Fitness Review: Zumba


I’m not a dancer, we’ve gone over this. The closest I will ever come to anything remotely close to dancing is the occasional wedding when any bit of self-respect goes out the door, or celebrating after the Bears score a touchdown. Neither of which are done well. However, I was scheduled to take part in my second dance class during this little fitness class experiment and despite my great experience the first go-around I was as nervous as ever heading into my Zumba class at Lakeview Athletic Club.

While it’s a relatively new interest, Zumba has become one of the most popular forms of fitness in the United States. Heading into the class I knew about as little as humanly possible, I knew it was a dance class and I knew it would be focused on Latin music and dances. That’s all I knew. Fortunately for me, my instructor knew quite a bit more. Karli Vickerman, my class instructor, grew up around dance and a class that blends dance with fitness seems to perfectly fit her style. In addition to Zumba she also teaches weekly classes for Pilates, kickboxing and is a personal trainer.

Vickerman told me that we would be blending together a number of different dance styles. I knew nothing about any of them, so I figured I was good on all accounts. The 4:30 class saw a slow filter of participants. When the music was first turned on there were roughly 5 of us warming up, but the first real dance there was more than double that. The age range and experience levels varied drastically. I was one of two first timers and probably in the median of the age demo. For each college student there was at least one middle-aged woman. As the class got underway, we started with the same kind of stretches any class would need. However, that was the last time it seemed like the regular class.

The thing that stood out most about my Zumba class was the intricate footwork. I could tell early on that this was going to be a much different feel than the WERQ class I had taken. Just a few songs in my calves were burning. I had been on my toes for nearly every moment of the class, bouncing from side to side and shuffling my feet across the floor. I was, predictably, offbeat, although not nearly as offbeat as I expected. The early songs did a great job of getting the movements to work without a speed or pace that would drastically throw a newbie like me to the curb.

Each song would start the same way, Vickerman would show us one of the more difficult or confusing steps, and the rest would basically be filled in as the song went along. Usually the first verse involved a lot of me standing and trying to figure out how in the world her feet moved like that while mine were essentially fighting against me. However, once the song was in full swing I saw that I was becoming a quick learner and had the song under control. Each song built on the last, steps that seemed difficult in song one were building blocks three songs later.

Now to this point I have basically ignored the fitness element of Zumba. That was not accidental. If anything, the almost hidden fitness benefits are one of the best parts of Zumba. For the majority of the hour long class I was way too worried about getting my feet in the right spot or putting my arms in the right position to even realize how much I was sweating or the burn in my legs. That would come immediately after the class when the stairs back to the locker room seemed to laugh at me.

Before the class Vickerman and I talked a lot about the benefits of the class. She told me that a lot of the people that come in for the class do so as part of a weight loss program. That made complete sense, in just an hour I was sweating as much as nearly any other fitness style, but the overall burden on the body was barely noticeable. Vickerman also told me that she had students who use Zumba as a way to enjoy dancing without needing a group or partner to head to a club. I felt there were probably a few people in my class who fit this bill, if nothing else they were Zumba regulars who loved coming back to the class.

Vickerman also told me about a former student of hers who would regularly attend her Friday Zumba class the Lincoln Park Athletic Club. She told me he would come in almost every week while training. When I asked her why he chose to make Zumba a part of his regular workout schedule she told me she had asked the same thing. The answer: It’s Friday, he wanted to have some fun with his workout.

This, I believe, is the most underappreciated part of the fitness world and where Zumba would play a key role. Fridays, for many 20 somethings like myself, make for a strange workout day. I would like to get in a good workout without killing the remaining energy needed to go out at night. Zumba delivers on this like almost nothing I have experienced before. While the legs feel shot, they come back with a little stretching the energy is through the roof. I mean, even a guy like me whose go-to dance move is to jump up and down vaguely to the beat of the song felt the need to head out with a few friends for the night.

Zumba isn’t going to be for everyone, but no fitness class is a one-size-fits-all. I can honestly say I had a few assumptions about Zumba heading into my class, but I way underestimated the benefits. The footwork and coordination needed to succeed in a Zumba class. This class is the perfect example of why there is no excuse for anyone to not find a way to stay active no matter what their interests or the weather outside. On the outside Zumba may seem like the polar opposite of running, basketball or cross fit. However, the athletic ability, hand-eye coordination and stamina needed to finish just one Zumba class is enough to convince anyone just how much of a workout dance really is.