Dancing Into Shape

Count Janice Bamford, 32, of Broadalbin among Zumba Fitness’ many converts.

Bamford went to her first Zumba dancing class at the Fulton County YMCA about two years ago, but it initially took some convincing from friends already in Zumba to get Bamford to drop her inhibitions about being unable to dance.

“I know a lot of my other friends had always been talking about it, so I looked at Youtube videos and those kinds of things like that to see what it was like and I saw that it was a bunch of dancing,” Bamford said. “I kind of said, dancing’s not really for me. That’s kind of why I kept telling myself no, not to go, because it was something I didn’t think I could do. But I heard about what great cardio exercise it can give to somebody, and that it’s fun – people would say it’s exercise, but it almost doesn’t feel like exercise.”

Bamford has continued with Zumba ever since. She now tries to go to Zumba class at least four days per week, and has lost more than 65 pounds thanks to the program. As she soon discovered, a dance background is not required to practice Zumba.

“I went and found out that I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t move like anybody else, but I still found it to be one of the best exercises that I’ve done,” Bamford said. “It’s like any kind of activity – once you keep at it, you definitely improve.”

Zumba Fitness was founded in the 1990s by Colombian trainer Beto Perez, who brought the exercise program to the U.S. in 2001, according to Zumba’s website, Zumba’s unique choreography, set to Latin and world music tracks, combines elements of salsa, merengue and other Latin dance styles.

“[Perez] created it when he accidentally forgot the music for an aerobics class he was teaching,” said Heather Dwyer, owner of Beau Monde Hair Studio and Spa, which has been hosting Zumba classes in its studio since 2011. “He went out to his car and grabbed cassettes of Latin music instead; everyone loved it and he was asked to come back and do the same thing again.”

Dwyer took her first Zumba class at the YMCA in 2009. She now teaches five classes of Zumba per week at Beau Monde.

“From the first class I was hooked, and I found out about getting my own licensing [to be an instructor],” Dwyer said. “I just loved that it was fun and dance-inspired, and did not feel like exercise at all. The hours flew by; everybody was smiling and having a great time.”

Even if it doesn’t feel that way, Zumba choreography still provides a cardiovascular workout. Familiar exercises such as lunges and squats are usually part of Zumba routines, said instructor Samantha Kollar, who teaches classes at Fit Happens in Gloversville and a Zumba course for college credit at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

Kollar, who has been a Zumba instructor since 2011, danced in high school and college and even taught some dance classes. However, she reiterated that a dance background is not necessary for Zumba.

“What drew me is that it’s a dance fitness program, but you don’t need any dance experience at all,” Kollar said. “It’s very different from other exercise programs; there’s not a lot of pressure to be doing the moves right. You just move with the music.”

Zumba instructors must be members of the Zumba International Network, which offers training as well as new songs and choreography.

“You do get training, a full day of training,” said YMCA Fitness Director and Zumba instructor Sarah Drobnack. “Basic training is a full day, but it takes someone several months after that to put the class together. You have to learn choreography for 10 songs, and be able to just put that out there.”

Drobnack runs the Zumba program at the YMCA for children and adults, which includes regular Zumba; Zumba toning, which combines simplified Zumba dance choreography with hand weights; and Zumba step, which combines Zumba with step exercise. The YMCA has offered Zumba for more than five years, according to Drobnack.

“The huge appeal is that it’s just incredibly fun,” Drobnack said. “It’s joyous. You want to do it; you crave it the next time you want to do it. It turns people from hating working out, dreading it, to, ‘I can’t wait to go to Zumba class.’ And that’s why it works.”

“I’ve had weight loss with doing Zumba, but just health-wise, it’s even like I’m eating better,” said Ann Cislo, 57, of Johnstown, who has been doing Zumba since 2008 and is currently in one of Kollar’s Fit Happens classes. “It’s just a good environment. Everybody seems to be there for the same reason; we just enjoy the class.”

Collar, Drobnack and Dwyer often have full classes when they teach Zumba, with their adult classes ranging in age from teenagers to people in their 60s. Although Zumba remains more popular with women, all three have noticed growth in the number of men who attend classes.

“In Fulton County, you’re not going to find many [men in Zumba classes],” Drobnak said. “Except in the morning, I have three guys in my class, retired guys, and they’re amazing. They’re in fantastic shape and they’re over their inhibitions; they don’t care.”

Pat Bacon, 63, of Gloversville is one of Drobnak’s Zumba students. Since he started going to Zumba about a year ago with his wife, he has lost about 20 pounds, he said.

“I’m old enough now and comfortable enough that it doesn’t bother me, but some guys [say], ‘Oh, it’s a wussy thing to be doing,” Bacon said. “But you go in there for an hour – a couple guys have been through, and they didn’t make it through the first half-hour; they walked out. They do keep you moving.”