Dance Your Way into Shape

The newest popular workout in the North Country

Story and photos by Nicole Weber

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Zumba gets you up and moving with a fun dance workout.

It’s the 1990s and aerobics is the craze at the gym, but what was to come happened by accident. Columbian-born Alberto “Beto” Perez was running late to teach an aerobics class when he realized that he forgot his music. Thinking on his feet, he grabbed his personal mix tapes—a mix of Salsa and Merengue—and decided to teach a dance-based cardio class. And suddenly Zumba was born.

Perez traveled from Columbia to Miami, bringing Zumba with him. The word ‘Zumba’ was spreading, but many people still did not understood the meaning of it. Zumba Fitness was then created, and the brand is now marketed all over the world as a dance workout that gets you up, moving, and having fun all at the same time.

Sarah Pope, instructor at SUNY Plattsburgh’s gymnasium, says she’s not surprised that Zumba is popular in the North Country. “It did take a little while to get here,” Pope says.

SUNY Plattsburgh’s gym has a huge Zumba following, and after many attempts to find trainers, Tracy Corey, supervisor of group instructors at SUNY Plattsburgh's gym, was finally able to bring Zumba to campus last semester. Today, Zumba is the most popular group exercise class with almost every class reaching full capacity.

“I first learned about Zumba approximately eight years ago,” Corey says. “It is a widely popular and fun workout.”

Another Zumba trainer at SUNY Plattsburgh’s gym is Marilyn Bohling. “I took classes here with Lesley, who is a great instructor and got certified to learn more,” she says. Bohling first got interested in Zumba through her aunt who brought her to her first class about two years ago. She has been teaching since the Spring 2011 semester after being certified in Cornwall, Ontario by instructor Jaim Farfan, who is well known within the Zumba community.

Bohling says her favorite thing about teaching Zumba is the energy that it has and how everyone is so enthusiastic. “You get so much out of it. It’s kind of party styled, and I like seeing people have fun,” she says.

DeAnna Tetreault, a 45-year-old mother of three, has been going to Zumba classes two times a week for the past year. “It’s a fun way to lose weight and exercise,” she says. “You build up friendships with people in your class because we’re all supporting each other.”

Zumba instructor Beth Siouffi teaches a total of eight classes a week between the YMCA, the Wellness Center at PARC, and Seton Academy. Siouffi says the Zumba environment is very friendly and welcoming. “We get along with each other. At least we have [Zumba] in common.”

Zumba is taught to 10 million people in over 90,000 locations in 110 countries. Though the North Country is small, it’s still no surprise the Zumba craze has caught on here—it’s everywhere.

“It’s the first thing I actually liked [to do for exercise] and it’s addictive.”

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Jumping and shaking are among the many various moves in zumba.

“I first heard about it on one of those silly infomercials on TV and instantly fell in love,” Pope says. Pope has also been instructing Zumba at SUNY Plattsburgh. Pope loves that Zumba is different from every other group exercise class in the gym. “It brings a happy, fun environment within the gym,” Pope says.

Kristina Coryea started attending Zumba in February and is currently going to Zumba classes three times a week. “It’s the first thing I actually liked [to do for exercise], and it’s addictive,” Coryea says. She has lost 12 pounds and about two pant sizes so far, and is continuing to participate in Zumba in hopes to lose even more. Coryea was also inspired to run for the first time in a long time due to Zumba. “Just wanted to see if I could do it [run] since I’ve been doing Zumba,” Coryea adds.

Zumba instructor Carol Seymour thinks Zumba’s addictive nature is one of the reasons why so many people end up sticking with it. “I have three kids and work full time and was at a point where I wasn’t doing too much exercise. A couple of years ago, I went with a couple of friends to a class at Gilligan’s and instantly fell in love,” Seymour says.

Student attendee Lindsay Gueli has been going to Zumba classes two times a week for about a month now.  Gueli says her favorite thing about Zumba is that “you can burn up to 800 calories in a class and you’re just having fun; you don’t feel like you’re working out.” Just over the course of a month, Gueli says she has lost 15 pounds. “I’m for sure it's [because of] Zumba,” Gueli says.

Tetreault agrees, saying, “It burns more calories in an hour than it would if you were on a treadmill for an hour.” She adds that participants get what they put into their classes. “It depends on your intensity. I know there are certain days where I didn’t burn a lot of calories because I didn’t put a lot into it.”

“It burns more calories in an hour than it would if you were on a treadmill for an hour.”

“One of the first things that drew me in was that my energy level, after just a few classes, was through the roof. Part of it is being involved with something. People need exercise,” Seymour says.

Depending on how much you rotate your hips, tap your toes, and move your arms, Zumba can help you get in shape while teaching you how to dance. Zumba is created from pre-existing Hispanic dance styles that are still practiced today. Favorite styles among instructors and participants are salsa, cumbia, and reggaeton. “It’s more modern,” Bohling says, referring to reggaeton. Pope says her favorite dance techniques are, “Anything with booty shaking. It gets everyone crazy and pumped.”

Zumba participants that consecutively attend classes tend to develop their own favorite move, music, or preference in style. One move where one foot comes forward, goes sideways, and then goes back with one bent arm following back is Mariah Metzger’s favorite move. “I call it the bow and arrow,” says Gueli, Metzger’s friend and Zumba buddy. A favorite move of Bohling’s is called the “sleepy leg” where your front leg leads and your back leg drags along behind. Your arms move similarly to how they would in belly dancing, curving and twirling out with one up in front and the other to the side of your body.

There are 29 dance styles, all of which are composed of four dance steps per style. There are also variations for each style.  Zumba can never get boring with instructors being able to create hundreds of workout sequences. “I try to keep everyone on their toes at all times, so they’re not bored,” Pope says.

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Pope sees who has the best shake in a Zumba battle.

Anyone can participate in Zumba. Classes can be taught for kids and seniors alike. For example, Zumbatomic is a class geared completely toward kids between the ages of 4 and 12. Pope says Zumbatomic classes present the same basic concept of the party-styled dance class and that the majority of the moves are used, but “it’s not as sassy—there’s not a lot of shaking,” she says. Zumbagold is the section of classes geared toward “baby boomers,” using the same techniques and dance moves, but at a much slower pace.

There is also Zumba toning, a dance-centric class with additional toning movements. Seymour incorporates Zumba toning into three songs within her routines. Participants will use shakers or light weights and do toning movements such as bicep curls.

Some classes will have a huge mix of participants covering the full spectrum of the possible Zumba classes. “This one class in Orwell (Vt.) has young kids to people who are 70 and 80 with medical problems, so the instructor has to gear the class to everyone,” Tetreault says.


“With some songs, I still can’t do the feet and the arms [together],
but I do the feet first, then the hips fall into place, then the arms,
and then you have a full body workout.”

The bottom line is that everyone can participate in Zumba, even if you’re uncoordinated. For some people, adjusting to a class that is entirely dance based may be difficult at first. “My sister dragged me to it twice. It’s kind of fast-paced at first when you’re not used to it,” Sarah Stansbury says.

It may take a few more classes for certain people to get the moves. “Yeah, after each class you get a little better,” says Melissa Campbell, who has been going to Zumba for a few months off and on.

But as with everything, practice makes perfect. “I’ve definitely seen improvement in picking up choreography,” Pope says.

Don’t be afraid to try Zumba, no matter what the reason may be. “With some songs I still can’t do the feet and the arms [together], but I do the feet first, then the hips fall into place, then the arms, and then you have a full body workout,” Tetreault says, who once felt like a “fish out of water.”


What's your favorite style of Zumba dance?

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