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Rhythm not required: Times reporter tries out latest exercise craze
0528ZUMBA 4
The Times reporter Savannah King and Dawn Trail work out in a Zumba class Thursday at Frances Meadows Community Center. - photo by NAT GURLEY

When: 1-3:30 p.m. June 1
Where: J.A. Walters YMCA
How much: $5 donation

For the past few years, I’ve been listening to some of the more fit people I know rave about the Latin dance-inspired workout, Zumba.

And for the past few years, I’ve had a secret longing to give the class a try. However, my deep-seated fear of public humiliation via my (serious) lack of rhythm gave me pause.

So when my editor suggested taking a class and writing about my experience I was admittedly nervous. But people have braved far worse fears than mine in the line of duty, so I couldn’t exactly say no.

“Just have fun,” she told me as I left to take the class Thursday afternoon at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center.

“Easy for you to say,” I mumbled under my breath.

When I arrived I was relieved to find only five people in the class. But the instructor, April Lucas, apologized for the small class size. She said bigger classes are more fun because there is more energy.

“It’s just fun,” she said. “You workout, but you don’t feel like you’re working out. It’s like a dance party really.”

Lucas started taking Zumba classes two years and 94 pounds ago and liked it so much she got licensed to teach it.

The class is a whole body workout with a lot of focus on the core. Lucas said people can burn between 350 to 500 calories per class.

“It’s a lot of dance,” she told me “It’s a lot of fitness. We’ll do some kumba, merengue, salsa, some hip hop and I’ll add in fitness. It’s a lot of ab core work and little bit of booty shakin’.”

I asked her if my rhythm, or lack thereof, would be problematic given the nature of the class.

“It’s easy to catch on to,” she assured me. “You don’t have to have rhythm to catch on. It’s repetitive. We go through once and by the second time you know what you’re doing. It’s very easy.”

Lucas skipped to the front of the class and started the music. She bounced on her toes and the class followed.

The workout started quickly. Before I knew what I was doing I was taking a few steps forward and back, then side to side, all while shaking my hips. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as bad as I expected.

The workout is made up of several songs and accompanying dance steps that vary in difficulty.

Lucas didn’t call out any steps but when a change was coming up, she’d slap her left or right side to signal where we were going or hold her hand in the air to count the number of steps.

I won’t pretend like I looked good doing the moves. I stayed about three steps behind everyone else. But occasionally I’d get something right and one of my classmates would offer an encouraging smile in the mirror — just enough to throw me off again.

But the truth is I was having fun. When the music stopped 40 minutes later, we were all soaked in sweat.

Lucas had been right about not realizing you’re working out. The time passed quickly; I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d done to sweat so much.

Debra Teakell, one of my classmates who clearly knew what she was doing, told me in Zumba, it doesn’t matter if you get the moves right just as long as you’re moving.

“When I first started I was just like you,” Teakell told me after class. “I told (my instructors) ‘I don’t know the moves.’ But they said ‘Hey, if you’re moving you’re doing just fine.’ And you really do learn the moves as you go.”

Teakell said she first heard about the class in February when she saw the end of a class at the center. She giggled and said it just looked like too much fun.

“There are some steps that I still don’t know,” Teakell said. “If you don’t do the songs regularly it’s like ‘I don’t know this one’ but it’s fun though. I really enjoy it.”

Maybe if I keep at it I’ll be able to confidently shake my hips like my classmates.

There are plenty of opportunities around Gainesville and Hall County to experience Zumba. Regular classes are at Hall County Parks and Leisure community centers and at Gainesville’s Frances Meadows Aquatic Center.

The J.A. Walter’s YMCA on Howard Road in Gainesville is hosting a Zumbathon from 1 to 3:30 p.m. June 1, to benefit its Strong Kids Campaign. The Zumbathon will raise money to provide free programs to children in Hall County elementary schools and other YMCA after school programs. A minimum $5 donation is required to get into the event.

For more Zumba and fitness opportunities check the Etc. Events calendar in Get Out every Thursday.