Who doesn't want to have fun getting fit?
Zumba, the Latin-dance-inspired fitness-party-turned-workout aims to help you do just that.
Created in the mid-90s by Colombian fitness instructor Alberto "Beto" Perez, Zumba has experienced wild success in the 2000s. Now, Zumba is taught in gyms and studios all over the world, there's a Zumba licensing academy for new instructors, an apparel and accessories line, and at-home DVDs and video games.
But if your idea of exercise doesn't usually include dancing, signing up for your first Zumba class can be a little unnerving: What if you can't follow the steps? What should you wear? Not to worry. Zumba was created so that anyone and everyone could participate, and classes are notoriously welcoming to newcomers.
Still, it never hurts to know a little something before you show up. That's why we checked in with celebrity Zumba instructor Kass Martin (she's the one showing off her killer body on the cover of the new Zumba Fitness 2 video game) for some helpful pointers.
Click through our slideshow below for tips on navigating your first class. Then tell us in the comments what you thought about your first Zumba experience.
This is no yoga class -- there's no need to be quiet or serene when you enter a Zumba studio. In fact, you might feel more like you're entering a club than a gym. "We call it a fitness party," says Martin. "The music is high-energy and loud, and before you know it you've been working out for an hour." That's why, she says, Zumba instructors like to call their classes "exercise in disguise." "It's not something you have to do, it's something you look forward to doing," she says. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/unnfoto/6788441977/" target="_hplink">Universitetssykehuset Nord-Norge (UNN)</a></em>
You probably <em>won't</em> know all the moves at your first Zumba class, and that's just fine, says Martin. "I always tell participants to not focus so much on the moves, but focus on the feeling and the music," she says. "If they come with the intention of having a good time, the music will move them." If you find yourself struggling with the steps, just allow yourself to get lost in the rhythms and beats.
It usually takes about three classes to get a hang of the moves, says Martin. "The first time, everything will be new. The second time, you'll pick up on things that maybe are your favorites. The third time, you're not so focused on yourself." Since different songs have different routines, you'll begin to recognize which moves go with which music, and you'll be able to maximize your workout, she says. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/risenyc/6683430839/" target="_hplink">aidegulee</a></em>
Because nobody is watching! Instead, everyone is there for themselves, to escape their worries and the stresses of the day. "Nobody is looking at other participants, so don't worry what you look like," says Martin. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lincolnearthday/5712411002/" target="_hplink">lincolnearthday</a></em>
Anything you're comfortable working out with is okay for Zumba class, whether that's tight spandex or baggy sweats. But Zumba's all about personal style, says Martin, so don't be afraid to wear something a little sexy, or something you just feel fun in. "If you feel good, you're able to let loose a little bit more and enjoy the class a little bit more freely," she says. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stegsie/6173217183/" target="_hplink">Steve Tolcher</a></em>
A shoe with too much tread will leave you stuck in place when you go to pivot and turn, Martin warns, so a well-worn-in shoe with a flexible sole is your best bet. Devoted Zumba-goers might wear dance shoes or shoes specifically designed with Zumba in mind. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlz/4141391776/" target="_hplink">Jukka Zitting</a></em>
"As much as it is a fitness class, it's a class of self-expression and freedom and fun," says Martin, and as such, you'll see lots of personal flare in the studio, including lots of bright colors and cut-up shirts, she says. So run with it! Let your hair down, wear a color you'd normally shy away from -- and "bring your smile," says Martin. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stegsie/6360327011/" target="_hplink">Steve Tolcher</a></em>
Sure, you'll need enough space to salsa from side to side, but Zumba classes can get crowded. "The bigger the class, the more of a party it is," says Martin. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stegsie/6173153447/" target="_hplink">Steve Tolcher</a></em>
Depending on how hard you push yourself, Martin estimates you'll burn anywhere from 500 to 1000 calories at an hour class. But it won't feel like a workout, she assures. "You're focused on dancing your heart out. You're just sweating as a result."
All that sweating means you'll want to down some extra H2O. It's a good idea to bring a water bottle to class, says Martin, as well as a small towel so you can dry yourself off.
Like many types of dance, Zumba focuses a lot on strengthening core muscles, thanks to its hip swivles and twists. But the accompanying arm and leg movements will also work shoulders, triceps, biceps, quads, hamstrings and more, says Martin, so don't be surprised if after the class you feel the effects of the workout all over. "You're not doing, say, 12 reps of biceps curls, you're doing that same thing in a dance move," says Martin, so you might not notice how much you're working your different muscle groups.
Classes typically end with some static stretching to help your heart rate return to normal and ease any impending muscle soreness. "You'll be tired," says Martin, "and looking forward to your next Zumba class," she laughs. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/risenyc/6683426723/" target="_hplink">aidegulee</a></em>
Still not ready to show off your moves in public? There are Zumba games for the Wii and Kinect systems so you can join the party from your living room, or DVDs so you can party on the road while traveling, Martin says. You can also buy Zumba CDs and make up your own steps to the beats. <em>Photo from <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Zumba-Fitness-2-Nintendo-Wii/dp/B0052J8GF0/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1334180486&sr=8-2" target="_hplink">Amazon.com</a></em>
For more on fitness and exercise, click here.