“If you’ve never been to Zumba before, relax, enjoy, if you can’t follow the dance, just shake something,” certified Zumba instructor Adelicia Villagaray announces before her classes in Baltimore, Maryland. Beginners to Zumba will find the Latin exercise program at a minimum fun and often much more -- addictive and, in fact, life-changing, as the pounds melt away and you make friends who also love the music, the exercise and the party feel of Zumba.
Start With Observing
Find a class by calling gyms or visiting the Zumba website (link in Resources). Watch the class the first time, recommends Villagaray, who studies under Zumba Fitness founder Beto Perez. “I wish I would have watched my first class,” she said. “You really don’t know what to expect. The people that jump in don’t have breakdowns of the steps. They’re all over the place because they don’t yet understand how Zumba works.” If you just watch your first hour of Zumba instead, you can absorb and understand steps and routines.
Take a Class for Your Level
Start with a regular Zumba class or Zumba Gold, aimed at beginners or older participants. Zumba Gold in particular focuses on the basic steps, Villagaray notes, such as cumbia and salsa. “The very basic steps get the heart rate up but without the crazy hip movements and fast transitions,” she notes. “Zumba Gold is for the active older adult and stresses balance techniques and stability that help in everyday life.”
Working Up to the Party
In his book “Zumba: Ditch the Workout Join the Party! The Zumba Weight Loss Program,” Perez recommends newcomers take it slowly at first, “... and do not go beyond your skill or fitness level.” If you don't have fitness background, Perez recommends trying Zumba using a home DVD for 20 minutes three times a week as a starting point. Build up to 45 to 60 minutes a session at least three times a week. Listen to your body and “go for it” if you feel energetic and want to do more, he advises.
What to Wear
Wear comfortable workout clothes, including a top that ideally fits your upper body snugly so that no fabric falls in your face during stretches or moves that involve bending forward at the waist. Leggings or capri-length pants may keep your leg muscles warmer than athletic shorts. Wear regular workout shoes to start; as you fall in love with Zumba, you may want to add dance-specific shoes with a disc-shaped tread pattern under the metatarsals for pivoting, as well as thick, gel-style heel support. Bottled water is essential, and a small towel to wipe your face is useful as well.
Focus on the Fun
“Just have fun,” advises Micheleen O’Neill, a Baltimore teacher who attends Villagaray’s classes as a Zumba beginner. “Do what you can do.” Don’t be intimidated by the hotshots in the class, she notes; they may be either dance college graduates or long-time class members. “Just remember they started where you did. It’s an evolution, a process. Feel the process. If you feel the music, the whole dynamic changes,” she said.