Fitness bloggers and gurus across the internet agree - Zumba is fun.
Jill Rary, a Zumba instructor in Concord, agrees.
"If you're moving and having fun, you're doing it right," Rary said. Her class has only three rules: move or shake something; smile; and have fun.
Rary, who calls herself an infomercial junkie, heard about Zumba when she was up late watching television. She heard the YMCA was offering it and decided to give it a try. Those first classes were a struggle for Rary, with an instructor who couldn't really keep up with the music.
Then one night a substitute instructor came, and "she was on fire," Rary said. Thus, the love affair began. Rary started following the instructor to various classes, all the way out to the East Rowan YMCA and beyond.
She and fellow open-heart-surgery nurse Sabrina Walker decided to spend $200 each and get certified to teach Zumba at a clinic in Columbia, S.C. Soon they were teaching Zumba to others, and those people were getting certified to teach.
Zumba Fitness has been around since 2001, but only within the past few years has it become popular in the Charlotte region. On any given day, at least one class is being taught within 10 miles of Concord. In one week, more than 100 classes meet in or near Concord. And within five miles of Huntersville are 40 classes per week.
Founded by Alberto "Beto" Perez in his native Colombia, Zumba is what he calls a "happy accident." Beto had forgotten his traditional aerobics mix at home and decided to use his own mix of music from tapes in his sack - salsa and merengue.
Since then, Zumba Fitness has become one of the most popular dance-fitness crazes. According to the Zumba website, more than 10 million people worldwide take weekly Zumba classes at more than 90,000 locations in more than 110 countries.
Classes are held in churches - "We reach people that normally won't walk through the doors of a gym but will walk through the doors of a church," Rary said - fitness centers, dance and ballet schools and, in the case of Rary and Angela Artz, the basement of the Cabarrus College of Health Sciences on the campus of Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast in Concord.
Rary, Walker and Artz are part of the original three "Zumba Chickas," started in 2009. Walker doesn't teach anymore due to physical health issues.
"It doesn't matter what size you are; you can do this," Rary said. It was a natural transition to ask their employer, CMC-NorthEast, about teaching a class as part of the Live Well program the hospital offers. Their first classes - offered as a set of six weeks for $25 - were a success, and the women soon began offering classes three nights a week for $20 a month.
"It makes it more affordable and accessible," Rary said of the location at CMC-NorthEast. In addition, Rary and Artz, along with the close to 20 women who have become certified instructors after taking their classes, offer Zumba classes across the area through churches. Punch cards are offered at some locations, and other locations offer the class for a flat $2 fee per class.
Jeff and Lynn Leach of Concord attend the CMC-NorthEast class because it's convenient. Jeff is one of only a few men who take the Monday, Tuesday and Thursday class offered by Artz and Rary.
"It's been wonderful for my health," said Jeff Leach. Since starting the classes with his wife, he said, his blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar counts have all decreased. "I'm a little more secure of myself, and the exercise is good."
Rary said it's nice to be able to offer a class for people who wouldn't ordinarily take one.
"As a nurse in open heart surgery, that's what I see day in and day out: the effects of heart disease," Rary said. "I wanted to be healthier and get women healthier at the same time."
To find a Zumba Fitness class convenient to you, visit www.zumba.com, click "find a class" at the top of the page and enter your zip code. You will be able to scan a list of classes offered, days each class is offered, learn about the instructor and find out more about each class through the instructors' notes offered on their pages.