Thursday 23 October 2014

Exercise in disguise

Zumba is a mix of movement and music.

As Ireland's first national Zumbathon approaches, Nathalie Marquez Courtney finds out why Zumba appeals to a huge range of ages

Dance your cares away: Zumba is a mix of movement and musicClass act: (In yellow) Donna Murphy, Zumba Fitness co-ordinator

This April, thousands of hip-shaking Zumba addicts will take to the RDS for Ireland's first ever national Zumbathon, in aid of the Share a Dream foundation. The fun, positive vibe of Zumba will echo the charity's efforts to bring joy and magic to thousands of sick and disabled children across the country.

Zumba instructors from around the country will be bringing their devotees to Dublin to dance alongside world-renowned Zumba instructor Hermann Melo.

Some 1,500 people are expected to attend, raising critical funds for the foundation.

Over the years, the appeal of Zumba has grown, and, surprisingly, so has its credibility in the fitness world. An intoxicating cocktail of latin-inspired beats mixed with cardio workouts, Zumba was at first seen as another contender in a long line of fitness fads. Ten years on however, it has grown into a global lifestyle brand with 14 million people taking classes around the world on a weekly basis.

In Ireland alone there are over 1,000 classes held every week. The are celebrity fans, a colourful Zumba clothing range and the company's CEO Alberto Perlman was named one of the top five CEOs to watch in 2013 by 'Inc Magazine'.

The fun appeal of Zumba is plain to see, but there is more to it than meets the eye. Each class is taught by an energetic instructor against a backdrop of latin sounds designed to get your blood pumping, your sweat pouring and your feel-good endorphins pulsing.

However, beneath the beats a strong dedication to fitness. "It's all based around exercise in disguise," explains Donna Murphy, Ireland's Zumba Fitness co-ordinator.

"You don't feel like you're working out. But you're burning, minimum, 600 to 1,000 calories per class, plus toning."

Even though the routines are based on traditional latin dance styles like Salsa and Merengue or urban styles like Reggaeton, specialised cardio, core and flexibility movements are deeply integrated into every workout.

"Even if you're doing something basic, like a salsa forward and back step, you incorporate a forward lunge at the back," says Donna.

"Or you could do a Samba and do a leg lift, so you'll be working your core muscles and your thigh muscles."

Part of Zumba's success lies in how well it works in group settings and how it can adapt to different fitness levels.

Fitness professionals are often surprised by how much they get out of a session. "I've done training with people who have been fitness professionals for 10 or 15 years," Donna recalls.

"They had disregarded the Zumba Fitness programme and I encouraged a few of them to come and try it – they were on the ground after three songs."

For many, the fringe benefits of dance classes like Zumba can begin to outweigh the reason they signed up in the first place.

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