Zumba rekindles the flame for aerobic exercise

If the word “aerobics” makes you think of a bunch of gals with big hair prancing around in puffy white trainers and pink leotards, think again.

Zumba instructorZumba, a Latin dance-based aerobic workout created by trio of Miami fitness instructors, has taken the fitness world by storm.

After hearing so many endorsements of Zumba by women of all ages, I decided to try it out — and where better than in Southern Florida, the home of all things Zumba?

The Zumba teacher at the East Naples Community Center, Casta Melendez, simply blew me away. She turned on the music, took the stage, and the room went wild. And it couldn’t have been easier. I was able to follow all the moves simply by watching her example. She doesn’t speak during the class, and relies on hand signals and what I can only describe as “whole body” signals. The effectiveness of this technique made me realize how distracting it is to have jazzercise teachers shouting verbal directions that I’m madly trying to decode while moving.

I was intrigued to discover that Casta’s students wear belly dance hip scarves with small coins so they can “hear” the degree to which they are moving their hips. It’s great feedback, as well as colorful, sexy and fun.

Now that I’m back in Seattle, I’m looking to find a Zumba community that’s got an aggressive, guerrilla vibe (think black cargo capris and olive-green racer-back tank tops) and real Latin pop tunes (not the American stuff that’s started creeping in). I’ll keep you posted.

BTW, no matter how much people rave about the exercise value of Zumba, I’d be hesitant to rely on it for anything beyond low-impact cardio. Yes, it burns fat effectively, but you’d need to supplement it with other workouts to strengthen your core, develop flexibility, or get your arms in shape. (A branch of Zumba called Zumba Toning is attempting to address these issues.) The bottom line: enjoy Zumba, but don’t “ditch the workout!”

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