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Zumba craze

Dawn Owens and two of her students.
Dawn Owens and two of her students.

A 6-year-old is learning to salsa at the University City YMCA this week, while a 70-year-old is dancing the merengue at the Cabarrus County Senior Center in Concord. At LifeTime (formerly Lifestyle Family Fitness) on University City Boulevard, a 30-year-old is perfecting her reggaeton moves. These are just a few of the thousands of UCity residents currently enjoying Zumba, a Latin-inspired dance fitness program that is transforming traditional (and often dull) workouts into fun party scenes that keep participants coming back for more.The American College of Sports Medicine has named Zumba one of the top 10 fitness trends for 2012. It is the world’s largest dance-fitness program with more than 12 million people of all shapes, sizes and ages taking weekly Zumba classes in over 110,000 locations across more than 125 countries. In UCity, there are 63 facilities ranging from gyms to dance studios to hospitals that offer close to 140 Zumba classes total each week. Included in that wide array of classes is a little something for everyone. Standard Zumba classes feature exotic rhythms set to high-energy Latin and international beats. The routines include fast and slow rhythms which, when combined, successfully tone and sculpt the body while burning fat. Zumba Gold is a version of the workout designed for the active older adult, as well as the deconditioned student of any age. Zumba Toning combines high-energy cardio work with targeted body-sculpting using lightweight, maraca-like “toning sticks.” And, there’s even a version of Zumba for children ages 4 to 12. Zumbatomic is a kid-friendly fitness party filled with music kids love, like hip-hop, reggaeton and cumbia.The company’s educational division has licensed thousands of Zumba instructors. To become licensed, instructors must participate in a Zumba basic skills instructor workshop. They then have the option to become trained in specialized areas. Instructors come from a variety of backgrounds, including competitive sports and dance.UCity resident Dawn Owens, a former gymnast, ballet dancer and competitive cheerleader, became a Zumba instructor in March 2011 after attending classes for three years.“I thought and talked about teaching for some time, but was still very hesitant to register for the Zumba basic instructor training. Ultimately, my brother went online and registered me for a Zumba training session. It was one of the best gifts ever. Not only did it remind me to continue to believe in myself, it continues to remind me that we all need that little push at times,” says Owens, who now teaches six of her eight classes at facilities in the UCity area, including the UCity YMCA, Mallard Creek High School, LifeTime Fitness, and Nathaniel Alexander Elementary School. “I am so happy to share the enjoyment I found in Zumba with others. The fun of having fitness and dance together for a great cardio workout was so amazing to me as a student. As an instructor, the ability to be a part of helping others reconnect with their sexy self and achieve their goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle or lose weight is very fulfilling.”Though the majority of the classes Owens teaches are standard Zumba classes, she strives to keep the classes inclusive so anyone can participate, regardless of age or fitness level.“I typically have anywhere from 15-50 students in my classes, ranging from age 13-70 years old. All fitness levels participate in the same class,” she says. “I always offer a high and low impact option so each participant can meet their individual goals.”UCity resident T. Gaston, a 39-year-old wife and mother of two, has been attending Owens’ Zumba classes at Mallard Creek High School since August 2011. “I always wanted to try Zumba and knew if I tried doing it at home alone, I would have stopped or not worked as hard. When I started I thought, ‘well this is just dancing right? I can do this with no problem because dancing is something that I love to do.’ Well, I found out that Zumba is not just dancing; it is a workout that allows me to get my sexy, sweaty, but fun workout in with a smile,” explains Gaston. “Until now, I never had a workout that I actually looked forward to doing. Our instructor, Dawn, makes it just that much fun. She is the reason that I have stuck with it this long.”Gaston says she has lost a full pants size since starting the Zumba program and would recommend the classes to others.In addition to the men and women she teaches, Owens also enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for Zumba with the kids of UCity through Zumbatomic parties at various locations and Zumbatomic classes at the University City YMCA. “In my Zumbatomic classes, the children range from 6-12 years old. We have boys and girls both participating, and classes range from 10-35 participants. The kids enjoy learning dance styles like salsa, merengue and bachata,” says Owens. “Along with basic fitness moves to music, the energy they have is so great! During class we have a freestyle song, and each participant is the ‘star,’ teaching their favorite move or exercise. It is exciting to see the ideas they come prepared to show us.”On the opposite end of the spectrum are Zumba Gold classes taught by Linde Varrallo at the Cabarrus County Senior Center in Concord. Varrallo typically has between five and eight students in her classes.“My classes are made up of older adults ranging in age from mid-50s to early 80s. They are all pretty fit and active; however, I modify movements as needed, and we often do a lot of the same material as they like to get comfortable with the steps and the music, and I prefer this as well,” says Varrallo. “During the Zumba Gold licensing workshop, we are also taught how to do ‘chair classes’ for those who are injured or who are not safe to stand independently, which means that the Zumba Gold format can be utilized in senior living communities for the healthy and fit as well as those who may be declining physically but still want to remain as active as possible. This really broadens the base of those who can participate and get the benefits of regular exercise and Zumba classes.”Varrallo, who holds a Master’s Degree in Dance Education from New York University, had taught dance and fitness for about 25 years before becoming a Zumba instructor in 2010. She says she believes that Zumba Gold is a great place for deconditioned students to start. “Many times people are not looking for an ‘exercise until you drop’ approach and get intimidated by classes and clubs that promote that. They want to exercise and be fit but want it to be fun and also not always so hard!” she says.Owens adds that, ultimately, she believes the Zumba fitness program is so popular in UCity because it fulfills many of the things we desire in a community. “Zumba provides a fun and effective workout, while bonding people together,” she says. “Charlotte, including UCity, has amazing instructors and students who inspire each other. Zumba is one of the only fitness programs in which I have participated that doesn't end when the class ends. Students stay after in the hall, locker rooms or gym and talk about songs, moves, accomplishments and recipes. Zumba is like an extended family in so many ways.”

For more information about Zumba, visit Dawn Owens can be reached at