“La la la la la la … the Zumba® way!” If you’ve ever been to a Zumba® class, chances are you had this song stuck in your head for days. As I sang it to myself for the umpteenth time, I began to wonder, what exactly is the Zumba® way?
I’ve been going to Zumba® classes for years (mostly at Edgemont World Health), but I realized I really didn’t know much about its design. I had taken my experience for granted, letting that initial newbie feeling fade away, but not quite grasping the seasoned Zumba-er status my fellow classmates seemed to have achieved.
I made it my mission to learn more about Zumba®. I went to a dozen classes in three weeks (which I thought that was pretty impressive until I met a guy who had been to 15 classes in a row). I dropped into classes all over Calgary, chatting with participants and instructors, and dragging a few newbies along with me. Here’s what I learned about the Zumba way:
It’s not African dance
Contrary to what many people initially thought (others expected it to be like jazzercise or aerobics), Zumba® was created by a Colombian dancer in the 1990s and later moved to the United States in 2001. It became big in Calgary about six years ago.
It’s more than a dance party
While it may seem like a dance club without alcohol, it’s actually a structured class. Instructors are required to play at least one song for each of the four Zumba® rhythms: merengue, salsa, cumbia and reggaeton. In addition, they’re required to have a five- to eight-minute warm-up and cool-down. Many classes incorporate squats, lunges and standing ab work, too.
Instructors don’t have to wear Zumba® clothes
I always thought otherwise. Out of the 12 classes I attended, only one instructor opted out of wearing them. Fitness instructor Ronnie Shiu said, “It just doesn’t feel right when I look at myself in the mirror without Zumba® clothes.” I ordered a tank top and cargo capris off the Zumba® website, and I must admit, wearing them makes me feel like a true Zumba-er.
Choreography and knowing the music is important… for instructors
For participants, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know the steps or even try to do the same moves as everyone else (although you should try to at least move in the same direction as the rest of the class). Instructors, on the other hand, spend a lot of time perfecting their choreography outside the classroom. They’re mailed the latest music and choreography, however, they can modify the steps or use their own music, as long as they follow the general class format. They’re constantly thinking about Zumba®, and when they hear a new song that moves them, they’ll often find a way to incorporate it into their class.
Participants pick up on the same key messages instructors are trying to communicate
Instructors want participants to know that there’s no wrong way to do Zumba®; that they just need to have fun and sweat. The newbies I took along with me to class all picked up on that message. Thumbs up, Zumba® instructors!
It’s great exercise in disguise
I often forget I’m even working out, yet I burn about 600 calories per class. Instructors typically don’t break down the steps for you; they just turn on the music and you follow along. The newbies were surprised; they expected Zumba® to be more like a traditional dance class where you learn the steps first and then put them to music; they weren’t expecting it to be such an intense workout.
It really is for everyone
There are different types of classes for men and women of all ages, although the majority of Zumba-ers are female. I only encountered 13 men in the 12 classes I attended, and classes had anywhere from 10 to 40 participants, depending on the location. The Zumba-ers were a diverse mix of ethnicity and age groups. While energy levels seemed to vary from location to location (North Hill World Health has the most energy, by far!), the overall feel to each class was similar.
You’re not expected to look a certain way
But you’re encouraged to embrace the Zumba® attitude: have fun, leave your ego at the door, take an hour for yourself and exercise. The newbies were pleasantly surprised that they didn’t feel judged. They said they didn’t care how silly they looked; they just focused on themselves and had a good time. Zumba® can be great for those who are self-conscious. Ronnie explained that “once you turn on the music, people – no matter their size or fitness level – drop the invisible wall around them and just go with the music,” even those who can’t dance (myself included). No matter how terrible you may think you look, your instructor is there cheering you on.
When asked what they liked most about Zumba®, most people said they appreciated being able to take an hour for themselves to clear their head and de-stress.
You can find a class in Calgary at almost any time of day
Just check out World Health’s class schedule. There’s also a huge Zumba® community outside the traditional classroom; you can find Zumba® fundraisers, master classes and free demos at local events. Follow Zumba® Fitness on Facebook to stay up-to-date.
I believe Zumba® is still so popular because it embraces people for who they are and inspires them to live a healthy lifestyle. In a world full of body shaming, it’s refreshing to know there’s a class out there where people can feel comfortable with themselves. It doesn’t matter what you look like or how you move, as long as you’re having fun and getting exercise. But be warned: you might get a song stuck in your head for days. “La la la la la la… boom, boom! The Zumba® way!”
Article written by Elizabeth Roden, Edgemont World Health member, avid Zumba-er and Royal Roads University master’s student studying Zumba culture in Calgary.