Around 30 women gather in one of the fitness studios at Northridge Recreation Center in Highlands Ranch. While there’s some jockeying for front-row positions, most of the participants talk to friends or get in a few last sips of water. But once instructor Aminta Lucero starts her music and the warm-up begins, the energy of the class spikes as everyone present snaps to attention.
A beat pumps through the air, so loud that Lucero has to shout to be heard over it, and class begins.
Zumba is offered at several of the Highlands Ranch recreation centers with classes ranging from the traditional format to Zumba Gold for seniors. And although the dance-infused fitness program started in 2001, it shows no signs of slowing down, especially if its participants remain as devoted as Angela Fuller, who attends Lucero’s class. Fuller describes Zumba as “an addiction.”
A former gymnast and cheerleader, Fuller took a break from fitness until discovering Zumba.
“I’m a mom of two kids and I just could not lose the weight,” she said. “But after taking Zumba for two months, I dropped 20 pounds. It’s such a full-body workout.”
Lucero, who took her first Zumba class only three years ago and is now a popular instructor, endeavors to incorporate as many areas of the body as possible.
“I always do arms and legs, and I try to focus on fitness. So we’ll always do an arm song.”
But the intensity of the workouts is only one of the reasons Zumba has a passionate following.
“Hands down, because the hour goes by like that,” Lucero said. “My girls come out dripping wet, and don’t even realize how hard they worked. And it’s an hour where they don’t have to think about their husband, or the bills, or the dog, or the kids.”
Zumba’s infectious sense of fun allows even novices to drop in and get a workout.
“It’s for all levels,” Lucero adds.
Stepping up to the barre
Barre conditioning, another dance-inspired fitness class, is offered at Southridge Recreation Center and likewise extends the benefits of dance to all skill levels.
“Dance-inspired fitness classes are geared for all skill sets, and they’re more intuitive than fitness classes — you can just listen to your body and do what you can,” instructor Julie Sweeney said.
Inspired by the barre work done by ballerinas before they dance, barre conditioning is ideal for those looking for a toned, leaned physique.
“We concentrate on a small range of motion,” Sweeney said. “In ballet they focus on long, lean lines. We work the same muscle groups, which are all the problem areas for women, inner and outer thighs, arms, glutes, and abs.”
Like Zumba, barre classes can be intense.
“It’s deceptive because you feel the burn but it dissipates after you stretch, but the day after or the day after that you’ll be sore,” said Sweeney.
While dance-inspired, barre classes focus more on conditioning.
“People are surprised that ballerinas and other dancers are also athletes,” says Sweeney. “Broadway dancers perform eight times a week and football players, they might have an exercise session but they only play once a week. Why not shape and create a workout that focuses on the dancer’s body?”
Yet while classes can be intense, “You do not have to be a dancer, there is no dancing, it’s just what ballerinas do before they dance. We listen to hip-hop instead of a piano concerto,” Sweeney said, laughing.
Taking the first step
Both Zumba and barre provide a different approach to fitness that can help newcomers discover the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
“If halfway through, they have a big smile, I know that I’ve won them over and they’ll be coming back. It can be a steppingstone into other, more challenging forms of exercise,” said Lucero.
Sweeney also lauded the surge of interest in dance classes, saying “the goal is to get more people involved in exercise and help people find what clicks for them so that they can be active, seek a healthy lifestyle and make that part of who they are.”
And for Lucero, Zumba’s impact goes beyond fitness. She cites her class members as the reason she functions.
“They got me through my divorce, they got me through my son going to basic training, they got me through quite a bit,” she said. “Zumba creates a lot of friendships.”
And since, according to both instructors, dance-inspired fitness classes are increasing in popularity and variety, the benefits of these programs should only continue to spread.