I am not a dancer despite both my parents having been professional dancers and my sisters loving it too. I recently went with my friend Marina Dutra to one of her Zumba classes, not to dance but to watch. It was amazing! A school hall full of people all performing the same dance steps as being shown by the instructor on stage. The dancers were concentrating and smiling, but Marina was literally glowing with happiness as she danced, and I felt inspired to find out more about this fitness programme that has literally changed her life.
Did you know that Zumba fitness has become a worldwide sensation? It was ‘invented’ in 1998 by Colombian aerobics instructor Alberto Perez when he found he had forgotten his normal music for his class. Grabbing some salsa and merengue Latin music cassettes from his car, Alberto made up moves to the music and his students loved it!
His ‘new’ class was a hit, becoming so popular that in 2001 Alberto moved to America to expand his ideas and, along with his friends and partners, Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion, they released a series of fitness and instruction videos. They called their fitness programme Zumba, a word invented by them as a brand name to identify their products.
The trio have built an enormously successful business empire which today incorporates instructors training, DVDs, dance party albums, Wii and Xbox games (with personal goals and nutrition advice options) and a clothing line called Zumba Wear (usually leggings and tank tops) which are comfortable, flexible and colourful thus adding to the party atmosphere of the Zumba classes.
So, what exactly is Zumba? Basically, it is simple lively fun moves that combine fitness training with dancing. The dances are carefully choreographed based on 16 core steps and four basic rhythms. There are fast and slow beats to the music, which is inspired on the traditional Colombian music known as cumbia as well as salsa, merengue and reggaeton, although there are also mambo, flamenco, cha-cha, hip hop and tango influences. Instructors are free to make up their own choreographies but must stick to the specified Zumba format.
There are huge health benefits to doing Zumba due to the excellent cardiovascular workout and it exercises all the muscles of the body, thereby helping joint mobility and circulation. Zumba is ideal for fighting against high cholesterol as dancers can burn between 500-800 calories during a one-hour class depending, of course, on the level of effort put in!
There are 10 different Zumba classes with specific exercises for different age groups, which range from birth (Zumbini) to 100 years (Zumba Gold) and even Aqua Zumba classes. Each class focuses on targeted exercises to improve mobility, coordination and muscle strength.
Zumba is mostly practised by women, but more and more men are joining the classes not only because they have discovered the benefits of this type of exercise but because it is fun. Many people go to Zumba to help control their weight and to improve their fitness but nearly everyone keeps going because of the joy the dancing brings them. This was evident from the positive fun energy I saw in Marina’s class.
Marina went to her first Zumba class seven years ago and was soon hooked. She explained: “When I am in a class, I feel free of all the stresses and worries of everyday life. I love moving to the music. I used to be body conscious but when I am dancing with everyone else around me, all happy and enjoying themselves, I just let go and it is when I feel totally happy.”
There was a party atmosphere in the class I watched, and this is because the catchy happy rhythms, the group environment and comradeship in Zumba classes encourages the releasing of endorphins and mood-elevating hormones which, in turn, reduce stress and tension. Self-esteem is also improved as participants become fitter and lose their inhibitions.
Marina loves Zumba so much that she often attends four classes a week, usually with her friend Sandra Nunes who has been going to Zumba for two years and is equally passionate about it. Marina’s enthusiasm has led to her friends and instructors encouraging her to also train to be an instructor, a daunting prospect, but Marina has now qualified and has even taught a few classes as a guest instructor.
She told me: “I have made some wonderful friends and we are like a big family supporting each other. I would never have believed that I would have the courage to get on a stage and teach people to Zumba. The adrenaline and feeling of achievement are incredible.”
I think Marina will be a fantastic instructor because she clearly loves the dancing and her happiness is infectious. Zumba instructors must be members of Zin (Zumba Instructor Network), which gives them monthly and bimonthly training updates, new choreographies and music so they are always supported and developing.
There are regular Zumbathon events all over the Algarve to bring different instructors and their classes together for marathon Zumba sessions, often to raise funds for charity. Anyone can participate and they are an opportunity for different groups to meet up. Marina said: “It is like belonging to an exclusive party club where large groups of people come together in a public place to enjoy themselves dancing while raising money for charities.”
Zumba also gives instructors the opportunity to travel by meeting at Zin Academies to work together and learn from each other’s experiences, and Marina hopes to be able to attend one next year in Manchester to improve her training. There are also Zumba cruises where individuals enjoy a five-day exotic cruise filled with parties, concerts and classes taught by renown instructors.
With 15 million people regularly attending Zumba classes in almost 200 countries, this is a fitness phenomenon that is here to stay. There are several classes in the Algarve and I cannot wait for Marina to hold her own classes. I am one who does not dance but, in Marina’s class, I might just be tempted – you just never know!
So now you know!
By Isobel Costa
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Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.