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What to Expect: Zumba

fitness, sport, training, gym and lifestyle concept - beautifulI remember the first Zumba class I ever witnessed. My gym has a large instruction room with a window that lets the whole gym look inside, and I recall feeling the thumping beat through my sneakers while watching a large group of women (and a few men) — all ages, sizes, colors and ability levels — go through some intricate choreography consisting of shimmying shoulders, sassy hips, high fives and lots of “Woots!”

I immediately knew I had to try it.

The friend I was with knew just as quickly that she would never set foot in the class.

Zumba’s appeal, to me, is that it’s a way to burn quite a few calories while having a really good time. You’re not supposed to suffer in Zumba. You’re not supposed to push yourself to the point of  groaning with pain and discomfort. You’re just supposed to dance — and if you dance hard enough, you’ll get in a workout that’s just as tough as some of those workouts that pride themselves on pushing the limits of what you can endure.

Of course, if you hate to dance and would rather follow a lemming off a cliff than follow an instructor’s choreography, I suppose this could push those limits for you.

Like pretty much every type of workout you’ll ever try, Zumba is not for everyone. But, I do feel strongly that, if you’ve ever found yourself tapping your toes to a beat, you ought to at least give it a try. What do you have to lose?


Zumba: What to Know Before You Go

1. There’s a wide variety of Zumba classes, so you can pick and choose one that appeals most to you. Although it started out with mostly Latin or Latin-inspired music, you can now find classes that incorporate all kinds of danceable tunes. My favorite classes usually mix in some hip hop. And it’s not just the music that’s varied — there’s aqua Zumba, Zumba for kids, Zumba for seniors, Zumba that incorporates strength work … the list goes on.

2. Some people will know the routines cold. People often become very attached to a specific class and teacher, so they know every routine as well as a Rockette. There might even be regulars who the instructor calls out by name to join her in leading certain routines. Don’t let this intimidate you! Remember, with a few classes under your belt, that could be you, too … if you want.

3. You’ll miss some steps … and you won’t be the only one. I’ve never been to a class where I’m the only one unfamiliar with the choreography. And, let’s be honest — sometimes, someone might be completely familiar with it, but just a little shaky with the execution. But you know what? That’s completely fine! The whole point is to go in, have a good time, and work up a sweat. You don’t have to be hitting all your marks on the beat to do that!

4. You’ll work hard. The first class with a new instructor is always the toughest for me, not just mentally, but physically. When you don’t remember what moves are coming next, you’re constantly rearranging your body to get in the right position, and that uses a whole slew of muscles that rarely see the light of day. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve put in an enormous effort, chances are you’ll at least feel it a little bit the next day.

5. All kinds of people will show up. You’ll see ladies decked out in crop tops with Zumba logos and guys (yes, really!) who came straight from the weight room. Seniors in high school might find themselves next to seniors … in life. The diversity is part of what makes Zumba so great!

6. The cuing might take some getting used to. If you’re used to taking a class like step aerobics where the instructor calls out every move, you’ll probably find Zumba to be a bit different. Routines are based on the music rather than a set count, so you’ll do the same moves every time the chorus plays, with other moves taking place the rest of the song. And the instructor might or might not call things out — she might signal or clap instead, so, as you’re learning the moves, you’ll need to keep your eye on her as much as possible. But, remember No. 3 — if you miss a step, it seriously doesn’t matter.

7. People will “woot!” It’s okay if you don’t want to — nobody is going to force you to hoot or holler or clap or anything. But know that it’s going to happen around you, so if you want to join in, go for it!

8. You’ll find yourself grinning like a fool. The fun of these classes is infectious, and I have never left a class without smiling so big it hurt. People generally go in ready to have a good time and leave their self consciousness at the door, making it a safe space to really let loose in a way that feels good to you.

Have you ever tried Zumba? Did you love it? Did I miss anything  you’d point out to a newbie? —Kristen

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  1. chanelle says:

    I have never tried zumba, but this makes me more willing to give it a go!

  2. Jayne Karbula says:

    You described it perfectly. Have been shaking it for a couple of years and have found that to get a good cardio workout you need to put effort into it. But I love it and have found that the group I am in with are fun loving people and we have a great time. (And to clarify your point….if you don’t get the move, just keep moving. I have to be creative at times.:))

  3. I’ve tried it a few times but I can’t keep up with the moves. It’s so sad because I want to like it! 🙁

  4. Kristen says:

    I love Zumba! It was the first group ex class I tried, and it got me hooked into others (step, total body etc). But Zumba will always be my favorite. There is nothing like an hour of cardio that feels like a party! It always puts me in a great mood. I will say that it took me a LONG time to keep up with the moves. I have zero dance background, and could not figure out the steps (or how to move my hips like that) for a long time. I just kept going with a good attitude, and now I’m one of those annoying people the instructor calls on to lead the class when her shoe comes untied. 🙂

  5. Laura says:

    Excellent article…I started taking Zumba (R) Fitness classes 3 years ago after a spike in my blood pressure sent me to the emergency room during my work shift. SOMETHING had to be done! The first class I walked into was full and I found a spot in the far back corner of the room–closest to the locker rooms. After half a song, I walked out…intimidated and crushed, as well as completely out of breath. I came back the next night, with a different instructor, and made it through half the class before I said ‘NO MORE” and left. Then I said there’s another instructor who I have yet to try at my gym, so the next time I went to her class….LOVED it! That was January 2011. In Sept 2012, me and a friend drove to NC, and I became licensed to teach Zumba (r) Fitness, and now teach at the gym where I fell in love with the class. I am also licensed to teach Zumba Kids & Kids Jr, Zumba Gold, and Zumba Step, and eagerly await each release of Zumba apparel because the clothes we wear bring so much attitude to the class and moves. I urge each of you who have thought about a Zumba class to be open and willing to try more than one instructor..we are ALL different, with our flares, moves and presentation. And remember, there’s not a person alive who learned to walk the first time they tried it. We all fell down on our diaper bottoms before succeeding…it’s no different with Zumba. Just gotta KEEP COMING and keep MOVING!

  6. Jeannette Gober says:

    I love my Zumba classes on Monday and Wednesday …. fun exercise I’ve been taking classes a year in March. I always feel better after a class and into the next day. I don’t think I can stop, it’s habit forming….I’m deaf but have a cochlear implant and can feel the beat and hear the bass so it works for me.

  7. Grace George says:

    You couldn’t have said this any better! I took my first Zumba class a little over a year ago. I was AWFUL! As a retired gymnast, I was used to being clean and crisp, while dance is soft and flowing. My friend didn’t let me give up after the first class and I owe her the world for that. It takes some time to get used to, so if you are trying Zumba for the first time, give it at least 4 classes. Also, try out different instructors! I am now teaching my own Zumba classes at Ohio State and I can honestly say no two instructors here have similar styles. That’s the beauty of it! If you don’t like one, there is always another who will compliment you better! One last suggestion, get to know some of the other people in the class. Not only will they hold you accountable for coming, but it is much more enjoyable when you know the people you are dancing with. If one of you messes up you can just look at each other and laugh! I still mess up as an instructor so just keep moving and have fun!!

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