Beneath glinting disco balls and festive decor, illuminated by multicolored strobe lights, the group ― all beaming, glistening with sweat ― are caught up in hip-shaking, body-swirling dance moves.
But this isn’t a nightclub. This is Zumba ― a Latin-inspired fitness program that has gripped dance and exercise lovers in more than 110 countries and has now landed in Itaewon, Seoul.
“Zumba has changed the face of fitness,” said Allison Robins, PR director for Zumba Fitness, LLC. “It is no longer a face of strain or ‘feel the burn.’ It is no longer a face that mutters ‘I have to.’ It is a face that screams ‘I want to.’”
With the slogan “Ditch the workout! Join the Party!” the emphasis of the program is on having fun. Class instructor Kimberly Thomson believes this, along with the variety of songs and routines, gets people hooked.
Amid the reported celebrity fans ― ranging from Black Swan star Natalie Portman to musician-turned-politician, Wyclef Jean ― and the hype, Zumba might just get results. Robins says an hour’s class burns between 500 and 1,000 calories while also toning and sculpting the body.
Judging by the big grins and breathless praise evident at this class at least, perhaps fitness can be fun after all.
Starting with a simple warm up, the session soon got into full swing with fast-paced, perky aerobic routines ― all slinky waists and fancy footwork. With a brief demo before each song, the moves, although quick, were repetitive so as not to cause confusion. Newcomers kept up with ease.
Class instructor Kimberly Thomson, from Hawaii, explained that routines and songs are only changed gradually. “This allows students to feel a sense of accomplishment as they master the routines. Then it’s on to something else that’s new and exciting,” she said.
The music, picked by Thomson from a Zumba selection, allows for a range of dance styles. This time, for instance, there was plenty of salsa, with Bollywood and reggae sounds also featured. Some instructors in Korea choose to incorporate K-pop and Korean hip-hop.
As though it were a party, attendees also got the chance to freestyle in the middle of a group circle toward the end of one song. “The music is infectious, where you actually find yourself feeling the music and dancing to the beats,” said Robins.
Instructor Kimberley Thomson (right) leads a Zumba class at America Latina, Seoul. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Zumba first arrived in Korea three years ago but is now available in hundreds of locations around the country.
Thomson, who started the class at America Latina in January, first came upon the program when searching for salsa classes a year ago.
“I fell in love with it so much, I became a certified instructor a mere six months later. I’ve been choreographing and teaching ever since,” she said.
Part of the Zumba craze is “looking the part.” Robins explained: “The Zumbawear collection is a statement, a way of living. It allows our fans and instructors to wear the brand and live it. Words like individuality, inspiration, happiness and joy come to mind.”
Thomson sported Zumbawear the evening of The Korea Herald’s visit ― bright purple cargo pants with jaunty tags on the pockets ― the look appeared funky yet functional. Standard workout gear is fine, too.
The group seemed on a high after the session. Melissa Haick, attending for the first time, said “(It) was so much fun. A lot more fun than I thought (it would be) and a great workout.”
“You don’t even realize you’re working out. That’s the fun of it.”
Thomson’s enthusiasm, friendly demeanor and focused teaching methods may well be part of the appeal, but she feels people return for the sense of community.
“Through the sense of fun and fitness, Zumba has drawn in positive, fun-loving people, people who often end up feeling like a second family,” she said.
Thomson’s Zumba session is held every Tuesday from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Entry is 10,000 won. For more information, email Thomson at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.zumba.com.
By Hannah Stuart-Leach (email@example.com