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Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 07:15 pm

A dash of salsa in the gym

Meet Zumba, a fusion of Latin dance and floor aerobics

Debbie Lim teaches a new dance during a Zumba fitness class.
PHOTO BY Andre Jackson/MCT

You feel it in the pit of your stomach first: a thumping Latin beat that makes your insides shake and your heel start tapping.

But by the end of the hour, you feel Zumba everywhere: your heaving lungs, your pulsing stomach muscles, your swinging shoulders.

“It truly feels like you’re dancing with your friends,” said Lori Fera, 24, of Farmington Hills, Mich. She loves Zumba classes so much she’s training to be an instructor. “Everyone’s laughing and talking and having a good time. I started going to it and got addicted.”

Zumba is a hot fusion of Latin dance and floor aerobics, and it’s hitting fitness clubs and YMCAs and recreation centers in Springfield and many other cities. Invented in Colombia in the 1990s when aerobics instructor Beto Perez forgot his music and had to use the salsa tapes he had in his car, Zumba invaded the United States in 1999. It’s not quite a dance class, not quite aerobics, but something very fast-paced and hip-heavy in between.

The moves are Latin-inspired, sometimes downright sexy and fun to do and watch.

“The Zumba class is like exercise plus having fun,” said 45-year-old Eleanor Trice of Garden City, Mich., who started taking Zumba as something to do with her two sisters. They’ve stuck with it ever since. “I love it. You sweat. It’s a very good workout.”

“The energy is super-high,” said Christina Brown, 25. “Everybody has a really great time and enjoys themselves, even if they don’t know the steps.”

In practice, Zumba is like an interval workout, said instructor Debbie Lim: You alternate high impact with low, and the enforced breaks of a couple of seconds between songs give people a chance to rest briefly.

Steven Keteyian, program director of preventive cardiology at Henry Ford Hospital, said the classes are appropriate for men younger than 40-45 and women younger than 50-55 who don’t have any health risks.

If you’re older, or have pre-existing conditions — back pain, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, history of stroke or heart disease — you know the drill. Check with your doctor first.

“People tend to know what things bother them or not,” Keteyian said. “The class is for people looking for a better workout. It’s a lot different than an easy-moving water aerobics class, or getting started walking.”

Participants agree: Zumba is a killer workout. But they say it’s not like a straightforward, hard-core high-impact aerobics or kickboxing class.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re working out,” Fera said. “Everyone at my day job makes fun of me because I’m always cha-chaing around. I feel really good, and I have a lot more energy. There’s days when I come in from a very stressful work week and right when the music hits, it melts away. You can’t not have a good time.”

She’s always been an active person, but her opportunities to move around dried up after she left college two years ago, she said. So she’d been on the hunt for something new to do to keep fit.

“On my own, I was trying to work out. But it’s hard to stay motivated,” she said. “I truly do love going to these classes. Once you go to three classes, you get the steps down. I get really into it and exaggerate the moves and I am just sweating. It’s a good workout for your core. With the Latin moves, you’re really using your hips. At the end of 45 minutes, I am ready for bed.”

“Zumba was new to me,” Lim recalled. “I was getting bored of the same routines. I had to concentrate, to learn new routines, new songs. It brought back a lot of my inspiration. I’m happier now.”

That doesn’t mean she liked it when she first tried it, however. Lim’s first exposure to the new fitness routine was when she had an instructor on as a guest on her local-access cable TV show, “Fitness Motivators.”

“I said `Oh, my god, I feel stupid doing this,’” Lim said, laughing. In her role as an instructor, Zumba was a whole new dance. Instead of one continuous soundtrack, she had to compose routines to individual tracks, keeping with the classes’ dance-party feel. “It was extremely difficult for me to get used to it. I didn’t like it at first. It was intense. But then I got to know it. You get used to the Latin music.”

Ditch the workout and join the party

That’s what local fitness instructor Jill Kennedy-Broughton’s saying about Zumba, a fun and flavorful Latin dance/aerobics class. Her team of instructors at Aerobics by Jill teach various levels of Zumba, including Zumba Mix with arm weights and Zumba Gold for seniors, at six locations around Springfield, including the Nelson Center and the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

Catch Broughton’s classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings or Saturday mornings at First United Methodist Church West. For other times, instructors, and class fees, click on fitness & health at www.itsallaboutchange.com.

Zumba novices can salsa into shape at the FitClub, offering beginner-level, low-impact classes at each of its three locations seven days a week. It’s included in membership, but local non-members can use guest passes to try Zumba for free. Visit FitClub North, 2701 E. Sangamon Ave.; FitClub South, 3631 S. Sixth St.; or FitClub West, 2811 W. Lawrence, or www.fitclub.net for class times.

Springfield’s YMCA offers another happenin’ home to the fitness craze. Dancers choose from classic Zumba, the faster-paced Zumba Rapido, or the torso-twisting, ab-enhancing Zumba Sculpt. Try evening classes on Monday and Wednesday or wake up with the 5:45 a.m. early-bird class on Thursday. Classes are free for members; class fees for non-members and other information is available at www.springfieldymca.org. —Amanda Robert

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