Hips don't lie

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 30, 2012 20:50 hrs

Shake your hips to the music!” yells a young, lean instructor in a formidable tone. At his command, the 10-odd women, gathered in an inconspicuous basement, jump, shake their hips and bellies, twirl on their toes and even sway to Puerto Rican sensation Ricky Martin’s flirtatious “Shake your Bon-Bon”. It is 8.30 in the morning and I’m at the Delhi Dance Academy in Amar Colony, south Delhi, for my first Zumba workout.

The instructor Suren (it’s his adopted Zumba name, I am told) appreciates my efforts as I struggle to keep up with the energetic women and adds, “You need an inexhaustible amount of energy to last an hour.” He’s right, it seems. Though I have tried and tested various forms of workout such as aerobics, power yoga and salsa in the last few years and hit the gym at least four times a week, a 60-minute session of Zumba, I must confess, leaves me panting and exhausted.

Zumba, a Colombian dance form characterised by sensual movements of the hips, belly and the waist, is now gaining ground as an effective form of exercise in India. The dance-fitness workout has been adopted by various gyms and dance studios to spice up the mundane exercise regimes of their members. A 60-minute Zumba session is an enthralling mix of dance and aerobic elements, jazzed up with Latin-American dance forms like salsa, merengue, reggaetton, cumbia, soca, samba, mambo, martial arts and even some trademark Bollywood and Bhangra steps.

If you are bored of machines at the gym and too lazy to jog in the winter, there are plenty of fun, sensual and exhausting dance forms to test your endurance and spice up your exercise routine. 
Here is a look at the calories burnt in a 60-minute session of different dance forms.
  • Zumba: 800-1,000 
  • Ballroom dance (foxtrot, waltz, cha cha): 200-300 
  • Hip-Hop: 350-550 
  • Ballet: 350-450
  • Swing: 350-550 
  • Tap dance: 200-700 
  • Pole dance: 250-350
  • Bharatnatyam: 400-600 
  • Kathak: 250-450 
  • Belly dance: 250-450 
  • Bollywood: 300

The class begins with warm-up exercise with easy-to-grasp steps such as fast marching, hamstring curls, grapevines, the classic ‘V’ step (moving back and forth in the shape of the alphabet) — all common to elementary aerobics. The difference here is the essential movement of the hips and waist with every step, making even the warm-up surprisingly exhausting.

Suren insists we shake our hips and waist with great zeal. It’s Zumba after all, he stresses repeatedly. And so, while Shakira sings “Hips don’t lie” on the audio system, we try to emulate her admirable belly-dancing skills. The song seems to be a favourite with the ladies, all between 20 and 40 years, who, on Shakira’s cue, turn up the energy, clap with the beat and sway with the lifting tunes. There is no inhibition in the cheerful orange room; the women perform the sensual steps with great élan.

The music shifts from fast Latin American beats to Punjabi hip hop. Even Punjabi rapper Honey Singh’s “Angreji beat” makes an appearance. Suren spices up the routine with the sensual cha cha cha, the Cuban dance form popularised by the late Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing (1987). As I struggle to shuffle my feet to the fast tempo, Suren stresses on the importance of shifting my weight from one leg to the other. If done with energy, he adds, it can do wonders for the calf muscles and the quadriceps (muscles in the thigh). The most intense elements of the workout are the squats and the lunges, performed to the fast beats of “La Cumbia” by Cuba Club.

Suren does not allow us more than 30 seconds of breaks between the different songs. Instead, he varies the intensity of the workout by reducing the tempo of the music — we now groove to Tono Rosario’s “Don’t worry, be happy” and switch to mambos, twirls and arm movements. But as soon as he sees our energy levels dropping, he switches to the explosive “Jugni” track and urges us all to “jump like never before”. An animalistic energy takes over the room and we fling our arms into the air and “shimmy” (the body is held still while the shoulders are alternated back and forth) our way into the last five minutes of the workout. If done with a consistent level of energy, 60 minutes of Zumba can make you lose over 1,000 calories.

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The story of Zumba dates back to the mid ’90s when Colombian fitness instructor Alberto “Beto” Perez was on his way to conduct an aerobics class and forgot the music behind. And so, at the class, Perez improvised using his own mix of music from tapes he had in his backpack, comprising saucy salsa and merengue music that he grew up listening to. Instead of keeping count of the repetition of steps, the enthusiastic class danced along with him. Years later, in 2001, Perez brought his new dance-fitness style to Miami and set up Zumba Fitness. He even trademarked the word Zumba. The Zumba Fitness-Party launched by the company has found many takers in celebrities such as Madonna and Jennifer Lopez.

The brand also sells Zumbawear apparel and accessories, music CDs and even videogames.

In India, Zumba finds fewer takers. One reason could be the misconception that only dancers can grasp the choreography. “You can learn all the steps in around three classes,” insists Kinjal Thakkar, a fitness instructor at Talwalkars Mumbai outlet. In June this year, the gym partnered with Perez’s Zumba Fitness to launch “exercise in disguise” programmes across its branches in over 68 cities in India. “The USP of Zumba is that it doesn’t seem like a workout because it’s fun and flirty. It’s only when you go home do you realise how much you’ve exerted yourself in just an hour!” says Thakkar who conducts a class with over 20 people. “You can increase the intensity of the workout by using free weights,” she adds. For those with knee and back pain, it is stressed to maintain the correct posture (back straight, knees bent and aligned with the toe) while doing squats and lunges. Like any other workout, for best results, have a light meal before Zumba.

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“A Zumba workout is very effective because all the parts of the body are involved,” says Sachin Shaniya who introduced Zumba Fitness in India in 2009 by setting up Zumba India. Shaniya has trained several others instructors in the art of Zumba. He stresses, “A good instructor will ensure you grasp the steps and will ease you into complex choreography while being cautious about injuries.” An hour of Zumba, done four times a week, can tone up the legs, arms, neck, waist, hips and shoulders. Zumba India runs classes across Delhi and NCR.

Delhi Dance Academy, set up by Arjun and Anant Sandhu, has gathered around 350 members since its inception in January this year. One such enthusiastic member is Shehnaz Akhtar (name changed on request), 23, who swears by Zumba. After all, she has lost over 10 kilos in the last six months doing Zumba. “I hate using machines at the gym because they are monotonous and stop showing results as soon as you hit a plateau [on the weighing scale],” she says as she tries to teach me a few of the complex steps. “This is fun, entertaining and an intense workout!” Exhausted and invigorated at once, I couldn’t agree more.

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