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Article by Julie Lake

Let's face it. We all want to get into shape and be healthy, but sometimes working out on the same gym equipment everyday can become drudgery.  Enter Zumba, the latest fitness program that is more like a party than a workout.

In the mid-1990s, in Columbia, South America, dancer/trainer "Beto" Perez walked into his aerobics class and realized he had forgotten his music. The only thing that he had was the music in his car that was comprised of  traditional Latin Salsa and Merengue music which he loved and on which he was raised.  Put on the spot, he improvised a one-hour aerobics class using non-traditional aerobics music and Latin dance steps instead of typical aerobics music and moves. Beto's class quickly became the most popular class in Columbia.  From his last-minute improvisation, a revolutionary fitness program was born.  He called it "Rumbacize."

In 1999, Beto moved to the United States. There he met Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion, two Columbian entrepreneurs who convinced him to change the name from "Rumbacize" to "Zumba" and begin to market his fitness philosophy worldwide. Zumba combines traditional Latin dance music with traditional Latin dance steps such as Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia, Vallenato, Sambra, Calypso, and even belly dancing to create a total body workout that is high energy and fun to do.  The Zumba craze has continued to spread across the United States and can be found in many countries around the world as well. By 2008, the fitness company Zumba listed more than 20,000 certified instructors and DVD sales of over 3 million.

Fitness instructors, among them Sarah Fechter of Saginaw, MI, and Beth Trahan of Bay City, MI, heard about the latest fitness craze that has been sweeping the nation and decided to become certified Zumba instructors.  Fechter, who earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science from Saginaw Valley State University in 2007 and has been in the fitness  industry for 9 years, says, "I ultimately do it (Zumba) for a workout, but it rarely feels like one." In addition to being a class instructor, she has been a personal trainer for 8 years. Of those classes, "Zumba is my fav," she says with a smile. To be certified,  each instructor has to attend a certification class to learn teaching techniques, as well as the Latin music and dance moves needed. Fechter took her first classes in how to teach Zumba in Auburn Hills, MI, but she plans to build on her Zumba training by attending a 4-day Zumba convention in Orlando, FL, in September. There she expects to learn about Zumba toning, a form a Zumba that adds a toning workout to the current Zumba routine.

Like Fechter, Beth Trahan has been involved in the fitness business some time, in her case 25 years. Trahan, the former fitness director of the YWCA of Bay County, which closed its doors in 2009,  is a certified Zumba instructor as well as a personal trainer. She became interested in Zumba because, she explains,  "at the time I was at the Y and wanting to add something new to the classes already offered." Because Zumba seemed like it would fit the bill, she took a one-day Zumba teaching certification class. Trahan is currently a traveling fitness instructor and holds classes around the Bay City area.

Although Saginaw personal trainer and fitness instructor Kristin Charboneau also teaches Zumba, she reminds enthusiasts that it's not a cure-all. In fact, based on the results of her own experiments, she asserts that the calorie-burning rates are often exaggerated in the ads for Zumba programs. "Zumba should be combined with other types of workouts, like kick boxing or step aerobics, for an overall fitness program," Charboneau says, adding, "Don't forget good nutritional habits, either." Zumba can easily serve as one component in a larger program, Charboneau agrees, and because the music is lively and the moves fun, it attracts people who might otherwise not exercise, but expectations for weight loss need a reality check. Certainly, if Zumba encourages a couch potato to become an avid exerciser, that's a valuable step in any healthy lifestyle program.

Zumba is a fun, fast-paced, non-traditional workout, so it's not surprising that many different venues across the Saginaw Bay area offer classes. These include Curves in Bay City (with Beth Trahan on Monday at 5:15 p.m. and Thursday at 5:45 p.m.), and beginning on September 9, 2009,  at Arrowwood Elementary School in Saginaw (with Sarah Fechter, every Sunday at 5 p.m.)  There is a fee for some classes, so call ahead for information.  There is also information on finding a class at www.zumba.com, which lists only instructors who pay to register at the site, or on Sarah Fechter’s website www.sarahfechter.com. Feel free to email Kristin Charboneau at getfit[at]bodyfitpros.com for information about her course offerings. Good luck and happy Zumba-ing!

© Julie Lake, 2009