Who said exercise can't be fun? A shimmy here, a side-step there and you'll find that music becomes motivational when combined with muscle-toning calorie-burning dance movements. Nothing new here, right?
Meet Zumba, the new workout on the block.
"I've taught everything from spinning to kick boxing and I absolutely love Zumba," said Mary Anne Cappellino, wellness director for the Buffalo Athletic Club. "The Latin music is motivating. It's not tricky, and it combines the sculpting value of a well-rounded exercise class with the fun of dance. You almost feel like you're out having a good time."
What's more? You don't have to be a dancer to do Zumba (ZOOM-ba). Just move naturally to the beat. The workout starts with one small step, and then progresses up the body until all parts are engaged.
"When people realize that they can move their bodies with confidence and without inhibition, it changes the way they walk around life," said Zumba creator Alberto "Beto" Perez. "Zumba inspires you to let go and enjoy. I am happy that people are losing weight. I am happier that they are gaining confidence and better peace of mind."
Perez, a South American fitness star, brought his aerobic exercise to Miami health clubs in 1999, where it caught fire. Since then, more than 2 million DVDs have been sold in more than 30 countries, with more than 2,000 instructors -- including Cappellino -- certified worldwide.
"Life today is really busy and stressful for most people," Perez said. Zumba inspires you to let go and move. You leave your daily life behind and party in the healthiest and most motivating way. Nothing beats that."
Jazzercisers, do not feel left out. There remains a place for you at the fitness table, right next to hip-hop, and across from salsa. That's the beauty of dance as exercise, it keeps step with the times.
> Getting started
Jodi Ross is a gym class rat who will try anything once, and that's all it took for her to fall for Zumba.
"Once you attend the first and second classes, you start picking up the moves," said the 41-year-old mother of two. "I am a class person and I've taught for years in Toronto before moving here two years ago. I draw my energy by being around others.
"This is a surprising workout," Ross added. "You get a warm-up and you start dancing. It's not until mid- to late- class you realize you're sweating. It sneaks up on you and that's why it attracts a diverse crowd."
The word Zumba is derived from a Colombian word meaning to move fast and have fun. At branches of the Buffalo Athletic Club, Zumba classes are offered two to three times a week. They draw women and men who range in age from 30 to 70. No equipment is required. There are no impact moves, a lot of hip rotation. With Zumba, your body's core receives the workout, targeting abs, back, hips and butt.
"The fast and slow rhythms of Zumba offer cardiac and toning benefits," explained Cappellino. "There's a warm-up, a cool-down and a great workout in between. In addition, you exercise the most important muscle in your whole body, your heart."
Zumba pushes the heart rate to its optimum calorie-burning zone and brings it back down again for a sustained level of performance that burns 500 calories or more in a one-hour class. Add the Latin beats of salsa, meringue, cha-cha, and you have the recipe for a heart-pumping exercise. The only ingredient missing, according to one Zumba exerciser, is a mohito.
"I feel energized, sweaty, and later in the day I feel tired," said Ross. "With this class I find no aches or pains. There doesn't seem to be any strain on the joints. It's a free-for-all with a Latin theme."
It's the grand dame of dance-inspired exercise, created in 1969 by a Judi Sheppard Missett, a professional dancer in Evanston, Ill. Jazzercise still has all the right moves, combining elements of jazz dance, resistance training, Pilates, yoga and kick boxing.
"You definitely work up a sweat," said instructor Jan Messner. "And your class becomes an exercise family that burns calories, eases stress and has fun. A lot of people who join stay with it."
Messner -- one of many instructors teaching Jazzercise in the area -- has conducted classes for 15 years, chronicling the years by the pop songs that power her one-hour workouts.
Joss Stone, Michael Buble, KT Tunstall," Messner counted down. "There's a band hellogoodbye that does a song called "Here (In Your Arms)." "I don't know them, but a 16-year-old in my class did. Through Jazzercise, I learn all this new music. It stays with you even when you're not in class."
Don't let the music fool you. Jazzercise is anything but a soft workout incorporating dance moves like shasse, heel-hops, knee lifts and a whole lot of attitude. Messner's heart monitor, worn each class she teaches, records 300 and 500 calories burned per power hour.
A typical Jazzercise class includes:
A warm-up segment comprising gentle rhythmic movements and jazz isolations for individual muscle groups.
An aerobic segment to increase cardiovascular fitness and burn calories.
An aerobic cool-down segment to reduce heart rate.
A muscle-toning segment with weights to strengthen the hips, thighs, butt, abdomen, upper torso and arms.
A final cool-down stretch segment to reduce the heart to normal rate.
"When we teach a class, we always offer a low-impact version, maybe for those with arthritis," Messner said. "We gear it so anyone can come and feel comfortable. I have mothers and daughters. I have women in their 60s and a 16-year-old."
"Hip-hop is like watching MTV, the background of a video," said Patricia Neal, director of Fitness by Dance Spectrum in Depew. " 'So You Think You Can Dance' is full of hip-hop dancers, but some people also choose it as their workout. It increases flexibility, raises heart beat and works on large motor-skill movements."
Just how physical is hip-hop? Push-ups and sit-ups are incorporated into the 10-minute warm-up, which explains why many of the hip-hop classes offered by Dance Spectrum are geared to children and teens.
"It definitely is a way to achieve fitness and it's something that people don't know enough about," said Neal. "It's hard to find G-rated hip-hop songs, but we make sure we use them."
Many workout DVDs -- including Jamie King's "Rock Your Body" and "Nike Rockstar Workout" -- are hip-hop inspired. King -- a celebrity choreographer who has worked with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Rihanna and Prince -- believes hip-hop is a for-all-ages exercise with multiple benefits.
"Can you move? Do you like to listen to music with a strong beat?" King writes in his book "Rock Your Body" (Rodale/$19.95). "Then you're never too old to dance hip-hop -- or any other type of dance for that matter."
Two exercises, recommended in "Rock Your Body" by celebrity trainer Omar Lopez, target your body's core. Here they are:
The Bridge -- Lie on your back with your knees bent and slowly lift your pelvis up and down a few times with your arms at your side.
The Plank -- Lie on your stomach and raise yourself up on your elbows, pulling your navel into your spine to stretch the lower back and keeping your legs on the floor. Still facing the floor, raise yourself up on your elbows and toes, keeping your back flat and your stomach in. Hold the position for 30 seconds. Relax, then repeat.