Has fitness ever been so fun?

It's after dark at the Bert Ferguson Community Center in Cordova, but the lights are bright above the basketball court. Instead of the pounding of a roundball, though, the gym vibrates to the spastic rhythm of "Que Te Mueve" ("What Moves You"). Nine women of various shapes, colors, and ages are shaking, bending, bouncing, even punching to the addictive beat, mirroring the routine of their solitary instructor. Welcome, Shelby County, to the world of Zumba.

The Zumba (loosely translated: "fast") exercise craze has an origin that would be legendary were it not such happenstance. Beto Perez, a celebrity trainer in Colombia, showed up at a class in the mid-Nineties having forgotten his aerobic music. Grabbing whatever tapes he had in his car — primarily Latin salsa and merengue — Perez improvised. His class and the world of dance fitness have never been the same. In 1999, Perez joined a pair of entrepreneurs in America to market Zumba — through videos, DVDs, and infomercials — all over the world.

Imelda Quidachay — a native of Singapore and mother of three who moved to Memphis in 2003 — has been teaching Zumba almost three years now. "I've always had a passion for dance," says Quidachay, "but I was never able to pursue it like I wanted to. I came across Zumba, ordered the [instructional] DVDs, and got certified to teach."

Quidachay actually de-emphasizes the exercise element to Zumba. "It's really more like dance that incorporates aerobics," she explains. "The beautiful part of it is the diversity of different dances: salsa, merengue, hip-hop, African, belly-dance, flamenco, samba . . . all into one. You get to experience different rhythms, and you meet people from different parts of the world, because the diversity of music draws them. It's like a party; you come to have fun."

Quidachay points out that there are no levels — beginner or advanced — to Zumba. "Everybody moves differently," she says. "Just keep coming to class, and you'll get it."

A Zumba routine is choreographed according to standard moves that exercise the entire body, from neck to ankle. If a part of your anatomy moves, it will dance to Zumba. "You can come up with your own choreography," stresses Quidachay. "Every instructor has a unique style." The emphasis is less on jumping or deep knee-bends, and more about rhythm and transition — within the same song — from one area of the body to another.

There's enough hip shaking in Zumba to make Shakira blush, which might explain why men — at least in this part of the world — have been reluctant to join the movement. "I have a couple of guys who will come regularly," says Quidachay. "But I think it's because men aren't used to moving the way we do in Zumba. Now, in Miami, there are tons of guys doing Zumba. Maybe because it's Latin-based." Ricky Martin videos might supplement the instructional DVDs.

One of Quidachay's students explained her fear of gaining weight when she chose to quit smoking 18 months ago. Zumba has been the balancing factor in a health decision that will likely add years to her life. "I hear so many stories," says Quidachay. "Most people say it's like a regular aerobics class, but with some more spice. You're losing weight, and you're learning how to dance at the same time. It's good for the body, the mind, and the soul." M

for more information, and to find a Zumba instructor near you, visit www.zumba.com.

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