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Who says exercise can't be fun?

Zumba Fitness turns working out into a party

Created date

December 22nd, 2014
Zumba class
Zumba class

Spend a little time at a health club, a senior center, or a YMCA, and odds are it won’t be long before the infectious beat of up-tempo, highly danceable music fills the air. A few minutes later, you’ll hear whistles, enthusiastic shouts, and claps. It’s the distinctive sound of a Zumba class, the fitness-party workout sensation with fifteen million fans in over 180 countries.

“‘Ditch the Workout—Join the Party!’ is the Zumba slogan,” says Eric Ruiz, one of the top Zumba teachers in Washington, D.C. His classes have been known to attract upwards of one hundred people. “I think that is the draw—having fun first, while also burning calories and building strength. The base moves are drawn from dances one might do on the dance floor—from salsa and merengue to soca and Jamaican dancehall.” 

When Sharon Hurley retired from her job in the federal government, she had more time to devote to fitness. Her gym, Crunch Fitness in Washington, D.C., offered a wide rotation of fitness classes, but Hurley was drawn to the Zumba classes. 

“Someone mentioned that Zumba is great cardio and that it’s fun,” says Hurley. “I thought, if you’re going to exercise and do something healthy, you might as well combine it with fun. Once I started taking it, I just fell in love with it.”

Sure it’s fun, but is it a good workout?

“No one comes away from my class without breaking a sweat,” says Ruiz, who points to an independent study by the American Council on Exercise as proof of Zumba’s efficacy. The study found that Zumba students burned an average of 369 calories per class, which makes it great for those looking to drop a few pounds or maintain their current weight. “Zumba burns more calories than cardio kickboxing, step aerobics, hooping, and power yoga,” he says.

“While it’s a great aerobic exercise, I feel my coordination has improved and my balance has improved,” says Hurley. “I never really did jogging, but when the fitness studio was closed for a while, I got on the treadmill. I really discovered results when I could jog a mile and not get winded. I believe that correlates back to Zumba. It really helped me with cardio.” 

But all those steps seem so complicated

“Zumba is about moving to music—I go left, you go right—it’s okay!” says Ruiz, “as long as participants are moving, enjoying the rhythms and the energy. I make sure that my class has a friendly, positive, and welcoming atmosphere, so people shouldn’t be intimidated at all. The steps are pretty basic, so they come with time, and I do break down some routines during class so folks can see the more complex moves at a slower tempo.”

Hurley recommends that newcomers learn the routines in stages. “It can be overwhelming if you’re trying to get the legs and the arms moving in the same pattern as the instructor,” she says. “So I would start with working the legs because you will get a good workout just working the legs. Once a person gets comfortable, then add the arm movements.”

Zumba empire

There’s a lot more to Zumba than just the basic classes. Since it started in 2001, Zumba Fitness has built a virtual empire, offering a wide array of fitness wear, shoes, DVDs, and music. The program also has nine different  Zumba class options, including Aqua Zumba, which is done in the shallow part of a swimming pool, Zumba Kids, Zumba Toning, and their newest class, Zumba Gold—a program designed especially for active older adults.

“We believe that you are only as old as you feel, and the Zumba Gold program is helping a whole new generation feel young, vibrant, and sexy,” says Alberto Perlman, CEO of Zumba Fitness. “Research shows those who remain active can see tremendous benefits to their health and quality of life. Our growing number of 70- to 90-year-old Zumba fanatics confirms it.”

No matter what Zumba class you is the bottom line. “Because it’s such a festive atmosphere,” says Ruiz, “the class often becomes a social space too. I know many of my students have met in class and become friends. It’s great when they go out together and hear a song from class, they spontaneously start dancing in unison—it’s like an impromptu flash mob!”

For more information or to find a class near you, visit