Established Zumba classes present a whirlwind of choreography, drawing from world music traditions including Punjabi bhangra and Afro pop. At its most basic though, Zumba relies on mainstay moves from Latin dance traditions. You’ll match the moves to the music, following the structure of the intro, verse and chorus of Zumba songs, writes Beto Perez, the founder of Zumba, in “Zumba: Ditch the Workout Join the Party! The Zumba Weight Loss Program.”
The four basic steps of Zumba are salsa, merengue, cumbia and reggaeton, notes Adelicia Villagaray, a certified Zumba instructor in Baltimore, Maryland, who studied Zumba with Perez. Merengue resembles marching in place, with arms and hips swaying to the beat. For salsa, step out to the left, switching your weight to your left leg. Return to the starting position and repeat on the right. For cumbia, stand slightly sideways, tapping first your right and then your left foot forward. With basic reggaeton, step to the right, bringing your left foot to touch your right, then reverse this motion to your left.
The basic moves provide the building blocks of full Zumba routines and workouts, Perez writes. Songs tend to focus on a single step, with variations to work the arms and upper body, and direction changes such as side to side, a circle, or stepping up and back, to add extra flair to the step.
Different steps give you different benefits, Perez notes. Salsa and reggaeton provide a cardiovascular workout, leading to overall fat-burning. “Certain aspects of merengue and cumbia focus more on strengthening specific body parts — hips, thighs, legs and stomach muscles — as well as fostering greater endurance,” he notes.
If you are working out at home to a Zumba DVD, work on one or two steps a day, Perez recommends, then move on to additional steps. If you are taking Zumba at a gym or studio, try for two, three or more classes a week for fastest mastery and greater fitness, Villagaray advises.
Improve your grasp of the basic moves by using visualization, Perez recommends. Mentally picture the specific movements of each dance step. For merengue, for example, go through the basic components, as well as arm variations such as snapping your arms to the right and left, pushing them to the ceiling or folding them in front of your chest and then extending them. Visualization establishes a nerve pathway between your brain and the muscles associated with that action, smoothing the way when you physically practice the move, Perez observes.