Getting fit with Zumba

Danette Dooley
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Latino dance rhythms make workouts fun and fast

A dance-inspired, booty-busting workout called Zumba is becoming as popular in fitness centres across North America as popcorn is in movie theatres.

At the Rotary Paradise Youth and Community Centre, close to 100 women come to Zumba classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings, wearing T-shirts, pants and running shoes and toting bottled water.

Sandra Estevez leads a Zamba session. Photo by Danette Dooley/Special to The Telegram

A dance-inspired, booty-busting workout called Zumba is becoming as popular in fitness centres across North America as popcorn is in movie theatres.

At the Rotary Paradise Youth and Community Centre, close to 100 women come to Zumba classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings, wearing T-shirts, pants and running shoes and toting bottled water.

Instructor Sandra Estevez supplies the infectious enthusiasm.

Small in stature, Estevez has enough energy to fill the gym as she stands onstage in front of women of all ages standing in rows.

Wearing a wireless mike, Estevez welcomes the class, then turns on the music. She shouts changes in direction to the women before each dance move.

Zumba originated in Colombia in the mid-1990s. The term is derived from a Colombian word meaning to move fast and have fun.

The exercise combines Latin and international music. If you attend Estevez's class, don't be surprised if she opens with "I Got a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas, or "Fire Burning" by Sean Kingston. She's also known to mix other popular songs such as Rednex's "Cotton Eye Joe" with rhythmic salsa, merengue, reggaeton, cumbia, tango and hip-hop.

Estevez and her students make swift boxing-like movements one moment, and a slow, graceful ballet stance the next.

Touted as a great cardiovascular workout, Zumba tones and strengthens the body by targeting major muscles.

Whether the women are lunging, squatting, bending, stretching, turning, twirling or running on the spot, they make sweating look easy.

Kathy Butler has been taking Estevez's classes for almost two years.

"She's like a rock star and we're just a crowd of groupies in the mosh pit," she said. "You're never bored and you're learning a new culture. You don't know you're exercising because you're having so much fun."

Any shyness the women initially bring to class disappears quicker than Estevez can shout "right turn!"

"Women are supposed to feel sexy and vivacious. She brings that out in us," Butler says.

Estevez excels as a Zumba instructor for good reason. A native of Colombia, she was born with the music, dancing before she could walk.

"I grew up with my grandmother and two of my aunts, and when we'd have people over I was the show of the night," she said. "'Now, Sandra is going to dance John Travolta.' They'd put on a record and I'd dance. It was really funny."

Estevez was a chemist at the University of Colombia before moving to Newfoundland seven years ago after meeting Buchans native Chad Fowlow over the Internet.

Fowlow is a civil engineer with Husky Energy.

The couple married and now have a four-year-old daughter, Fiona Maria, who was born in London, England, when Fowlow's work took them abroad for a year.

A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor, Estevez trained as a Zumba instructor in Montreal almost three years ago.

"People here are really fun and I knew they'd love to get acquainted with the music without the pressures of a formal class," she said of her classes in Paradise.

Estevez teaches women to discover the movement that can come from within.

"Nobody cares about their hair or their shoes. There's no pretention," she said. "And it can still be a little bit funny because of my accent."

Debbie Hussey has been taking Zumba classes for more than a year. She's seen the class size grow from a dozen to more than 100 women.

"It doesn't matter if you don't have the steps at first. You'll get it as you move on," she said.

In addition to toning the body, Zumba also relaxes the mind, Hussey says.

"You're concentrating on what you're doing. You're in the zone and you lose whatever has been on your mind that day."

Hussey says Estevez is a top-notch teacher.

"I've done other classes - they don't compare," she said. "She has so much knowledge about other things, too, like nutrition. She's not just our instructor, she's our friend."

Estevez figures there are 30 Zumba instructors on the Avalon Peninsula.

She said she is embracing her life in Newfoundland - as different as it is than the one she left behind.

Chaos is the reality of life in Colombia, she says.

"My country has had very difficult times historically ... political violence, drug dealing. ... Things are much better now, but when you live in that reality, and then I move here and I don't have to worry about my purse when I'm walking on the street. ... I appreciate the environment here, the trees, the sun and the snow."

She also appreciates having the freedom to pursue her goals.

"I truly believe you have to find things that give you purpose in life," she said. "I have my family, and now I have this huge group of friends. It brings me so much joy."

telegram@thetelegram.com danette@e.rogers.com

Organizations: University of Colombia, Husky Energy

Geographic location: Colombia, North America, Newfoundland Buchans London England Montreal

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