International dance fitness craze sweeping Middle Georgia

lfabian@macon.comNovember 7, 2010 

Salsa moves meet belly dancing and hip-hop as the beat of the music pulsates through the room. That’s one way to describe high-energy Zumba fitness classes.

“If you want to lose it, you’ve got to move it,” Lisa Darnell said after taking a Zumba class last week at The Wellness Center in north Macon.

Since she started at the end of the summer, Darnell lost 20 pounds in time for her 46th birthday at the end of October.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a box step from a box top, anyone can do it, instructors say.

“You keep moving until you catch up with everyone else. That’s kinda how I see it,” Darnell said. “You’re dancing. You’re moving. It’s salsa-influenced, Latin-influenced, a little bit of soul, a little bit of everything.”

It all started in Cali, Colombia, in the mid-’90s when fitness instructor “Beto” Perez forgot his regular music for an aerobics class. He plugged in his Latin favorites and started moving. He brought his fitness routine to the United States in 1999. Then he and others formed a global company that really took off once Zumba hit the infomercial circuit in 2002.

The trademarked routines are taught in 90,000 locations in 110 countries, according to www.zumba.com. Certified instructors hold classes in Macon, Warner Robins, Perry, Dublin, Milledgeville and Gray. Class schedules are available on the Zumba website. In places such as The Wellness Center and Elite Fitness in Gray, you don’t even have to be a member to attend Zumba for $6 an hour.

Teresa Clampitt of Gray said she was one of the first Zumba teachers in the midstate when she started holding sessions in 2006. She loved it so much, she almost gave up teaching her other fitness classes.

“Imagine going out clubbing with the girls,” Clampitt said. “There’s nothing like having this class experience to be able to step out of the box and nobody’s going to make fun of you.”

Clampitt now enjoys working with new clients in corporate settings where she can change people’s attitudes about exercising.

Macon’s Carol Johnson was certified in July and already teaches Zumba every day but Monday.

“It has revived my workout and given new fresh life to just the basic old lifting weights or cardio classes,” Johnson said. “It’s just fun.”

In a matter of weeks, Johnson has grown increasingly more comfortable gyrating in step with the music. While leading nearly two dozen women last week, she wore peacock blue Zumba cargo pants with fluorescent green ties on the pockets. The flaps swung around as she moved her hips back and forth, up and down and all around.

“You’re going to shake it all, but that’s good,” Johnson said.

At the same time, she said it’s not intimidating at all. “You can do as much as you want,” she said.

While most of the songs are choreographed, Johnson alters some of the moves to match her ability. There are standards and structure that must be maintained for the continuity of Zumba style across the globe.

Lisa Seneker, The Wellness Center’s group fitness coordinator, said she first encountered Zumba at a fitness conference about five years ago. She signed up for a class because she mistakenly thought it would be a break from the other athletic workouts.

“I’d never sweated so hard in all my life and it was so much fun,” Seneker said. “What I think is so fabulous about Zumba is it has no age barriers.”

For Macon 17-year-old Danielle Bone, her first class was challenging but not overwhelming.

“It’s really, really hard when you’re out of shape,” said Bone, who could already feel the workout in her abdomen and thighs minutes after finishing.

She’s not planning on letting that stop her.

“This is definitely something I’ll continue to do,” Bone said. “It’s really fun and exhilarating. It’s dancing and you don’t think about how you’re exercising.”

Rebekah Rainer, 29, of Macon, feels the same way.

“Zumba is awesome. It’s like a big party. It’s so fun and you don’t even realize you’re working out because you’re just dancing and having a good time.”

It was the dance moves that lured former cheerleader Teresa Belflower of Gray.

“I love to dance and it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while ever since I saw it on TV,” said Belflower, 55. “I need to lose some weight and get in shape and get off the couch and get moving. It is a total workout and it will kick your butt.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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