“Zumba is like a happy drug,” says Mumbai-based Zumba education specialist (ZES) Sucheta Pal. With the official war cry ‘Ditch the Workout, Join the Party’, the dance fitness programme, created by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto Perez in the mid 1990s, does a good job of disguising the horrible exercise-y bits. It doesn’t matter if you have all the grace of a loopy bull, either. “It takes around three classes to get used to the method,” promises Shwetambari Shetty, ZES and co-founder and director of the Bengaluru Tribe Fitness Club.
Merengue, salsa, reggaeton, hip-hop, belly dance, tango and cumbia are some of the forms you foot it to at a Zumba session. “And in India, we add a Bollywood song or two to make it more familiar,” says Shetty. She adds, “It’s an hour-long, full-body cardiovascular activity that engages your arms, upper body, hips and lower body,” with basic aerobics like the step touch, V-step and grapevine thrown in to make sure you tone up while shedding kilos.
If you want to tone down the flourishes and feel like you’re really working for it, sign up for Zumba Sentao, which employs the use of a chair. “Zumba Sentao includes traditional sequences of squats, lunges, push-ups and crunches so it’s an intense routine, and the chair is used to accommodate variations in each step,” says Pal. For example, a medium-intensity step involves placing your body in plank position with your body weight centered at the middle of the chair and your feet kept hip-width apart. “The intensity is taken up a notch if the feet are kept together, and to reduce effort (for beginners), one leg is bent with the knee placed on the chair,” explains Pal.
The intermittent training in Zumba is unique because unlike routines that follow high-intensity-low-intensity training for equal periods of time (cardio for three minutes followed by strength training for 3 minutes), in Zumba, the intervals are not timed equally, and focus enormously on the dance-cardio part of the workout. This combination of slow and fast moves results in sculpted arms, a toned upper body, a flat stomach and muscle strength. “It also improves body co-ordination and agility as you perfect the steps while simultaneously keeping pace with the music,” says Pal.
“Aqua Zumba is a specialty format that bears harder on the body as you are working against two kinds of resistance: gravity and the buoyancy of water,” says Pal. Ironically, it’s also less strenuous than vigorous on-the-floor sessions as water forms a cushion around joints, making it easier for those who are overweight or have joint trouble. “You can try it even if you can’t swim, as water level never rises above the chest,” adds Pal.
To make sure you’ve joined a good class, verify that your instructor is a ZES (a certified expert from the original Florida-based company, Zumba Fitness LLC, started by Perez) or at least a licensed instructor trained by a ZES. “Also, just looking at your teacher should give you a clue,” says Delhi-based Ekaterina Jindal, a licensed Zumba instructor. “An hour of practice burns between 700 and 1,000 calories, and on average, an instructor conducts six classes a week, so she must be fit. It’s the top priority.” Once you find a bona fide class, make sure you wear the right shoes — they should be well-padded and offer ample support to your ankles and knees to absorb the strain of all the jumping and twisting. Find these experts on Zumba.com
Photograph: Damon Baker
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