Regulars and Shorts, Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance? Zumba

By Amy Brunvand

Dancing makes your workout fun again.

 “Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil.”
—Oscar Wilde

The three most popular New Year’s resolutions, according to psychological researchers are losing weight, exercising more and quitting smoking. The good news is, the success rate of people who make resolutions is about 10 times higher than people who want to change their behavior but fail to make a resolution.

Even if you are not the resolution type, you’re not out of luck. The researchers also found that having someone (say, a psychological researcher) phone up once in a while to inquire (in a non-judgmental way, of course) about people’s health behavior caused them to significantly clean up their act. Good intentions count, but a little nagging helps.

Two of the resolutions require you to give up arguably pleasurable things like eating or smoking, but it ought to be easy to get more exercise. Sports and recreation are supposedly fun, right? So what’s the problem?

For me, the problem is the gym. If the weather is bad or I don’t have enough time for a hike I head for the gym. But recently, as I found my­self spinning the wheels of a station­ary bike-to-nowhere while watching highlights from a Republican presidential debate on CNN, I realized this is a dreary way to spend time no matter how badly I want my legs in shape for weekend skiing.

This is where Zumba® comes in.

Zumba, an arbitrary, fanciful word selected by Zumba Fitness, LLC, is the original brand name that identifies their dance fitness programs and related products, which essentially consist of aerobic dancing to Latin and World music. But those are just the boring technical details. The actual allure of Zumba is its promise to make going to the gym fun. In order to target-market people like me, they have even trademarked the slogan: Ditch the Workout—Join the Party™.

Apparently it’s working. A search on the website finds an astonishing 713 classes within 25 miles of Salt Lake City including variations like Zumba Gold for old folks, Zumbatomic for kids, and Aqua Zumba for people who like to swim. You can play Zumba video games, read about Zumba in Z-Life magazine and wear Zumba clothes in clashing neon colors with sparkly Zumba graphics splashed across the chest.

Even my gym has a Zumba class. Inevitably, I had to check it out.

About 20 people showed up and only one was male, but he was a notably confident dancer who positioned himself directly in front of the teacher. Other than the gender imbalance, the students seemed less blonde than a typical Utah dance class. I believe part of the genius of Zumba is the deliberately eclectic music; it’s not just for skinny white girls in spandex. Though most students were in grungy sweatpants, a few including the instructor were actually wearing neon-colored Zumba outfits, one printed with the encouraging words, “Feel the music. Let yourself go.”

So after trying a Zumba class, I’m sold. At least, I was sold about half­way through the class when the instructor motioned everyone into a big circle and led a Zumba polka. The part where students tied belly dance scarves with jingly coins on their hips just clinched it. The two big innovations of Zumba over Jane Fonda-style aerobics are real dance moves and music that doesn’t suck. In fact, there is a charming back-story that Alberto “Beto” Perez in­vented Zumba when he forgot to bring ap­propriate disco music to an exercise class he was leading and substituted the Latin mix-tape from his car.

Is it easy to learn? Not really. To keep up with the instructor, you have to know some simple footwork like a basic salsa step and a grape­vine. It also helps to be familiar with a lot of dance styles. Besides drawing from Latin dance, Zumba folds in sources as diverse as African, hip-hop, belly dancing, and Bollywood.

But that’s the charm. You look in the mirror and instead of an overweight sweaty woman on a fake bicycle, you see a dancing Bollywood screen goddess. What’s not to like? 

Amy Brunvand is a librarian at the University of Utah and a dance enthusiast.

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This article was originally published on December 28, 2011.