Wanna ZUMBA?


The new workout combines resistance training with a high-intensity dance routine.

I squeeze into a spot at the back of the glass-enclosed studio at Hunters Creek Lifestyle Family Fitness, feeling exposed to prying eyes in the workout room beyond. Not that many are around to look. It’s mid-morning, and there are easily more people crowded into this classroom than in all the rest of the gym. Then the booming bass notes of island music begin blasting. As the windows vibrate to the beat, more than 100 feet begin marching in place—without any command from the trainer at the front. What’s going on?

This is my introduction to Zumba, a World Beat dance fitness class that’s growing in popularity in Orlando and across the country. And already I’m in trouble. The moves I’m trying to copy remind me of the dreaded Electric Slide, skipping between forward and backward steps while rotating clockwise. But I keep ending up facing the wrong way. Worse, I’m beginning to strain to keep up; no way has it only been 20 minutes. The other participants, all females who seem to be between 12 and 70, keep moving along. They’ve barely broken a sweat.

Next salsa and cumbia, two very upbeat Latin sounds, begin driving the class with a new series of steps. Mari Rosario, the instructor, takes a more active role now, calling out and demonstrating the sequence of movements. With her expert guidance and encouragement, I’m starting to get the hang of this.

Beto Perez, a noted fitness instructor and choreographer, brought Zumba to the U.S. when he moved here from Colombia in 1999. It’s his specially designed and carefully marketed full-body workout that combines resistance training with a high-intensity cardio dance routine, skipping between slow- and fast-paced rhythm intervals to help burn fat while toning and sculpting the body. Zumba incorporates dance moves and music from Arabic, Latin and American cultures.

All around Orlando, many gyms and dance studios are spreading the Zumba word. Zumba currently has an estimated 20,000 instructors practicing in 40 countries, with 15,000 instructors in the U.S. alone. The company has sold more than 3.5 million DVDs.

My first class is finally winding down. Rosario plays some soothing New Age music. She walks the class through a few yoga poses and stretches to cool down the body and lower the heart rate—not a moment too soon, in my case. Every muscle in my body is throbbing, and from the look of it, I’m not the only one who exceeded her limits. And yet, as everyone else begins to pack up and head for the door, Margarita, a frequent participant in Rosario’s class, is still jumping in place with the same energy she had at the beginning of class. Maybe after a few more classes I’ll feel the same way, but for now I’m glad it’s over. I begin to head out, ready for some rest, when suddenly I hear Margarita yell, “So! What time does Zumba start?”

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