I had mixed emotions the first time I saw a Zumba video. I felt fear. I felt awe. But mostly I felt jealous. I longed to be there with all those free-spirited Zumba-lovers. I wanted to experience the energy and the passion. I wanted to swing my body to those hoppin’ tunes.
Then I returned to reality. I know my limits in the world of dance and the world of exercise. I tucked my Zumba fantasy into the back of my mind where I could lock it up and forget it.
But it turns out I couldn’t forget. Eventually I screwed up my courage and began to explore the world of Zumba. And you know what? It’s even more fun than it looks.
I’m so sure every woman should give Zumba a try that I sat down and wrote this article. I’ll tell you what a Zumba dance workout is like and how to get ready and what you’ll find when you get there. But mostly, I’ll try to share Zumba’s overwhelming singular attribute: fun.
WTF Is Zumba?
From the outside, Zumba looks like a room full of people competing in a spastic dance competition, frantically trying to keep up with an instructor who seems to have the energy equivalent of a six-pack of Red Bull.
Some people win…and some people (such as myself) just follow along as best they can and hope not to get trampled.
So what’s the appeal? It’s vibrant!
Unlike going to the gym and working out with weights, and unlike solitary evenings at home working out to exercise videos from the 1980s, Zumba is interactive. It’s meant to be shared with others.
Yes, you can fire up a video and try it at home first. I did. But you’ll be missing something important. The essence of the Zumba experience is that you throw yourself into the energetic mass of dancers and become one with the Zumba crowd. Check your self-consciousness at the door and let yourself go.
Zumba was created in the 1990’s by a Colombian man named Alberto Perez. His goal was to combine classic dance moves with the hip-hop dancing that was so popular at the time.
The result is a dance exercise that has swept the nation. Most gyms offer a full schedule of Zumba classes now, and there’s no sign the craze is slowing down.
Dress For Success
Have I piqued your curiosity? Don’t rush to the gym yet. You’re not quite ready for your first class.
Like all exercise programs, Zumba requires that you wear the proper clothing. But the sweats you wear to your ordinary workouts probably won’t do.
If you’re running on a treadmill or jogging through your neighborhood, sweatpants and a loose t-shirt are ideal. But those won’t work for Zumba. You need form-fitting clothes for this exercise.
You’re going to be dancing very fast in close proximity to other people. Loose clothing inhibits your dance movements. (I can tell you from experience that it inhibits dancing more than you think it will.) Long pants that drag on the floor could actually cause someone else to trip and fall.
The best clothing for Zumba is a pair of comfortable, short yoga pants, or maybe some cut-off sweatpants. You need full freedom of movement, so don’t go for anything too restrictive. For instance, some people can comfortably can move freely in leotards or bike shorts. I can’t, so I stick to cut-off sweats.
A t-shirt is fine as long as it is the right size. You don’t want anything too small and tight, and you don’t want a big one that swallows you up.
I know a lot of women wear baggy clothes to the gym because they feel self-conscious about their bodies while working out. That works for some exercise programs, but it’s contrary to the central ethos of Zumba.
Your body is beautiful. I guarantee there are many other women at the gym who have the same body shape and size as you. The more comfortable you are with your body, and the more comfortable you are in your clothing, the happier you’re going to be when the Zumba music starts.
The entire point of Zumba is to be happy, so put on some form-fitting clothes, shake off your inhibits, and smile.
Oh, and Zumba will get you in shape, too. But that’s just a bonus.
Choosing the Perfect shoes
Unlike most exercises, Zumba works best when your shoes don’t have much traction. If you have too much sole you won’t free your soul.
You’re going to be doing some fantastic dance moves, many of which require you to slide across the floor. If your running shoes prevent you from sliding, you’re not going to be very comfortable doing Zumba.
Although Zumba is based on dance, you should leave your dance heels at home. Your tango shoes are not necessary.
I know women who can Zumba quite comfortably and expertly in dance heels, but they’re also professional dancers, which I am not. Unless you’re a pro, skip the heels.
You’ll get your Zumba goove on best in a pair of broken-in sneakers, or maybe a pair of aerobic dance shoes. The most important thing is that your shoes are comfortable and they allow you to move across the floor swiftly and efficiently.
