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Health and Fitness: Let’s dance

You’re never too old to shake your hips and get in shape.

Women around the world are turning up the tunes and shedding pounds thanks to a revolutionary new fitness craze.

Zumba is a fusion of exhilarating rhythms and basic dance moves to create a one-of-a-kind fitness program that has women everywhere – including Suffolk – dancing the pounds away in a way that is fun and inspiring.

“It’s a great dance-cardio class,” said Connie Womack from the YMCA. “You’ve got salsa, merengue, calypso and a mix of modernized American music too. It really gets you moving differently than you’re used to by incorporating your hips.”

Zumba was started by “Beto” Perez, a Columbian fitness instructor, in the early 90s, when he forgot his aerobic tape and grabbed what was in his backpack – a mix of Latin salsa and merengue. By improvising basic dance moves to the music, his classes quickly became a favorite. As of 2009, Zumba was taught at over 40,000 locations in 75 countries and has sold millions of DVDs.

Two of those 40,000 locations are right here in Suffolk. The Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts and YMCA both have licensed Zumba instructors.

“I had seen people doing Zumba at a tradeshow and just fell in love with it,” said Jody Mazur, director of education and outreach at SCCA. “It’s dancing and exercise combined. I talked to some other people here who thought it was a great idea, and we got it started.”

The hour long workout varies songs of different intensities and beats to give people an interval training sessions combined with resistance training to tone and sculpt the entire body while burning fat. No muscle is spared, and there are no dry brows in the room.

“It’s very, very intense,” Mazur said. “It’s a really great workout, but so much fun.”

For those scared of dancing or missing a step, Zumba keeps it basic. There are a limited number of moves per song that are modified, and if you miss a step you’re none the worse. People are encouraged to modify the workout to their own pace.

“The neat thing about Zumba is that there’s a formula,” Womak said. “There are usually about 3-4 moves per song you just repeat. The choreography is simplistic. So, the more you get comfortable with the moves the more energy you can put into the dancing.”

“Zumba steps aren’t difficult at all,” echoes July Anne Verdi, a Zumba instructor at the YMCA. “But, if someone doesn’t know the steps, they don’t have to do them exactly. I just tell my girls to keep moving.”

The ability to follow the instructor at your own pace allows women of all ages and shapes to partake in the fun.

“We get girls from junior high and high school come in to ladies in their 60s,” Womack said. “Anybody can do it. The older ladies sometimes even outdo the younger girls.”

So, if you’re looking for an alternative for your workout routine, Zumba might be for you.

“People don’t need to be afraid to try it,” Verdi said. “We come to feel good and get our stress out.”