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Zumba Shakes the Monotony Out of Ordinary Aerobics Classes

By Amber Parcher
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, July 31, 2008

Exercisers don't have to swivel their hips and shake their buns to get a good workout, but it sure can be fun.

That's why about 30 women gather faithfully once a week at the Washington Sports Club in Silver Spring. Unlike the stone-faced treadmill runners, these women are laughing and smiling, even though they know they're about to be drenched in sweat.

They are drawn by a 55-minute aerobic dance class called Zumba, an exercise with roots in Colombia.

Instructor Tanya Nuchols said Zumba is a fresh take on the monotony of traditional aerobics classes. It combines Latin-flavored music and traditional dance moves from salsa, tango and merengue with aerobics to keep people moving and shaking while they're body sculpting.

"There's stretching, there's toning movements and a lot of shimmy, shaky, spicy movements that add to the fun factor and burning calories," she said.

And that fun factor brings people back.

"It's supposed to be like a party," Nuchols said.

Zumba was created in the mid-1990s by Alberto Perez, a Colombian celebrity fitness trainer who one day forgot to bring the music he usually used to teach aerobics and improvised the class using the Latin music he had in his car.

Six years after arriving in gyms across the United States, Zumba is growing, said Alberto Perlman, chief executive of the Hollywood, Fla.-based Zumba Fitness, which sells Zumba videos and products. The company was co-founded by Perlman, Perez and entrepreneur Alberto Aghion.

Perlman said about 4 million people in 40 countries are taking the class, and 20,000 instructors have been trained to teach it.

The craze is expanding beyond gyms, as well. A clothing line was launched in the fall, and Zumba for children, Zumbatomic, will start in January, Perlman said.

Once instructors are trained in Zumba, they can teach at whatever fitness club they want, a representative said. Zumba does not charge licensing fees.

The class has become one of the most popular at the Silver Spring gym, said Shannon Gassaway, the club's customer care manager.

"It's the hottest thing on the schedule," she said.

Zumba is Spanish slang for "to move fast and have fun." The women taking Nuchols's class said it's accurately named.

"It's engaging and so exuberating," said District resident Brenda Harrison. "You're shaking your hips, which you typically don't do."

Khalila White said she loves being able to dance her way to a healthier body.

"It's a quick workout. You really burn calories. You will be drenched, soaking at the end of the class," said White, also of the District.

During the first song at a recent workout, White, Harrison and their classmates did the cha-cha while swinging their arms in a Spanish flamenco movement.

When Nuchols finished the song with her hands pointed emphatically to the ceiling, everyone clapped. Some people let out yells as they reached for their water bottles and wiped their brows.

Nancy Nickell of Silver Spring, who was sweating through her second class, said it's not necessary to know any dance moves to participate.

"It's not intimidating," she said. "I think that's part of the appeal."

Nuchols said the class, which keeps everyone's heart rate up for an hour and can burn from 500 to 800 calories, is for people of all fitness levels.

"It's not like we're auditioning for a video; we're just here to have fun," she said. "As long as they're moving and having fun, there's no really wrong way to Zumba."

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