Zumba Rhythms Motivate People to Keep Coming Back

When Columbian aerobics instructor Alberto "Beto" Perez forgot his aerobics music tape one day, he made the best of it. His backpack held another tape—traditional salsa and merengue music popular in Columbia, which Perez had recorded off the radio—so he improvised. Following his moves, students loved the non-traditional workout and Perez knew he was on to something.

Perez moved to the U.S. in 2001, where he eventually found business partners and produced a demonstration video. Zumba ("zoom-ba") was born. The music may include classic Latin or Afro-Caribbean styles (like axé, cha-cha-chá, flamenco, mambo, merengue, reggae, salsa, samba, soca, tango), Indian or Arabic styles (think bhangra and belly dance), or even American hip-hop. The fun, uplifting beat helps motivate participants to keep coming back.

Watch a Zumba Gold class in action at Seattle's Umoja Fest in Judkins Park (instructor Toni Hardy).

Zumba movements are as varied as the music. What? You can't do those moves? Most people can't at first. Participants follow the leader and pick up a few more steps each time. Sometimes they just sway in the right direction and watch the fun!

Zumba offers eight options—different types of classes for different levels of age and ability. While regular Zumba classes are sometimes called "aerobics classes on steroids," Zumba Gold is tailored for older adults. The Gold classes include the same kind of music as Zumba Fitness, and emphasis is placed on toning, strength building, posture, balance, cardiovascular fitness, and—last but not least—socialization. With Zumba Gold, you're less likely to get caught up in a dance that could hurt you.

In July 2012, Consumer Reports said "the fitness-dance craze is great exercise, if you do it right." Their article, 10 Ways to Avoid Zumba Injuries, lists 10 ways to stay safe:

  1. Prepare for class—find a class geared toward your age group.
  2. Find an experienced instructor—find licensed teachers at Zumba.com.
  3. Wear the right shoes—wear soles that allow you to pivot.
  4. Avoid the wrong floors—be wary of concrete, concrete covered with a thin layer of wood, or floors with hard tiles, and carpeted surfaces.
  5. Ditch the crowds—make sure the space is large enough for class participants to move.
  6. Stretch after your workout—when your muscles are warmed up.
  7. Warm up and cool down—raise your body temperature, work your muscles, and then take time to lower your heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature.
  8. Hydrate—bring a bottle of water to drink during class.
  9. Modify those moves—substitute lower-intensity alternatives.
  10. Consult your physician—especially if you have any chronic conditions.

Always consult your doctor before starting a fitness routine. Chances are, even if modifications are necessary, your doctor will be very happy to hear you're going to give Zumba a try. Ask what you should NOT do and take that information to your class. Instructors are very accommodating.

Irene Stewart, a planner at Aging and Disability Services, loves music of all kinds and gets a kick out of participating in Zumba classes from time to time. Most of the time, she participates in distance walking and she completed three half-marathons in the past 12 months.