Zumba participants dance to stay in shape

By J_Howard

The timeless art of dance has survived throughout several centuries. Constant body movement produces fitness benefits, and modern dance-fitness programs have become a trend.

At the Lou Conte Dance Studio, 1147 W. Jackson Blvd., a mix of hit music, and reggaeton plays loudly throughout the room as participants in the Zumba dance program shimmy and shake to the sound while following the two instructors’ lead. Participants walk off the dance floor for a quick break, sweating but ready to continue

their workout.

“I’ve been to other classes, but this is wonderful,” said participant Stephanie Turner, 48. “I love the variety [of dance] and the different workouts.”

Zumba is a Latin dance fitness program that uses various international styles of music for young and old people, according to instructor Julie Steffen. She said the biggest difference between this dance fitness program and others are the non-verbal cues given to participants.

Zumba classes can be found nationwide. In Chicago there are more than 600 classes within the area, according to Zumba’s class listings, including one in the University Center of Chicago, 525 S. State St. Steffen, co-founder of Chicago Fitness Parties, said she enjoys teaching the Zumba class there because the students have high energy and are familiar with some of the music and steps. She encourages people to try a class.

“All of the cuing is in my hands, face and body language, so I am not really cuing out loud,” Steffen said. “You really have to look at the instructor; there is a lot of eye contact between you and the instructor.”

She said the typical calories burned per class varies from person to person but can range anywhere between 400 and 700 calories per hour.

“The main fitness benefit is the high-calorie burn,” Steffen said. “You are going to get your heart rate up, you are going to get moving and get breathing.”

One of Steffen’s favorite things as an instructor is seeing the results Zumba participants have.

“That is the best part: having people come up to you and say they are wearing jeans they have not worn in 20 years,” she said.

To participate in Zumba, a dance background is not necessary. Holli Hitchens, self-employed fitness instructor, teaches a level of class called Zumba Gold for those starting out or with physical limitations.

“It does utilize specific Latin dance steps,” Hitchens said. “It is geared toward the general public where you can shake it up and follow along. What makes this class different is we are not really teaching dance technique but basically teaching you a good workout from warm-up to cooldown.”

Steffen said finding the right instructor is key for a good Zumba program experience because each instructor teaches differently.

“A good Zumba instructor you will be able to follow,” Steffen said. “[They are] not someone who dances for themselves in the mirror but truly dances for their students, interacting and cuing in a way that is easy to follow.”

She said her class has a relatively high impact because she enjoys jumping around and incorporating hip-hop into the workout.

“I think part of the energy of the class comes from the fact you are dancing, smiling, interacting with other people in the class,” Steffen said. “You are able to let your guard down for awhile, shimmy and have fun. You can forget about everything else for an hour.”