Zumba, one of the biggest dance fitness brands in the world—founded in the mid-1990s by Alberto “Beto” Perez—launched in India in 2011. Today, over 15 million people across 195 countries practise it every week.
Its cardiovascular exercises are essentially based on the four dance rhythms of salsa, merengue, cumbiaand reggaeton, but are not limited to these. The workout transitions between energized and relaxed intervals, based on dance movements and music, improve strength, endurance and heart health. Participants sway to the rhythms in permutations, not just to get fit but also be “happy”, as Mumbai-based Sucheta Pal, Zumba’s global India ambassador, puts it.
“It’s based on the universal language of music and dance, executed not as regimen but in an enjoyable, freestyle manner as part of a community,” she says. “It has brought about an inclusive change in the fitness business, allowing all kinds of enthusiasts—from hard-core body builders to people who just want to move—to participate in the workout.”
Last week, as I attended my first Zumba class, I realized how true this is.
Zumba is a combination of dance styles, with multiple iterations. When combined with other exercise variants, it borrows from dance or music forms such as bachata, dancehall, belly dance and bhangra, bringing these largely localized forms to the limelight on a global platform. In India, even Bollywood songs find a place.
To become a Zumba instructor, one must take the Basic 1 test administered by Zumba education specialists (ZES). Thereafter, one can choose how and in which form one wants to specialize in.
One of the popular variations is Zumba Toning, which employs weights for upper-body definition. Another form, Aqua Zumba, uses water resistance in pools for a more rigid muscle workout. There are some iterations for the elderly and children. “Each format has its own set of choreography and music…it’s all specialized and holistic,” Pal says.
According to her, these variations are the result of years of research by Zumba education specialists , based on the feedback of instructors and master trainers. “They understand that obesity is a problem for kids, or that people want to be in the pool in summer, etc., so they consciously try to give people the best of both worlds.”
However, Pal says it will take some time for these variations to become popular. “For example, Zumba Gold, which is for seniors, is still a lean section because seniors from a middle-class background, such as my mother, would still be hesitant to go to a gym and work out around everyone. There’s still a certain mental block, but it’s changing,” she says.
One programme that has become quite popular since it started in 2016 is STRONG by Zumba, a High Intensity Interval Training (Hiit) workout. Musician Steve Aoki collaborated to create some punchy tracks for it. There are dance-based lunges, squats, burpees and bodyweight exercises which condition muscles by using cardio and plyometric training. This gradually increases and decreases the heart rate.
Prateek Kundial, a Delhi-based STRONG by Zumba master trainer, explains: “It employs the reverse-engineering process, where the exercises are synced to music as opposed to being executed in counts. The techniques are influenced by sports such as kick-boxing and mixed martial arts, among others.”
Participants are able to create lean body mass through functional, equipment-less training. Kundial says, “People are free to choose from three intensity levels and durations—ranging from 30 and 45 to 60 minutes—in which they want to work at.”
Mumbai-based Zumba instructor Drishti Nagpal says: “It was easier to incorporate Bollywood songs into the exercise since the beats of some songs are fast and intense. Since we are using music from all around the world, the cultural inclusivity is wholesome, without the exercise losing its essence.”
Some of the popular numbers that Zumba’s headquarters has provided—since it’s in charge of providing the instructors with the playlists and choreography—are Badshah’s Mercy (2019) and Francesca Maria and Drooid’s The Bombay (2016). “Since there’s a sense of familiarity with the music, the participants dance with tremendous energy,” Nagpal says.
Of course, it isn’t a Bollywood dance class. Nagpal explains,“We only exercise to a couple of Bollywood songs to balance the workout according to high-intensity and low-intensity choreographies and not let Bollywood music become an overkill.”
Pal reassures you that it’s all right to “mix and match” routines. “My weight workout enhances the way I teach Zumba. Similarly, including Zumba in any regimen can help not only increase your stamina, but also shake your routine up. With time, the body gradually adapts to a new routine or form of exercise and sustains its coordination mechanism with the mind.”
Kundial says he has noticed a big change, with STRONG by Zumba participants switching two out of four days of their regular workout for his classes.
So, get moving.