We’ve laughed at it, been confused by it and ultimately inspired by it. No matter what your reaction, there’s no denying Zumba is making a huge impact on the fitness scene.

Whether it’s the late night infomercials or rhythmic beats, Zumba has earned a cult following over the past year. As a result, gyms are now featuring the dance-based fitness class as a regular on their timetables.

But what exactly does it involve? Surely there’s more to losing weight than shaking your booty? I decided to take the plunge and attend a Zumba class to see what all the fuss is about.

The basics

Zumba is a dance fitness program developed by dancer and choreographer, Alberto ‘Beto’ Perez during the 1990s. The concept first came about when Perez forgot to bring his aerobics music to a class he was teaching and had to rely on his personal collection of Latin music instead. The Latin-inspired class was a success and Zumba was born!

The combination of Latin, international and dance music creates a unique party vibe. Perez developed the program with the aim of combining fitness and fun, making exercise something to look forward to.

“Zumba is a fun way to exercise, it’s like a party and everyone is welcome – no age, fitness or dance level required,” says Pierre Kaldawi, instructor at Zumba Melbourne.

“You are having fun while your exercising. We make a lot of noise, we sweat, we dance and we forget that we’re working hard,” he says.

The routines utilise interval training by combining fast and slow rhythms to optimise the amount of energy you burn, and the workout uses a variety of dance moves including salsa, mambo, samba, flamenco as well as more modern moves, including hip hop.

Getting started

I enter the class not quite knowing what to expect. It’s at my local gym and I’ve dragged a friend along for moral support.

I’m not the greatest dancer at the best of times so I’m pretty reluctant to be shaking my booty in front of a room full of strangers – I’m usually happy on a treadmill or crosstrainer with nothing but my headphones for company.

I enter the class and take my place in the room. Unlike many other group fitness classes there’s no need for any equipment – just pick a spot. The music starts and the instructor starts moving. Beginners are advised to watch the instructor closely to pick up the moves, and unlike other fitness classes the instructions are mainly visual rather than vocal (except for the ‘woohoos!’ of encouragement).

For someone as uncoordinated as me, the moves are a little tricky to master at first, but it definitely gets easier as you become more familiar with them. It’s a bit of a laugh and I try to focus on releasing my inner Shakira – and hopefully achieve the abs to match.

The benefits

Zumba claims to be an all over body workout, and you definitely engage your entire body with the range of moves.

I found myself working my legs, arms, waist and abs, and the songs changed in pace which meant I was training in fast and slow intervals too. Ultimately, I was getting a great cardio workout that was burning up a lot of energy while using my whole body.

In order to get the most out of a Zumba workout you’ve really got to put in the effort. You control how much you put in – as a result, if you’re not giving 100 per cent you might not feel like you’re getting a proper workout.

“There are no levels in Zumba – classes are open to everyone. It’s up to the individual how hard they would like to work,” Kaldawi says. “I’ve had various students achieve different results in the same class – some have burnt 300 calories and some have burnt 800 calories.”

The more familiar you become with the moves, the easier it is to put in more effort and ultimately get more out of your Zumba session.

One of the best parts of Zumba is the fact it is fun, and if you go with some friends you’ll definitely laugh your way through the hour. There was a range of different people in my class and nobody seemed to be judging anyone or worrying about their level of experience – they were just focusing on having a good time.

“As a 30-year-old it’s hard to find places to dance without being totally overwhelmed with younger people. Zumba is for everyone, so the majority are older people who just want to have fun while exercising at the same time,” Kaldawi says.

The risks

As well as the risk of slight embarrassment, there are a few other things to be cautious of when taking on Zumba for the first time. I experienced a few aches the next day, mainly around my waist (I guess all those gyrations paid off after all), but the pain was definitely bearable.

“Risk are everywhere, but we can minimise risk by dressing appropriately, registering and filling in details of our current and past injury and illness history,” Kaldawi says.

Make sure you warm up properly to prevent any muscle or joint strains, and keep hydrated! You might find yourself sweating quite a bit, so bring a water bottle with you.

If you are prone to cramping, eat a banana before you participate, as the potassium will help prevent muscle cramps that might occur during the class. I felt the dubious pre-cramping sensation coming on in my calves after some footwork.

“Zumba does include low impact and high impact moves, so everyone needs to stick to their own pace and comfort,” Kaldawi says.

Footwear is a bit tricky for Zumba, as I found my normal runners to be slightly restrictive. Some instructors recommend you wear dance shoes, but if you don’t happen to have a pair of these floating round in your cupboard (and lets face it, who does?) a pair of lightweight, flexible shoes with adequate support can be worn.

If you fall in love with Zumba and make it part of your regular workout routine, you might want to invest in a pair of dance-fitness or dance-aerobic shoes. With the increase in dance-based fitness programs, these can be found in many sports retailers.

So what are you waiting for? If you’ve reached an exercise plateau or are simply looking to add some spice to your fitness life, it’s time to try Zumba. It’s a fun and effective way to keep fit, and at the very least it’s a great way to socialise and giggle your way to tighter abs.