Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, Latin, swing, and ballroom dance teacher in Oakland, CA.
How to Get Started Dancing Zumba
Have you always wanted to dance Zumba? Read on to find out if you can, how to find and register for a class appropriate to your skills, what to bring to your first class and how to prepare yourself physically!
Before You Begin
Before you begin, you'll want to assess your physical needs and abilities: ask your doctor/healthcare provider if learning Zumba is something you can safely do without getting hurt or landing yourself in the hospital due to any health restrictions or complications you may have. Read over the list of class descriptions to find out which one best fits your physical abilities and fitness goals.
Different Types for Different Needs and Levels of Ability
There is more than one kind of Zumba. Founder Beto Perez, smart guy that he is, recognized that people of all ages and abilities are interested in learning the moves, so he created a variety of programs to address different people's needs. I got this information from the official Zumba Fitness website, where you can get more information and watch videos about each type of program.
- Regular Zumba is the original kind.
- Zumba Toning is body sculpting techniques using Zumba toning sticks to enhance rhythm and build strength.
- Aqua Zumba is a "pool party" workout for all ages using Zumba and traditional aqua techniques.
- Zumba Sentao is a Zumba party-like workout that incorporates chairs to improve strength, definition and endurance.
- Zumba Gold is specially designed for the active older adult or unconditioned participant.
- Gold Toning is a toning class for for Zumba Gold participants.
- Zumbatomic/Zumba Kids/Zumba Kids Junior is a kids program that blends dance-fitness routines with fun games and high-energy music.
- Zumbini is a special program for young children ages 0-3 to participate together with their caregivers.
Where can I find a class?
Once you've established that it's safe for you to learn Zumba without risk, you should find out where it is taught near you. Go on the Zumba website where they provide an up-to-date list of all their certified instructors and classes which you can search for by level or location. Find nearby classes by clicking on the tab "Classes" on the homepage. You can search for a specific program if you are interested in taking classes other than regular/traditional "Zumba" which is generally for relatively fit and young to middle-aged adults.
You can also look for individual instructors in your area that offer private sessions, group classes, or corporate events, based on your needs. It is very important that you make sure that the instructor/class you are going to has been officially certified and licensed for Zumba. If the class you are attending isn't listed on this site, you should report it.
Zumba is offered in many places, but if you live somewhere rural or in a remote area, it might not be available for you. So before you get all excited, check to see if they even teach it near you! If there aren't any close by, you might want to consider attending a special convention or seminar out of town if you are interested and able to travel.
Once you've found a class you want to take, you should contact the site hosting the class and find out how to register. At some places, like my gym for example, Zumba and other group fitness classes are included with my monthly membership so I don't have to pay anything extra, I just show up to the class. However, at other places you might need to register in advance and/or pay a fee.
What do I need to bring to my first class?
Before you show up to your first class, you'll need to get some workout gear, including athletic gym shoes, a pair of shorts/pants/capris, and a t-shirt or tank top. It's an intense cardio workout so you'll get really hot.
Zumba is like a regular aerobics or other workout class, in terms of what kinds of clothes you should wear. You'll be moving around a lot and jumping and shuffling and all sorts of stuff, so make sure you wear shoes that securely attach to your feet (so no slip-ons, flip-flops, sandals, or high heels!). If it's something you can run and jump around in comfortably and safely, then it should be good for Zumba.
Also, because you're moving around so much, you're going to get really hot because it is a cardio intensive class, so it's good to wear something light that breathes that you can basically soak through with sweat every class. So don't wear your fancy whatever that you don't want to get gross and sweaty and/or doesn't wash well.
You can wear special work-out clothes by brands like Under Armor or Nike that "wick away sweat" and all that good stuff, which can get kind of expensive, or you can just wear stretchy cotton shorts/yoga pants (depending on how you feel about showing your legs) and a cotton tank top or t-shirt with a sports bra underneath. I prefer to go with this option because it's a) just as good, if not better because I get hot wearing synthetic fabrics and b) it costs less. And of course, make sure you let your clothes air out and dry before throwing them in the hamper to avoid gross bacteria developing when they sit in the hamper.
Official Clothes and Shoes
Another option is to wear "official" clothes designed by Zumba Fitness, which I think is pretty expensive and overpriced but if spending money on your workout clothes and the label is important to you, then go ahead. Their tank tops and t-shirts are usually about $25 each and their pants/capris are about $50 each. They have sales sometimes, too. These items can be purchased online at their website or in person at events that they host. You can also ask your instructor where to buy them.
How should I prepare myself for Zumba?
