- Popular workout trends these days focus more on reps, target heart rate, and calories burned.
- But these grueling and competitive workouts often feel exclusive.
- I went to a Zumba Instructor Convention and learned that the dance fitness workout beloved by moms all over the world over might actually be the most inclusive workout around.
A growing body of research continues to prove that health exists at every size and that people of all body types and abilities can be healthy.
Despite this, the weight-loss industry seems to prevail, each year coming up with creative new ways to convince us that certain food groups are “bad” or that the happiest version of ourselves exists in a certain pants size.
Naturally, the fitness industry goes hand in hand with the diet industry, with trends coming and going through decades often never to be seen again. Just as Jazzercise went the way of VHS tapes and leg warmers in the ’70s and ’80s to make way for the step classes of the ’90s, today the $ 80 billion per year fitness industry is in its next rebrand, with a focus on “health and wellness.”
Ironically, the most popular workouts today are more grueling and competitive than ever before, many with a core focus on reps, target heart rate, and calories burned.
The Zumba community is inclusive and welcoming.
Founded in 2001, Zumba immediately surged in popularity as the workout for the over-50 set at the local YMCA, but these days, it’s seemingly been replaced by newer, shinier workout trends. I’ll admit, the thought of someone as uncoordinated as myself trying to dance alongside nearly 7,000 Zumba instructors was initially scary but remembering the joy I felt in my own local Zumba class made me pack my bag.
What I saw in Orlando was beyond anything I’d ever seen before — thousands of energetic, smiling faces, donning more shades of neon and glitter than I knew existed. For someone that prefers to wear as much black as possible, stationed quietly in the back of a fitness studio, I knew I was in for quite an experience.
At the kickoff event, Zumba execs and instructors alike told stories of students who’d experienced depression, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other emotional and physical conditions, finding a safe haven in their weekly Zumba classes.
That joy exists is in no small part to the Zumba community, from instructors to students, welcoming each other and creating a positive, accepting, and inclusive space for all to flourish in.
As Gina Graziani, Zumba’s Community Relations Specialist, put it, “connection is the energy we create when we feel seen, heard, and loved.”
Zumba is all about rewarding, not punishing, yourself.
And sure, Zumba is well aware of its reputation as “your mom’s workout,” but here’s the thing: When you’re counting reps, calories, and minutes spent in a specific heart rate zone, you forget that working out and moving your body to music can and should feel joyful — not punishing.
“Zumba is for everybody. Period. As simple as that,” said German instructor Maurice Weindel. “There is no ‘no’ in Zumba. You come to class, you enjoy yourself, and you let the music do the rest.”
Zumba offers a body-positive experience.
Instructor in training and Pulse nightclub survivor Angel Colon agrees, calling it a “no-judgment zone,” saying, “I’ve seen everything, and it’s okay if you don’t have rhythm… it’s about having a blast. It’s not about being the best dancer or being fit, it’s about having a good time.”
Expressing ourselves and our bodies through music has proven health benefits.
As Carla Korn, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist told me, “Body positive fitness is really about a movement that celebrates your body and what it can do and feel good in the body you have, rather than focusing on actively trying to change your body.” Korn added, “Workouts like Zumba are less about achievement and progress and more about a fun environment and connection, and Zumba classes, in general, can definitely have an atmosphere of inclusivity for people of different body sizes.”
Zumba Wear sizing is equally inclusive, featuring size small (spicy), medium (marvelous), large (lovely), extra large (extra lovely), and so on, because as the tags note, “a size won’t tell you how awesome you are.”
“If someone is feeling insecure in their body because they don’t fit the ideal body type that’s being celebrated, they are a lot less likely to participate in an activity that’s reinforcing their body shame,” says Korn, who adds, “An activity like Zumba that’s designed to let you have fun while moving your body in a judgment-free zone, is probably going to go a lot further in keeping someone engaged in their workout routine than more competitive or ‘goal-oriented’ fitness classes.”
And while exercising for any reason is valid, when you’re surrounded by people who motivate and encourage you, you’re more likely to keeping coming back.
Amanda LaCount, a 17-year-old dancer, body positive activist, and Zumba ambassador, told me, “They’re very accepting — the whole community is supportive and they don’t judge you based on the way you look. Everyone’s there to have a good time.”
Spending five days with a slew of neon-clad Zumba enthusiasts of all ages, body types, and abilities reminded me that perfection doesn’t always have to be the goal… and that getting out of my own head and into the music and the movement is both fun and rewarding.
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