Zumba love

This fitness craze is kind of like a Latin dance party, but without the hangover

Zumba instructor Hannah Flynn teaches a class at Achieve Fitness.

Zumba instructor Hannah Flynn teaches a class at Achieve Fitness.

Photo By dana Nöllsch

Zumba. Zooomm … bah. The name alone sounded intriguing. So was the fact that Zumba classes have been popping up at local gyms all over Reno. I decided to check one out on a recent morning at 24 Hour Fitness.

Zumba, created by Colombian Alberto “Beto” Perez in the 1990s, bills itself as a Latin dance party.

I’ve been to Latin dance parties. This was not quite like a Latin dance party. For one thing, it was 9:15 a.m. on a Wednesday. For another, there was a conspicuous absence of men rubbing against me. In fact, all but two of the roughly 40 people jammed into the class I attended were women. Also, there was not a single mojito in sight. But aside from that, with the music and the dancing, it was kind of like a Latin dance party—and a helluva lot more fun than step aerobics.

With a not-quite 1-year-old at home, I don’t get to too many Latin dance parties anymore, or to exercise classes, for that matter. Zumba was a good way to get a touch of both.

Zumba combines Latin dance—salsa, bachata, cumbia, merengue, reggaeton—with other cultural influences, like belly dancing and hip-hop, and turns it into a fitness routine.

Before class began, I overheard a woman in the locker room talking to her friend, and she summed up Zumba’s appeal nicely: “I’m going to Zumba. Have you been? It’s a really fun class. It’s dancing, essentially, and I’m a really bad dancer, but it’s fun.”

I’m not the best dancer, either, which leads me to the other thing about Zumba that’s different from a Latin dance party: At Zumba, it doesn’t matter if you’re a bad dancer.

“There’s kind of like a Zumba attitude—having fun, everyone is welcome,” said instructor Hannah Flynn, who teaches Zumba at several area gyms. “You don’t have to be a certain skill level.”

Flynn started the class off with reggaeton artist Don Omar’s “Hasta Abajo.” She bounced back and forth, raising her hands, swishing them around, moving her hips, sliding over here, then over there, as the class attempted to follow along. I wish I could tell you which dance moves we were doing, but I don’t know them. I was just trying to keep up. But the moves weren’t complicated, and if I missed a step here or there, it really didn’t matter. The music—Kat de Luna, Shakira, Kumbia Kings, even “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson—along with enthusiastic Flynn, kept the class energized. And unlike some exercise classes I’ve attended, people were smiling as they moved.

Zumba has a way of making you nearly forget you’re exercising. I found myself feeling sorry for the poor saps on the gym’s lower level, sweating on treadmills and bikes that go nowhere. When I do work out, I’m usually one of those saps, staring at Fox News, wishing someone would change the channel, watching the little red digital numbers slowly rack up the tenths of miles logged.

“I would do treadmill, too, and just stare at the clock,” said Flynn. “With this, you have an hour of cardio, and that hour flies by.”

Zumba rising

Jake Pinto helped popularize Zumba in Reno.

Photo By dana Nöllsch

Flynn said the class I took, which I felt was packed, was relatively small. Twice that amount, about 80 people, attend her Saturday afternoon and Monday night classes.

The first Zumba class Flynn took was taught by Jake Pinto. She credits him with the growth of Zumba in Reno.

“I took a class in Vegas, and I was hooked,” said Pinto. “When I realized nobody was doing it in Reno, I decided to pursue that path and teach it.”

Zumba is a registered trademark that its creators heavily market. There’s a Zumba logo, Zumba DVDs, Zumba gear and Zumba Wii. There’s Zumba for seniors (Zumba Gold) and for kids (Zumbatomics). There’s also a Zumba Academy to certify a network of instructors nationwide, including Pinto and Flynn.

Pinto, who teaches at several local gyms, put together a group of people he scouted out from classes to teach Zumba, and they’re now part of Zumba Party Reno. A Zumba party is a two- or three-hour fitness class taught by the team of local Zumba instructors, and they raise money for nonprofit organizations.

“They’ve grown like crazy,” said Pinto of the parties. “Our first one had about 150 people, the second had 240. Now we’re over 400.” Zumba parties are in the works for both March and April.

Zumba for all

Aside from the clear majority of women in my class, it was incredibly diverse—about equal numbers of Hispanic, white and Asian people, some African-Americans and plenty in between. Ages were also far reaching, from teens to 60s. Maybe these were just the demographics of this part of town in Northwest Reno, but it seemed more than coincidence that a fitness routine drawing so widely from international influences would attract a broad spectrum of people.

“International music is hot right now,” said Pinto. “The well-known is salsa, bachata—everyone wants to do them, and incorporating that with fitness makes it that much greater.”

Zumba regular Maria Lopez doesn’t overthink it: “I like to dance,” she says. She Zumbas twice a week. “I have so much fun.”

“It’s all about fun, all about love,” said Flynn. “We call it ‘Zumba love.’ You have a class, and it carries you throughout the day.’