Everybody Zumba!

I love Latin music, and I love a good workout. So when I heard about Zumba, the Latin-inspired, dance-based fitness craze, it sounded like fun. But it also conjured up flashbacks of aerobic classes that ended with me stepping on toes, crashing into the more coordinated students, and, finally, faking an injury so I could leave early.

Nevertheless, I took the plunge last week in a class led by certified instructor Sumara Love at the Bellview Grange. To my surprise, it was easy and fun.

"Zumba really is for everyone," said Love. "There are no rules. You can do whatever you want. Zumba instructors are more guides than teachers. Besides, if you do follow the steps, in Zumba everything is repeated three or four times, so you'll get it."

She handed me a hip scarf, like the jingling kind worn by belly dancers, and started up the music.

At first, I tried to follow all of Love's moves, but noticed others were modifying them to suit their personal style or needs. "It's not about doing things right, it's about having fun," Love said. "Just listen to your body."

Once I gave up trying to dance like Love, I had a blast, though I still nearly collided with another student.

Zumba is said to have started in Colombia in the 1990s when an aerobics instructor taught an improvised class with the salsa and merengue tapes he had on hand. Today, Zumba has certified instructors in more than 125 countries, with more than 12 million Zumba fans.

Love's students say Zumba has created something of a sisterhood among them. "We've become a community. Everyone is friendly here and Sumara really fosters a warm and friendly energy," said student Arzani Burman.

Most students said the big attraction was the lively music. Zumba is associated with Latin dance music such as salsa and merengue, but Love played a bit of everything, including African beat, Bollywood, and even Nancy Sinatra. Burman said the music helps get her going in the morning. "It's a great way to start the day. I wake up and I'm singing the songs," she said.

Love, 56, moved from Washington to Ashland last year with her family, and said she was surprised that Zumba wasn't as well-known here. "This is really a yoga town. In Washington, even a small class will have about 20 people." In her classes here, Love said she usually has anywhere between two and 20.

Most of Love's students at the Grange are women over 50. Sally Jones is 69. "I think I'm the oldest in the class right now," she said. "I can tell you there are so many benefits to Zumba for any age, but the aerobic value alone is great."

Jones should know: She is a retired health and physical fitness instructor at SOU.

Love said she got hooked on Zumba after taking a class a few years ago. "I fell in love with the music. It's joyful, and it brings out your inner dancer," she said.

Another student, Lillywood Moss, said that for her, the class is more than exercise. "It's a chance for me to share my feminine energy, to dance, wear bangles and feel beautiful."

While the classes are mostly made up of women, Love is hoping more men will join. "I had a couple of regular male students in the summer, but now it seems the men are few and far between," she said.

The YMCA also offers Zumba classes. Lauren Delgado in membership services said Zumba classes are well-attended. "They are our most popular aerobic classes. Zumba's great no matter your age or fitness level."

Love offers classes Monday through Friday at the Grange and Tuesdays and Saturdays at the Ashland Tennis & Fitness Club. For more information, call Love at 541-708-3074.

The YMCA classes meet on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. For information, call 541-482-9622.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.

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