Shake, shimmy and samba at any age

It’s the latest Latin dance-inspired fitness workout and at Germantown’s Center in the Park, it’s caught on among older adults who tie their sneakers tight, retrieve their water bottles and shake, shimmy and samba across the dance floor every Tuesday.

“Zumba is the new thing,” said Brannon Johnson, program coordinator at Center in the Park (CIP), a non-profit community center at 5818 Germantown Ave. that focuses on the needs of aging citizens.

On a recent Tuesday, Joan J. Williams, a 71-year-old retired inventory taker, went to her first Zumba class at CIP.

“I loved to dance when I was young,” she explained while standing on the shiny wooden floor of the center’s assembly room during a break in the workout. In addition to Zumba, she attends other CIP fitness classes including Silver Sneakers, Movin’ and Groovin’ and yoga.

The Zumba craze started with a simple mistake. In 2001, Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez was rushing to teach an aerobics class and forgot his traditional aerobic music. Having to improvise, Perez used his own mix of music from tapes he had in his backpack. The music he had was the music he grew up with, salsa and merengue, and the class loved it. Thus, the Zumba Fitness Party was born.

Today, Zumba has reportedly spread to more than 100,000 locations in more than 25 countries.

The dance fitness party — known for its exhilarating, calorie-burning moves – is not a form of exercise one might associate with an aging crowd but CIP uses a modified version of the exercise, known as Zumba Gold, which has easier moves and slower pacing to accommodate the needs of the baby boom generation.

“I try to make it conducive for everyone,” said CIP instructor Karen Young said. “I cater to what they want.”

Pat Sawyer, a CIP member, participated in the class for the first time in order to compare it to her own Zumba tapes.

“I bought the tapes and did them at home,” she said. “I wanted to try the class here to compare the speed. The pace of this class is much better for me.”

Although Sawyer’s shirt read, “I’d rather be line dancing,” her allegiance is shifting.

“I’m definitely coming back!” she said.

This relaxed version of the workout is considered moderate exercise yet the participants, all of whom are over the age of 55, worked up a sweat.

According to Young, the Zumba Gold class burns close to 250 calories, versus the regular 500-1,000 calories for traditional Zumba classes. Instructors demonstrate a seated option, for participants who have shimmied past their limits.

Young said many in her class have had knee and or hip replacements, but you would never know.

“Age doesn’t matter,” she said. “This class and the movements are contagious.”

The 45-minute class, which costs $5, “is challenging for the body and mind. It keeps them young,” said Young.

CIP health promotion coordinator Marie Marthol said it is important for the aging to stay physically fit in order to maintain independence, prevent chronic health conditions and prevent falls that lead to hospitalizations and placement in nursing homes.

Physical activity can prevent a variety of conditions from heart disease, to certain types of cancer to depression, according to Marthol.

“The exercise aspect combined with the social aspect is a natural mood lifter,” she said. “Basically, whatever is good for the heart is good for the brain.”


Brittany Payne and Caitlin Honan are students at La Salle University. This story first appeared on Germantown Beat, a website produced by student journalists at La Salle.

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