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Zumba fever hits SingaporeFind out why the Latin dance-inspired workout is gaining fans across all ages
A group of 20 women gathered in an air-conditioned studio last Monday morning, bound by a common passion for a Latin dance-inspired fitness programme called Zumba.
When the music came on, the women - all breast-cancer survivors with the non-profit charity Breast Cancer Foundation - swayed their hips, flung their hands up in the air and shouted in unison in the hour-long class.
It did not matter if their steps were not always in synch or picture-perfect.
The aim of the class was to keep participants moving - and everyone did just that, while having a good time as well.
In fact, the party-like atmosphere was a stark contrast to the rundown exterior of the building housing the studio in Dunearn Road.
Across Singapore, thousands of people meet each week in fitness studios, gyms, condominium function rooms, community centres and schools to participate in Zumba. The aerobic workout is based on steps borrowed from salsa - a form of dance with Cuban origins - merengue from the Dominican Republic and other dances.
Zumba's creator is Colombian fitness trainer Beto Perez, who said he forgot his aerobics music for class one day and had to make do with tapes of salsa and merengue music he had in his backpack.
This was in the 1990s, but it was not till 2001, in Miami, that Mr Perez trademarked the word Zumba and worked to introduce the dance-fitness class to the masses.
In a survey of more than 2,600 fitness professionals by the American College of Sports Medicine to compile the top 20 fitness trends this year, Zumba and other dance workouts came in at No. 9, behind other trends such as fitness workouts for the elderly, core training, strength training and weight-loss exercise.
Zumba Fitness, a company Mr Perez set up with two business partners, estimates on its website that 12 million fitness buffs worldwide are taking Zumba classes at about 110,000 locations.
MORE CLASSES HERE
In Singapore, fitness chain California Fitness held an exclusive license from the company to hold Zumba classes for two years.
But once that lapsed in 2010, other chains, such as Fitness First and True Fitness, and small outfits such as Fiesta de Ftiness jumped in.
This month alone, two studios - Flyte and LifeSparks - have been opened by Zumba participants-turned-instructors. They hold Zumba classes that cater to children, adults and senior citizens.
Zumba is the in thing in fitness classes today, with all three gym chains rolling out more classes to meet exuberant demand.
True Fitness started out with two Zumba classes a week in September 2010, but now offers 19 classes weekly at seven centres.
Fitness First increased the number of its classes from 14 to 21 weekly in less than six months. It hosts an average of 30 people in each class.
California Fitness, which has four clubs here, kick-started the Zumba craze with two classes per club in April 2008. It now runs a total of 25 Zumba classes weekly, which include a version of Zumba with weights, called Zumba Toning.
The response to an April 18 Zumba party at Zouk is yet another testament to the popularity of the workout. All 250 tickets were snapped up in less than a week, said one of the organisers, Ms Lisa Kong, a freelance Zumba instructor.
Big names in the Zumba circuit, including Mr David Velez from Colombia, will lead the 90-minute high-energy workout.
Even community centres and schools are hopping on the Zumba bandwagon.
A one-day Zumbathon organised by the People's Association (PA) at Zirca Mega Club in November 2010 attracted 870 participants and drew inquiries on Zumba classes in the heartland, said the director of PA's lifeskills and lifestyle division, Ms Toh Lay Hoon.
It prompted the introduction of nine Zumba classes in nine PA-run community centres last November, which has now expanded to 24 classes at 21 centres.
Another 24 classes of a less-intensive version of Zumba, called Zumba Gold, are offered at 14 community centres.
Most Zumba participants are women aged between 20 and 50, although more men, and even children, are now picking it up.
Six-year-old Sarah Caudal has been taking weekly Zumba classes for children, called Zumbatomic, at the French School of Singapore since February this year.
Her mother, Mrs Rasidah Caudal, who takes Zumba Fitness classes thrice weekly at the YMCA Orchard, said the little girl enjoys the catchy music and dance steps and is always excited to don the colourful tank top and Zumba wristbands for the classes.
The classes were proposed by a parent, Ms Vanessa Sauze, who has three children studying in the school. The certified Zumba instructor now runs two classes - one for six- and seven-year-olds and another for those aged eight to 10 - in a week.
In the middle of this month, students aged 12 to 16 years old at the Australian International School will also have Zumba lessons as part of their physical-education curriculum.
NO STEPS TO MEMORISE
The draw of Zumba is that participants are not required to count the beats of the music aloud and synch their movements to the beats, said Zumba instructor Shannon Lupian, one of three owners of Fiesta de Fitness.
A spokesman for Fitness First said even when the same music is used, different instructors have their own choreography, based on Zumba guidelines.
She added: 'The music for Zumba is what ties the class together - 70 per cent Latin and 30 per cent world music.'
Housewife Linda Tam, 54, loves Zumba for two reasons. She is not required to memorise the steps nor be proficient in dance techniques in order to execute the moves, unlike Latin and line dancing which she took up in the past.
She said: 'You simply follow the instructor's movements in Zumba.'
A spokesman for True Fitness said American reality TV shows such as Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance have also fuelled people's desire to dance.
REAPING HEALTH BENEFITS
Zumba instructors say people keep going back because it does not feel like exercise.
The spokesman for True Fitness said: 'A session of Zumba is like a night out dancing with your pals. Many come out from the session feeling like they've completed a 5km run.'
Zumba is regarded as a cardiovascular exercise which works out the heart and melts off the weight.
Each 60-minute session of Zumba could burn about 500 calories, or a quarter of the daily caloric consumption for men.
The True Fitness spokesman said a person's heart rate remains within the training zone for a minimum of 20 minutes in an aerobics class, but Zumba routines resemble interval-training sessions, with fast and slow rhythms. So a person may experience bursts of high-intensity exercise interspersed with periods of low-intensity work.
Interval training is usually more intense and speeds up the rate of weight loss.
As Zumba involves some fairly intricate dance moves, it could improve one's coordination, which may deteriorate with age.
Above all, Zumba allows one to cast aside one's inhibitions and lose oneself during the dance-fitness routine, helping to relieve stress, the spokesman added.
Dr Benedict Tan, head and senior consultant at Changi Sports Medicine Centre at Changi General Hospital, said Zumba moves vary in difficulty and variety, so there is no fixed injury pattern.
While one may risk injuries such as ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the tissue on the sole), slipped discs and knee cartilage tears from doing Zumba, the risk is no higher than from any other sport or activity, he said.
He advised: 'Like in any form of exercise, the usual precautions are recommended. Build up an exercise routine progressively, condition yourself for the activity, warm up and wear the appropriate attire. And perform at your own level, that is, do not attend an advanced class when you are a beginner.'