At a jam-packed recreation room at the Boyle Heights Technology Center, fun Latin music fills the air, making you want to move.
All around, people are smiling and dancing with friends and family. It looks like a big party. You hope you’ve finally found what you have been seeking: a way to lose weight and have fun at the same time. Welcome to the world of Zumba.
Zumba has become a workout craze over the past few years with studios and classes popping up across the country. In Boyle Heights, dozens of classes occur daily at schools, studios, gyms and community centers. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons Zumba has become so popular here is the Latin music that is incorporated into the exercise class.
Cecy Lizaola, a Boyle Heights resident, has been doing Zumba five mornings a week for a year.
“I like the music, and apart from that, I also see the results,” she says.
Lizaola considers herself living proof of Zumba’s effectiveness for weight loss. At one point, she weighed 135 pounds. After 12 months of Zumba classes, she has lost 17 pounds and says she feels better than ever.
But weight loss isn’t the only draw. Thirty-three-year-old Kat Barrera, who has been taking a twice-weekly Zumba class for six weeks at the Boyle Heights Technology Center, says it’s the dancing that draws her.
“That’s my favorite thing in the world,” she says. “Dancing here is pretty awesome because you do it with a group of people. It’s pretty motivating.”
While many people come for the dance, they don’t all realize they’re also getting an intense cardio.
“A lot of people, when they think of Zumba, they don’t necessarily think (they are) are going to work out,” says Yéssica Pérez, a Zumba instructor who was raised in Boyle Heights. “They think (they) are going to have a good time.”
A 2012 study by the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse found that the average participant in a Zumba class burns 9.5 calories a minute. The actual number of calories burned depends on a person’s weight and effort.
Each class starts off with warm-ups. Then the fast-paced dances begin. They each last two to three minutes, and there is very little time between songs.
“You’re sweating. You’re drenched in sweat, but it doesn’t feel like you’re working out”, Pérez says.
The instructors do the dances in front of the class and don’t give much direction, allowing the students to incorporate their own twists and take breaks when needed.
“It’s not difficult,” Barrera says. “If you know how to dance, you know how to do Zumba.”
People say they love the friendly atmosphere and feel like there’s no pressure during the classes. María Ramos, a Boyle Heights resident, has been doing Zumba for eight weeks. She says no one judges her during the class.
“I don’t get embarrassed,” she says. “No one is paying attention.”
This friendly environment motivates people to work hard during the class.
Zumba also can be a great way to meet new people and engage in a health activity with old friends.
Glenn López, an assistant clinical professor at he UCLA Department of Medicine, noticed in his research with walking groups in Sun Valley that people were more likely to exercise with friends.
“Exercise groups create a social network and an opportunity for neighbors to meet each other,” he says.
López believes the social aspect of the class has contributed to Zumba’s popularity.
“By coming together in a group, you have the opportunity to interact and get out frustrations,” he says. “Zumba is fun. It’s sexy.”
Dancer and choreographer Alberto Pérez first created the dance exercise program in 1986 in Colombia. He was about to teach one of his aerobics classes when he realized he had forgotten his taped music. He improvised, using the salsa and merengue music he
had on hand.
Zumba took off in the United States about 10 years ago through the sale of DVDs that could be used in the home. Classes started being offered here in 2005. Today, there are countless Zumba studios, classes, clothing lines and even video games. Some gyms and studios offer Zumba spin-offs like Latin Jam and Body Jam.
Fans of the exercise say they’ve found something fun and healthy that they love to do.
Lizaola says, “It delights me and fascinates me, and I won’t stop ”“ ever.”
Emily Valdez is a Boyle Heights Beat youth reporter and a sophomore at Roosevelt High’s School of Law and Government.