The music is thumping, an infectious Latin American beat. The sweat is pouring as the crowd, moving as one, shimmies and shakes, weaves and waves. It could be Havana but, in fact, it’s the Isle of Wight. This is Zumba®, the fitness dance craze that has taken the US by storm and is now poised to break over the UK in an unstoppable rip-tide of wild abandoned enthusiasm.
It all started simply enough in Colombia in the mid 90s when aerobics teacher Beto Perez forgot his usual music and had to improvise a routine around the music he had in his car – traditional Latin salsa and merengue. The class was a huge success and Perez realised he was onto something, merging aerobics with dance to a lilting Latin beat. He moved to the US and the Zumba bid for world domination began.
There are over 20,000 instructors teaching Zumba in thirty-five countries. 400 of them are in the UK and that number is set to explode. The principle behind Zumba is incredibly simple: get fit, have fun. That’s it. There are no complicated moves to learn and you don’t need the coordination of a standard aerobics class – or the partner you’d require for a traditional salsa class. Best of all, the music is so infectious that you barely even notice you’re exercising. ‘It’s like being at a party,’ says instructor Naomi Di Fabio. ‘It is easy-to-follow so people don’t have to think too much about what they’re doing and can just get into it. Then of course the music is great, and just makes you want to dance.’
A standard one hour class uses four basic rhythms based on simplified versions of salsa, merengue, cumbia and reggaeton (mixed up with a bit of mambo, flamenco, rumba and calypso). ‘It’s a cardio-based workout which also helps tone and sculpt the body,’ explains Yorkshire based instructor Nicola Swindle. ‘It’s a great way to lose weight, to increase strength and coordination, and to foster self-esteem and pure happiness! That is why so many people love it and get addicted to it.’
People certainly get incredibly enthusiastic, nigh-on evangelical, about Zumba. ‘Imagine a Mexican wave at a football match, well that’s nothing in comparison with the atmosphere at our hall each week,’ says 47-year old Diane West who goes to classes in West Yorkshire. ‘I see a group of tired, ordinary women come to life. Whether it’s the music or the moves, the change is undeniable. There’s a Jo Lo or Beyonce inside all these women – it’s total, powerful, mind-blowing energy.’
Nicola Swindle agrees that the workout exercises your endorphins as well as your muscles. ‘I focused on the health and fitness benefits of the class to begin with, explaining how it’s exercise in disguise,’ she says. ‘But now I’m beginning to think it’s Prozac in disguise as well.’
There’s a Zumba for nearly everyone, whether you’re seventeen (clad in clingy dance gear) or seventy (firmly in baggy t-shirt and bottoms). Zumba Gold classes are aimed specifically at older people (you can even do Zumba sitting in a chair) while a new Zumba Kids programme is being rolled out later in the year However much you might baulk at the idea of shaking your booty to a swinging Latin beat, it seems that, in the coming months, no-one in the UK is going to be immune from Zumba. In fact, don’t even try to resist: give in, get up and join the party.
Find your nearest instructor at www.zumba.com
Nicola Swindle runs classes in South and West Yorkshire. www.foxy-fitness.com
Naomi Di Fabio runs classes in Surrey and also runs training courses for instructors. www.zumbauk.com