If you are someone who doesn't really engage in physical activity or exercise, then you should start preparing yourself prior to your first Zumba class in order to help reduce the risk of injury due to overexertion. You can start going on brisk walks (no meandering) or slow jogs to get used to being in motion and using your muscles. You should also start stretching a little bit (not too much of course, we don't you to get hurt!) to increase your flexibility. It's important to gradually introduce your body to exercise so it's not a shock to your system when you suddenly engage in intense cardio activity! It takes time to reach different levels of fitness, so don't expect to go from being a couch potato to an Olympic style athlete overnight!
Video: "Muevelo" Routine- More basic/low-impact
Why There are Different Dances to the Same Zumba Songs
There are different dances to the same songs, which can vary by instructor. It depends on if the instructor is using "official" Zumba Fitness choreography, or if they have created their own individual moves. In addition, there are different levels of difficulty for each song. It all depends on the instructor you get and at what kind of place you are attending the classes. There are more complicated/high impact versions, as well as low-impact versions of every dance, so don't be surprised to find yourself getting different kinds of work-outs with different instructors to the same song!
As an example, I've included videos of two very different routines to the same "Muevelo" song, just to show you how much variety exists between Zumba instructors and how easy or complicated a class can be!
Video: "Muevelo" Routine-- More advanced/intense
What to Look for in a Good Zumba Instructor
These are the characteristics of a good instructor:
- Easy to Follow
- Good Cueing Skills
- Good Form When Demonstrating Steps
- Engaging, Fun Personality, with Solid Leadership Abilities
- Polished, Professional Dancing Skills
Zumba instructors come in all shapes and sizes (I've had skinny young ones with a six-pack as well as middle-aged ones that were on the chubby side), because the dance can be tailored to fit any kind of fitness level. If you are unsatisfied, confused, and/or frustrated by your instructor's choreography, ask him/her at the beginning/end of class if there is a higher/lower-impact or more simple way to perform their choreography.
Some instructors prefer to do more complicated and intense versions of the dances which will leave you breathless and turning blue, or they can be more low-impact and be relatively easy to do and not require much effort. You should asses your own fitness needs, goals, and abilities and figure out which kind of class works best for you.
Remember that your instructor is there for you and it's their responsibility to answer questions and help their students learn to dance Zumba, so don't be afraid to ask questions! If you respectfully and politely ask for help but find that he or she is not open to questions and/or becomes offended that you have difficulty following the routine, then they are not a good instructor! A good teacher knows that his/her quality of teaching is based on the success of the students and recognizes that helping students understand the material is part of the job!
All Zumba instructors must be licensed and certified by Zumba Fitness: You can check to see if your instructor is officially licensed by looking on their website. "Zumba" instructors who are not qualified but claim to be, had a license that expired or was taken away, or never had a Zumba license at all are practicing fraud. Zumba is a copyrighted concept. If your class and/or instructor is not on the official list, you should report them.
Video: Example of a Good Zumba Instructor
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Anya Brodech
Laurel on July 07, 2017:
Most Zumba instructors I know never use the Zumba choreo. I do more recently as I felt in the past the choreo was overly complicated and sometimes not very fitness oriented... Also, I do love that Zumba now teaches more about cueing and i'm fine with non-verbal....but a lot of the aerobic relics are not. I think non verbal works fine if you teach your class well. I get bored by an overly cured class.
firstname.lastname@example.org on August 16, 2014:
Very helpful and its fantastic thanks everybody for sharing evrything...
Philharmonic on April 19, 2014:
I have a different angle on "Why There are Different Dances to the Same Zumba Songs", however. Fundamentally, it is because the quality of the "Zumba" choreography is severely lacking and Zumba instructors do not want to teach it.
This, unfortunately, is where the problems arise: Out of those instructors, some will spend a lot of time and effort creating original choreography for their classes. Those classes are sometimes attended by other instructors who prefer that choreography over Zumba's and they wind up teaching it in their own classes.
This is a shame when the original choreographers are put out of business when the other instructors teach their choreography for $5 cheaper down the street. The epidemic spreads until the original choreography is thought of as "Zumba's" choreography and can even be eventually found for free on YouTube.
Worse yet, many Zumba instructors will "use" choreography from other dance-fitness programs (examples: Les Mills, Dance Trance, Sensazao) in their Zumba classes!
Unfortunately, many Zumba instructors are... misguided from the very beginning. During the instructor training, they are encouraged to create their own choreography or "take" choreography they find interesting from others.
How do I know this? Because I used to be one of those original choreographers that essentially paid Zumba to use their name.
Could this approach be why Zumba is the largest dance-fitness program in the world? I’ll let you decide.