Yup. I did it. Struggling along, trying to keep in step and move my arms at the same time. A bit like rubbing your stomach and patting your head with the other hand simultaneously. But I could do much of it. And I survived…for half of the hour.

Here is what happened. I was staying at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami and headed for the gym there to do something that didn’t hurt my injured arm and shoulders. I started stretching outside a room filled with women doing a quiet, low-light, yoga-like class. But the small area was so crowded with chattering ladies waiting for the next class that I just went inside, where there was a quiet empty space. I was doing crunches on a floor mat just fine, until suddenly all the lights went on jarringly, and women poured in talking real fast…in Spanish or Cuban.

It was hopeless to stay on the floor, so I took my mat outside and planned to leave for the machines. Then I heard a Zumba class was what was starting in a minute. I remembered a high school friend urging me to try this kind of aerobic, high-energy dancing, so I figured “What the Hell, I’m only young once.”

my first Zumba class—10/27/09

my first Zumba class—10/27/09

It’s a blast! Zumba is a Colombian word that means “to move fast and have fun.” Dead-on accurate. The music is all Latin, and many of the steps are taken from salsa, meringue, samba. The instructor keeps changing the steps and upper body movements. I could do the cha-cha-cha moves easily—I grew up in Miami Beach—but I found shimmying my shoulders back and forth like a stripper pretty challenging. I’m sure I looked idiotic.

Of course I had trouble keeping up with the ladies who’d done the routines before. And I was also standing right behind a post, which was the only space left by the time I’d decided to brave it. I looked around for another guy, but there was just one, in bright red shorts and shirt up near the front. He was fearless. The women were mostly younger, but some had grey hair. Many were totally out of sync, but who cared.

It was hilarious. Fantastic. I don’t think Zumba builds bulk muscle, but it definitely can lead to weight loss and body toning. One woman claims she lost 60 pounds in the 2007 Today Show video below. Zumba was created by a Miami man, Beto Perez, in 2001, and there may now be 40,000 studios worldwide offering classes to 5 million people in 75 countries. Really caught on. Millions of DVD’s have been sold. And I may do it again here in Connecticut.

I found some videos on YouTube for you to look at. Beto says on one of them that “people hate the exercise, and love the party. So we turned the exercise into a party.” I love just looking at the happy energetic people on the videos. There are two below.

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