One more thing: Make sure you don’t have any loose shoestrings hanging about. If your shoes have laces, tuck the ends in so they don’t come untied during your class. Flapping laces could cause you to trip or maybe bring down the person next to you. You don’t want that!
Options, Options, Options
I love having lots of options. I am easily amused and just as easily bored, which is one reason Zumba is perfect for me. And it’s perfect for you too, no matter what you like. If you find you don’t like one style of dancing, then you can open yourself up to another style at a different Zumba class.
Not only are there different types of Zumba dance, but there are also classes aimed toward different fitness needs and goals.
One option is to take a Zumba fitness class. Zumba fitness is what most people envision when you say “Zumba.” This is the high-energy class that made this exercise so appealing in the first videos I watched. It’s an all-around dance workout with smooth moves and fantastic music.
If Zumba fitness isn’t for you, you could try Zumba toning or Zumba step.
Zumba toning is the perfect regimen for your arms, abs and thighs. And your ass will look fabulous after this class, I promise. You also get to work with toning sticks, so your workout will have a little extra “oomph.”
Zumba step is the class of choice for women who want to focus on shaping their legs. Think of this as a step-aerobics class with better music and more fun. Get ready to work hard, however, because Zumba step is not for the fainthearted. You’ll feel the burn tomorrow, for sure. Of course, after you see how fab your glutes look, you’ll realize it was all worth it.
Zumba offers many other classes as well. I’ve seen notices for aqua Zumba, chair Zumba, and even a Zumba circuit course that combines Zumba dance with fabulous strength exercises for a total workout that will leave you ferociously fit…the minute you stop gasping for breath and crying for mercy.
What to Expect
Now that you’ve picked out what outfit to wear, which shoes to take with you, and which Zumba class to take, what’s next? What exactly should you expect from your first Zumba class?
The reality is that you can expect to fall down and to feel like you’re the one left behind in dance audition where everyone else has been working with the choreographer for months.
Don’t worry. Everyone feels that way at first. I’m not embarrassed to admit that it took several classes before I started to get the hang of it.
The best way to integrate yourself into the class and become comfortable is to jump right in. I know it seems frightening, especially when everyone else seems to know what they’re doing. But no one’s judging you. They’re too busy trying to keep up with the music and remember the steps.
All these people were beginners once. The only thing separating you from them is a few hours of practice.
Jump in. Try to keep up. If you fall behind, that’s okay! The important thing about Zumba is to stick with it. Don’t give up – just keep on going.
You should be prepared for the high energy level in the room. If you’re a low-key kind of gal, then you’re in for a shock. Zumba is not a “take it easy” kind of exercise. It’s a high spirited, high-energy group experience. These people are the infomercials of the exercise world. Get ready to be taken someplace full of life and energy. And be prepared to sleep well tonight.
Does It Work?
Yes. Zumba works. Decades of testimonials from happy Zumba fans are proof of that.
And that makes perfect sense. Zumba is excellent cardio – after all, you’re in constant full-speed motion. It’s great for your core. And it does the most amazing things for your legs.
It doesn’t stop there. You can pursue Zumba toning and step to sculpt your body and target your trouble spots. A commitment to Zumba will absolutely pay off in great results.
You’ll also have more energy. Maybe not at first. Your first few sessions will leave you completely exhausted. After a few classes, however, you’re going to feel more energized and alive – not just in class, but every day.
Where Can You Zumba?
Just about every city has a place to Zumba. Your local gym will most likely offer some beginner classes. And you can find quite a few Zumba choices at local dance studios or the YMCA.
If you’re shy about dancing in a group setting, start with some YouTube videos. Push the coffee table out of the way and get crazy. You can get a pretty good Zumba workout without leaving home. But that’s only until you’re ready for class. The full benefit of Zumba requires joining a class and sharing the energy with others.
There’s no such thing as a natural in the world of Zumba. You might have a few salsa lessons under your belt. You might be able to do the cha-cha. Maybe you’re an expert jazz hip-hop dancer. But even the best of the best falter the first time they try Zumba.
Don’t be nervous, and don’t be shy. A Zumba dance workout is a great way to get in shape and have lots of fun.
So tell us, have you ever tried Zumba?