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Zumba combines salsa, merengue, mambo, flamenco and tango for an exhilarating work-out
Zumba. Everyone's talking about, doing it and loving it.
If you have never heard of it, you may be in a minority. And not just in the UK. Zumba, if the hype is to be believed, is the latest dance-fitness craze to get hips gyrating, arms swaying and bottoms shimmying in gyms, halls and living rooms around the world.
People exercise in different ways and for a variety of reasons. It might be to get fit, de-stress, relax, burn calories. Zumba does all of the above with one very important extra. It puts a smile on your face.
It is nigh on impossible not to enjoy yourself once those funky Latin beats start playing, which is why the ever-expanding movement bears the motto: "Ditch the workout, join the party!"
Zumba classes are now being taught at 60,000 locations in 105 countries. New classes are opening all the time in the UK and similar sessions run in more than 20 towns across Israel. In Florida there is even a sub-movement called Zumba Chai, an women-only alternative for the Orthodox community. Here in the UK there are about 2,000 instructors running more than 5,000 classes a week.
So what is all the fuss about?
Zumba came about by accident. Dancer and choreographer Alberto "Beto" Perez stumbled upon the concept of Latin-inspired dance-fitness while he was teaching in his native Colombia in the mid-1990s. Beto, who has choreographed a host of popular performers including fellow Colombian star Shakira, turned up to an aerobics class only to realise he had forgotten his music.
Improvising, he pulled out some tapes of traditional Latin salsa and merengue music from his bag. It was a challenge to teach a whole class without the normal music, but Beto managed. The class proved a hit, then grew and grew in popularity.
Zumba includes popular moves from a variety of Latin dances including salsa, merengue, mambo, flamenco and tango. But there are other influences too, as it also borrows from belly dancing, hip hop and bhangra.
I like to keep fit, but sometimes find it hard to motivate myself to go to the gym. The endless stair-machines and all that running and cycling to stand still - it has never really been my thing. I invariably forget to bring my headphones and find myself staring at a mute TV screen, counting down the minutes. Fun it is not.
When the buzz surrounding Zumba reached me, I had to give it a go. Though no experience is necessary, I did not come to this completely blind. I attended a couple of salsa classes in the early noughties and won a prestigious bronze medal for my disco dancing back in 1984. Sadly, my promising dancing career was cut brutally short by the arrival of my three lovely sons.
But none of that matters as the music gets me - and everyone else in the crowded studio - moving to the beat straight away. I am transfixed by the oh-so-cool instructor, who effortlessly moves like the aforementioned pop babe Shakira. Initially I am a little self-conscious about emulating her booty-shakes and pelvic thrusts, but who cares when everyone is at it. I look around, grinning, and notice that everyone else seems to be in equally good form. The only problem is I am 20 times redder than anyone else - proof there is more to Zumba than just a bit of fun.
"Zumba is a class that suits all," says Caroline Parsons, an instructor and one of the movement's educational co-ordinators in the UK. "People work really hard without realising it as they are having such a good time."
The routines feature interval training sessions where fast and slow rhythms and resistance training are combined to tone and sculpt your body while burning fat.
"You don't need a partner to come to Zumba," says Caroline. "The instructor is, in essence, your partner. It makes dance more accessible to men and women and of all ages. In some of my classes I have pupils from 16 right through to their mid-70s."
She adds: "Some say it's another fitness fad. It's not. Dance is one of those things that people just love to do and we have turned it into a fitness programme. It's the fun and enjoyment that keeps people coming back."
There is now a range of classes available: Zumba Gold (for the more mature enthusiast), Zumbatomic (for children), and Aqua Zumba (at selected swimming pools). If you cannot find a class near you. you can bring a bit of Latin fever into your lounge by ordering a Zumba DVD online.