When I first heard a Czech friend talking about what a workout she had with “Zumba,” I mistakenly assumed she was referring to the last name of her aerobics instructor. I didn’t think another thing about it until a few nights ago, when I got an invitation from a friend to join a Zumba class in a neighboring village. My friend didn’t give me many details about the class, other than telling me that the CZK 50 price was a steal and that I should bring a water bottle and be ready for a good laugh. I was intrigued.
I’m usually not the type to favor organized exercise classes. If I’m going to sweat, I’d rather go running or bike outdoors. But with darkness descending sooner these days, I jumped at the chance to try something new and to get out of the house. On Sunday night about 30 of us packed into a community room above the village pub.
Although when we had arrived, the room had been ice cold, within minutes my glasses were steamy. I tried in vain to see our instructor’s fast-moving legs and arms at the front of the room. Luckily most of the women in the rows ahead of me had the steps down pat, so it was easy to find someone to follow. As we danced through a variety of pop-songs and Latin-influenced music, I was surprised at how catching the rhythms and movements were. I recognized salsa, belly dancing and samba moves, and the class reminded me of a fast-paced version of the Bollywood dancing classes that my daughter Anna attends. Before the class was even half way through I’d already guzzled my water bottle and felt a pleasant burning in my legs. By the time class ended with a slower, cool down song, my body was totally spent. But overall, I felt more energized than I had in years.
For the price, it was indeed a great deal and an excellent workout. I’d had a few laughs when my legs got tangled and I couldn’t keep up, but the atmosphere in the room was congenial and it felt good to exercise with a group of women. I resolved to try Zumba again the following week. In fact, earlier this fall I had received an email from another friend publicizing a “Fantastic Dance Fitness Class,” taught in English at a family center in Prague. Although it didn’t called the class by name, when I reread the course description it sounded identical to the Zumba class that I’d just taken: “We use our whole body dancing with steps of salsa, samba (Brazil), cumbia (Mexican and Columbian), reggaeton (Latin American) and belly dance as well…The class is a fusion of Latin rhythms and workout so we can lose weight, shake the stress away and have fun.”
From the internet, I learned that Zumba® is a trademarked fitness program that was started by Colombian aerobics instructor “Beto” Perez in the mid-90s when he forgot his regular workout music and had to create new aerobic routines to the Latin salsa and meringue music that he had in his car. His new classes were such a huge success that Perez brought them to the US in 2000. There he linked up with entrepreneurs and they began to market the trademarked program internationally. According to the Zumba fitness US website that I perused, the program is currently being taught at over 90,000 locations in 110 countries and has 10 million participants taking Zumba classes every week.
Whether or not these statistics are inflated, it is true that once I began looking, I found Zumba courses in abundance throughout the Czech Republic, including variations such as Aqua Zumba, Zumba Toning, Zumba Gold (for active older people) and Zumbatomic (for children). Fitness centers in Prague offer Zumba along with their traditional aerobics classes, and on many of the centers’ websites, Zumba classes were the most numerous, outnumbering even salsa and yoga. Zumba may be old news in the US, where it was featured on the Today Show back in October of 2007, but when I talked with a Zumba instructor in Prague, she told me that Zumba has really become a trend in the past two years in Prague. Before that, no one had even heard of it. She herself learned the Zumba philosophy in Mexico and has recently begun to teach the dance classes in Prague.
After my initial Zumba class in the village, I decided to try the Fantastic Dance Fitness Class that I’d heard about via email earlier in the fall. During this class, I had the benefit of getting a better inside look at some of the individual dance steps and the unique dance types that comprise a typical Zumba workout. Our instructor knew that most of us were beginners, so she took the time to teach us basic dance steps from salsa, samba and meringue before she moved on to incorporate them into a dance workout. We spent a good portion of the class learning to move our hips and were instructed not to forget our arms. We needed “sexy” arms for Zumba our teacher declared, only half-joking. Whether or not any of us filled the part of “sexy,” I know that my second experience with Zumba was just as engaging, and sweaty, as the first one had been. Although I’ve tried yoga and Pilates classes in the past and also enjoyed them, the fast-paced, peppy Zumba fitness class seems well-suited to my current exercises needs as the mother of three young kids. It has put some rhythm back into my routine, and it’s a great excuse to devote at least an hour weekly to something that’s good for my body. And then there is the groovy music to listen to at the same time.