body. Directional changes—like moving from side to side, in a circle, or stepping up and back—add flair to the choreography.
In the Zumba Instructor Network (ZIN), every teacher receives a DVD showing two different routines of choreography set to the same music every month during their tenure. “One month, you get the DVD with the CD, which has nine or 10 songs. You have two options of choreography you can use,” explains Martin. “The next month, you get a mega mix. It’s a variation of rhythms and contains about nine songs, and this helps the instructor create her own choreography.” To keep things fresh, Martin says instructors generally add one or two new songs per week and vary song selection.
In addition to the original class, Zumba Fitness offers five other workouts—Zumba Gold for senior citizens, Zumba Toning, Aqua Zumba, Zumbatomic (for children ages 4 to 12), and Zumba in the Circuit (only 30 minutes). “Zumba is for anyone,” says Martin. “It’s not a competitive program. It’s not about how you look or how you move, it’s about getting active and having fun.”
Zumba is a total-body cardio and aerobic dance workout. “It’s a moderate form of exercise, so you might not have the intensity you achieve if you went running for the same length of time. But you’re going to get the benefits of a cardio workout. If your goal is to be healthy, work up a sweat, and stimulate your cardio system, it’s perfect,” says Archer.
Head and shoulder rolls warm up the upper body and loosen the neck, while rapid-fire footwork stretches calves and strengthens ankles. Latin dance’s sultry and seductive moves also target your hips, firm your abs, and tighten your thighs and butt. Fitness exercises are sometimes sprinkled in, so don’t be surprised if several sets of bodyweight squats and plyometric jumps accompany your cha-cha slide. “The best part is you don’t realize you’re doing it! You’ll be doing squats and a boxer move, like throwing air punches, so you’re moving your arms and shoulders and engaging your upper and lower body,” says Martin.
Your moves might not be Dancing with the Stars caliber, but you will torch some serious calories. While rocking out to Latin jams and chart-topping mixes—think Beyoncé and Lady Gaga hits—you’ll burn between 400 and 600 calories per hour. (Video: Ballet core breakdown) The choreography consists of varied intensity levels that match the music’s pace and type of movements, so Zumba challenges muscles, builds strength, and increases endurance. “There is a lot of cardio in it, and there are intervals,” says Martin. A class might begin with a low-intensity song, followed by one of medium intensity and two really high-intensity songs, before going back down to a low. “It’s good to keep your body guessing and vary your heart rate.”