Linda Jimenez is a first-timer to Zumba. The graduate student wanted to add variety to her workout routine, so when she saw a flyer on campus for the fitness class, she decided to try it. She is about to embark on an experience that has ignited a fitness craze across the United States and the world.
Zumba can best be described as a fusion of Latin and international dance-inspired fitness. According to www.zumba.com, it’s based on the principle that exercise should be fun and easy. Think cardio-aerobics meets steamy South Beach night club. Most people who try Zumba find they are having fun without realizing they’re working out.
The USF Campus Recreation Center offers Zumba classes twice a week, on Fridays and Saturdays. There is no sign-up process, but sneakers and an open mind are a plus.
Melanie Lewis, a junior majoring in exercise science, teaches Zumba on Fridays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. She describes the fitness routine as a party incorporating a wide range of moves.
“You’re going to see some of your merengue, your salsa steps, your mambo,” Lewis said. “But you’re also going to see some, you know, squats, and some shaking your booty and … just fun steps.”
The beat is pronounced enough to thump the hardwood floors of room 107 in the Recreation Center. Lewis’ class has just started, and about 20 people are standing, all eyes directed towards her. Lewis picks a merengue song to set the mood. Most who attend are girls, but a handful of guys have joined them, and all preconceptions end as soon as everyone starts dancing.
Lewis feels Zumba differs from other fitness routines for a couple of reasons.
“I think that people don’t really feel like they’re exercising,” she said. “And it’s just also a great stress-reliever, so it’s going to keep people coming.”
Two friends exchange delighted smiles as Lewis starts shaking her hips, encouraging them to do the same. Most students look excited.
“I’ve seen people run into my class before,” said Lewis.
“I think it’s going to make them feel good, it’s going to give them an hour for themselves to shake what their mom gave them and learn something about a new dance step,” she said. “And of course, get fitness and the health benefits from exercising.”
Nakreshia Causey instructs Zumba on Saturdays from 1-2 p.m. The USF alumnus first took Zumba at a fitness gym, and said she benefited from it. She became certified last year and has been teaching Zumba since.
Causey also describes the class as a party.
“It’s a very high-energy aerobics class full of dance, fun, laughter,” she said.
The music plays at intervals of a few seconds, giving students only moments to breathe before getting into the groove again. Causey doesn’t stop moving, dancing one routine, then switching to the next, all the while yelling encouraging words through her headpiece. There are routines, but they’re easy to follow, and the 20 students learn quickly. Some look at Causey’s feet, replicating her moves, while others stare at themselves in the mirror, deeply concentrating on mastering their routine.
According to Causey, Zumba doesn’t discriminate – it’s for all fitness levels.
“You can go in there and work at your own level, and still get a great workout, burn a lot of calories,” she said. “And it’s just exciting, people don’t realize they’re exercising because they’re having so much fun.”
Causey encourages students to attend the class for reasons that stretch beyond fitness.
“I think it will broaden your horizons culturally, because Zumba has a lot of international styles to it,” she said. “If you haven’t been influenced by a lot of dances, Zumba brings salsa, merengue, cumbia, reggaeton; it brings you a different side of culture, besides from what we already know.”
Marketing and communications senior Elida Molina’s reason for joining Zumba is along those lines.
She said growing up with a Mexican background has fueled her interest in sharing her culture with others – and Zumba allows her the chance to do that.
“I knew that when I came to the first class it incorporated some cumbia, which is a very traditional dance that Mexicans dance, and I haven’t seen a lot of that on campus,” she said. “I thought it would be a good combination to mix something I really really love, which is dancing, and you know, Mexican music.”
Colombian native “Beto” Perez stumbled upon the concept of Latin-inspired fitness. News of his class spread, and after his success in Colombia, Perez brought the class to the United States in 1999.
Along with two entrepreneurs, Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion, Perez created a global company based on his philosophy that exercise should be fun and easy to do. Together, they made up the name “Zumba” and set their goal to offer classes around the world.
As of this September, there are more than 2,000 Zumba instructors.
After the class, Jimenez could describe it in one word: intense.
“It’s high-energy, the music definitely gets you pumped, it kept you moving,” she said. “I’m definitely going to come back.”