Zumba: The Happy Pill of Women’s Fitness

I’m a group fitness junkie, but dance-fitness in particular can be a hard sell for me. To be perfectly honest, I’m not very graceful and feel foolish when my footwork is out of sync with everyone else in class. Normally, I choose the no pain, no gain approach and grunt out pushups in boot camp instead of getting fit through dancing.

If I can’t do it right, what’s the point?

This is how I felt until I read an article about U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and realized I was missing something. When questioned about her exercise regimen in the New York Times, Benjamin answered: “I want exercise to be fun; don’t want it to be work…I want us to get back to doing things because they’re fun.”

My grand epiphany from Benjamin’s insight is that dance isn’t work in the same way other fitness disciplines are, and that you can’t worry about getting all the steps right because the most important thing is to let go and enjoy it.

I decided to take the plunge and head over to Red Bean Studios in Manhattan’s neighborhood of Chelsea to experience my first Zumba class taught by Misty Clark of M Dance & Fitness.

Just in case you haven’t heard, Zumba is the hottest dance-fitness trend to hit in years. It’s a Latin-inspired, calorie-burning program of short dance sequences set to an array of international beats, from salsa to bhangra. Launched in 2001 by onetime aerobic instructor, Alberto "Beto" Perez, Zumba is a global movement that’s extremely popular with women.

The word on the street is that once they try it, women get hooked on Zumba, so it’s no surprise that my class is entirely comprised of women. As soon as the music starts, my class is brought to life with the help of the instructor’s easy-to-follow lead. My female counterparts go with the flow, letting their personality and style dictate each move. There’s no strain, no sacrifice and no grunting. The dance sequences are so fluid that mess ups go unnoticed.

After class, Misty tells me that it takes three to four weeks for women to feel completely comfortable with the steps, but she likes to keep the choreography fresh anyway. It’s not about precision or mastery; women find their own groove in Zumba and that’s why they come back. The rhythm and variety of Zumba inspires women to let go of stress, have fun and dance.

Even though Zumba is a great core workout that burns hundreds of calories, women are finding allure in its mood-boosting benefits. This is the main draw for Surgeon General Benjamin, who calls dance exercise “better than most pills.”

For once, fitness is about happiness--not weight loss. This is a huge step in the right direction for health and wellness measures in the US. It’s hard to say no to fitness that’s fun.

Bianca Jade, a fitness trend expert and women's active lifestyle coach, is founder of MizzFit.com, a fitness style guide for women. A former marketing guru, she now rallies women for fitness through fashion. 

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