Hip & Healthy: My First Zumba Class

Kara Fox

About four years ago, I stole my mom’s Zumba®  workout DVD and never gave it back.  Every once in a while I'll pop the DVD in and do the Latin-inspired, dance-based aerobic workout in the privacy of my apartment -- it's not only a great workout, but it’s so fun.

After a year of seeing the number of Zumba classes skyrocket in the city, I finally decided last week to try out a real live class at M Dance and Fitness.

The class was packed and began by diving right in to the moves: Misty, the instructor and founder of M Dance and Fitness, turned up the music, took her place front and center in the class, and just started dancing. Everyone followed right along. Clearly they had done this before.

I did my best to keep up with the fast-paced dance series. Fortunately, the class is based in classic salsa, cumby, mambo, merengue and hip hop steps, so just having a rudimentary knowledge of Latin dance -- the kind you get from watching dance contest shows on TV -- was helpful.

The first three sequences went quickly as we mamboed and circled our hips to the salsa music.  But after those steps, Misty changed the music and started teaching new material,  providing a little more instruction and counting the beats and repetitions for us. I didn’t worry too much about getting the movements perfectly: Zumba seemed to be more about enjoying the class and letting go.

The class reflected a wide range of dancing abilities. Some students were clearly dancers and could shake their hips and mambo like they were born doing it. My body needed a little more convincing to move with rhythm and spice. To my surprise, I found myself getting more energized as the class went on and I began to  feel comfortable adding a little of my own flair to some of the movements.

One nice thing about Zumba is that you can make it less intense by staying lower to the ground and keeping the movement small and basic.  At points, I really ramped up the workout by bending lower as I mamboed back and forth or jumped into the air.  Zumba uses almost as much arm as leg -- your shoulders and arms add energy and style to the steps, so you pack a lot of punch into each movement.  Each song was a different  sequence of steps that drew from different forms of dance, so we were constantly moving in new ways and never had a chance to get bored.

I would have welcomed some more intensity to really work up a sweat -- I expected a little more of the aerobic influence that Zumba often incorporates in the form of lunges, squats and standing ab work. But overall, it was a satisfying dance class and I enjoyed it.

Zumba is the most popular class offered at M Dance and Fitness, followed closely by hip hop. “Zumba wins people over because they have such a blast dancing that they forget they're working out," Misty told me after the class. “I've never had anyone who didn't enjoy themselves and feel great afterwards. It's a very inviting atmosphere. Everyone comes to sweat and have a good time.” The workout purports to burn up to 500 calories an hour.

Zumba’s motto is “lose the workout, join the party.” I’d say, mission accomplished.

A few tips if you want to try Zumba at M Dance and Fitness:

  • Arrive early to ensure you get a good space on the floor. The class will be full! 
  • Come ready to go. There is a small changing space, but most students arrive and leave in their workout wear.
  • Don’t be intimidated. Dance classes can be overwhelming, but this class welcomes students of all dance and fitness levels -- egos are checked at the door and you will learn as you go.
  • If you still have reservations about busting out your mambo, be on the look out for Misty’s how-to classes, which break down the most popular steps and give you tips for maximizing your workout.

Melissa is a NYC resident and workout junkie. She keeps motivated to stay fit and active by trying out new workout classes, signing up for races, and keeping an eye out for a fun fitness challenge. She hopes to complete the New York City Marathon for the second time in 2011. Read more about her healthy adventures in New York City at her blog fitnessnyc.wordpress.com.

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