Dance your way to fitness

Zumba classes provide a fun workout with some stellar moves.

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I’ve got the perfect solution to the winter blues. If you’re tired of your same old workout and you want a little fun when you work up a sweat, try a Zumba class. You’ll dance an hour away with other folks who want to move to the rhythm of the beat. No dance experience is required, and don’t worry if you think you have two left feet. The point in a Zumba class is to keep moving your body to the inspiring music while you enjoy yourself.

Zumba is an exhilarating aerobic fitness class that primarily uses various styles of Latin American dance and music to get your heart pumping. Each song has its own combination of high- and low-intensity dance moves that boost your cardio endurance. The teachers stand in front, so you pick up the choreography by watching their body and the hand cues. Each short combination is repeated throughout a song so that the more you get the hang of it, the more you can add little flairs of swinging hips and expressive arm gestures, if you like.

One of the fabulous things about Zumba is that every teacher has her or his own style. I took a selection of classes at different locations around the Island, and interviewed the teachers afterward.

Krista Martin’s class at Airport Fitness was a high-energy aerobic workout. As in any class, you can ramp up your heart rate by adding jumps here and there, but you can always stay at ground level, should you prefer. I asked Martin, who’s been teaching for over 30 years, how she got into Zumba. She said, “I’ve always loved to dance. I took some classes in college, but never as a kid or post-college, so aerobics was my dance fix. Zumba appealed to me because it was not only different Latin dance steps but also choreographed to specific songs. I encourage people who think they can’t dance but like to dance to give it a try. There is a learning curve.” I echo her advice “to try getting your feet first. Watch mine, or the person in front of you. Then add arms, and lastly hips, for flair. Or just march, move, or do your own thing as long as you’re safe, sweating, and having fun!”

Although each teacher has a different style, they share the same basics. “As a Zumba Instructor Network member, I get DVDs and CDs every other month with new songs,” Martin explained. “Each song comes with two versions of choreography. I do tend to mix and match and tweak certain moves … I choose songs I like with moves that are fun, doable, and that will get their heart rates up, as our primary goal is to work out and have fun while doing it … I choose to add one or two [new songs] at a time so most of the songs in a class are familiar. Plus, the class loves doing their old favorites.”

Sandy Stone teaches at the Mansion House, and was a professional modern dancer, including with the renowned Paul Taylor Dance Company. She explained that in the beginning, “I started doing just the dances from the [official Zumba] program, and eventually added more of my own renditions, adding more Motown and funk songs. I guess my style might be a lower center of gravity, more work on the legs. I look for music that has a great rhythm or bass line and contrast, which will bring excitement to the dance. I like to add some oldies and explore a new pop song once in awhile.

“I would say that my class is like going out dancing, but I am in the front suggesting moves for you to do. If you don’t want to do what I am doing, it is fine as long as you keep dancing,” Stone said.

I took Jen Maxner’s class at the YMCA. Maxner subs around the Island, and was doing so the day I went to the Y for Julie Meader’s class. I was shocked when Maxner shared with me that she had never danced before taking Zumba, because we were definitely dancing up a storm. “My gym needed a Zumba instructor, and I thought I would step up and ‘take one for the team.’ I walked in knowing nothing — and left realizing that I knew LESS than nothing about Zumba. But I felt something in that workshop that had been missing in every other fitness modality I had experienced: pure, unadulterated joy. It took me six months to feel ready to teach my first class, and another two years before I was very much good at all, but I was not about to give up. There is almost nothing I enjoy more,” Maxner said.

“My only dance training is from Zumba. I follow the [official] Zumba choreography formulas, their class structure suggestions, and consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool Zumba representative. Each instructor brings their own magic to class, and the most important driver of the ride is the music. Because instructors have agency over music selection, this is what differentiates us. I lean heavily on Latin rhythms. My favorites? Salsa, cumbia, and merengue.”

Like the other instructors, Maxner said, “I hear this all the time: ‘I can’t dance.’ It simply isn’t true. You can. I’m proof. Try a few instructors, and see whose music, movement style, and general vibe you can connect with. If you are willing to hang in there for a few classes, you will see that there is method to the madness, and we all can dance.”

Zumba is a great way to strengthen your abs, core, leg muscles, and balance, as well as to focus your mind so the rest of your world slips away.

For class schedules for Zumba, contact the Martha’s Vineyard YMCA at 508-696-7171 or ymcamv.org; Airport Fitness at 508-696-8000 or online at airportfitnessmv.com, or the Mansion House at 508-693-2200 or online at mvmansionhouse.com.