Zumba Brings Fitness, Fun and Friendship to the Gym

By Sylvester Arenas

Zumba Fitness. Many people have no idea what it is: a workout regimen whose fast and hard Latin rhythms helps tone and sculpt your body through dance.

Zumba has been around for about 11 years, but has only recently caught on a basic fitness routine, a one-hour cardiovascular sweat-a-thon that fuses simple dance moves from salsa, merengue, cumbia and reggaeton.

Alberto Perez, a Colombian fitness instructor, invented Zumba in Colombia in 1999: after leaving his regular fitness cassettes at home, he substituted music cassettes from his car for a workout class, so the story goes.

And his class enjoyed it so much he decided to create a workout using the different rhythms of Latin music. The rest is Zumba history.

Evelyn Derobertis, an ESL teacher in Mount Vernon, says she began looking for Zumba classes when the Crunch gym she’d been a member of for 10 years became pricey. “They did me the biggest favor in the world; they raised their rates,” she says. “One day I passed by here and I saw Zumba, that’s how I ended up here.”

“Here” is Tribeca Health and Fitness, at 107 Chambers St. in Lower Manhattan, three blocks from City Hall. Michael Sperber, part owner and operator, says he’s been there since it opened almost three years ago.
Yuli Smith, a Zumba instructor at Tribeca, says most clubs offer classes free to members or give them a discount. But Sperber says he charges members and non-members the same, $15 a class. He’s been offering Zumba “probably since August,” he says, and it has brought the club new members, though he says he isn’t sure how many.

Derobertis says Zumba offers something that other exercise routines, like yoga and Pilates, don’t. “I love Pilates and yoga; yoga’s for mental and Pilates builds your core, but Zumba is fun,” she says. “It builds your core, it builds everything. And it makes you sweat, and I love to sweat.”

After a workout one day recently, the Zumba enthusiasts were smiling. “The hour moves by really fast,” Derobertis says. “I think it’s the best!”

Some Zumba enthusiasts say it’s “euphoric and addictive.”

“You get like a high,” says Judith Miraglia, who worked for 16 years as a secretary at a law firm and says she does other cardio workouts, including treadmills six times a week. With Zumba, she says, “Your adrenaline just zooms up, its euphoric. I don’t even look at the clock.”

Smith has been leading Zumba classes on Saturdays for almost two months, and she says qualifying as an instructor was not difficult – a one-day, eight-hour class costing $240.

According to www.zumba.com, in beginner’s Zumba, called Zumba Basic 1, “you will learn the steps to four basic rhythms” – merengue, salsa, cumbia, reggaeton.

Then, the site says, you are taught how to incorporate them into a song and create your first Zumba class. With this, the site says, you become certified as a licensed instructor for one year.

Though a man created Zumba, no men were in evidence at the Tribeca studio. Smith says a male friend told her he didn’t want to “look like a fool in front of women,” because he didn’t know the moves. Derobertis says her husband says “I don’t look good” when doing Zumba. Evelyn Rodriguez, a 29-year-old teacher’s assistant and graphic artist says men “are too embarrassed.”

On a recent visit, Miraglia brought a pedometer to class to count how many steps she took, the, distance and the calories burned. After the workout, she said she had burned 626 calories.

At Physique Fitness Club in Brooklyn – their motto is “Where Women’s Fitness Is More Than Physical, “ women say Zumba is not just a workout.

Rosemarie Esposito, the owner and manager of Physique, says Zumba helps build friendships. “It’s good physically and emotionally for them and they bond,” she says.

Josephine Salmeri offers her testament: “We used to just come in, work out and leave. We were all members of the gym, but Zumba made us friends.”

Esposito charges $7 a class for members and $15 for non-members. “Zumba is an added asset to the club,” she says. “It’s something that they enjoy and it’s something that I have to offer. It retains them. It’s extremely important.”

Esposito says Physique’s street-level location has been open four years and that she hopes to move to a new location in six months. She currently offers five classes a week in her grocery-store-length gym and hopes to double that in the new location.

Five classes or10, it doesn’t seem to matter to gym members, as long as Zumba stays.

After dancing to “Tu Bonboncito,” a hyper-rhythmic Cuban/rumba flamenco song that says, “La vida la paso bailando. I go through life dancing,” the class ends with applause. “Yeah, we’re all wackos!” says Rosana Clampet, who is 59. “I’m telling you it’s like literally Zumba is a drug.”

The class seems to have given the women more energy. “When I go home now it’s going to take me an hour to calm down,” says Clampet. “Like I tell my husband, ‘You wanna paint the house? What do you wanna do?’”

Salmeri, a 54-year-old secretary at an investment bank and a breast cancer survivor, says she has done Zumba for six months. “I attribute my recovery to Zumba,” she says. “I tell you, my doctors say I look great.”

Clampet adds: “Who doesn’t like to dance? Who doesn’t like to dance? Young, old everybody likes to dance. The instructor tells us, ’Just have fun even if you have no idea what you’re doing just keep moving.’”