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Confessions of a Zumba newbie

I know I'm not fat, contrary to the favorite phrase of my relatives and family friends: "Uy, parang tumaba ka." They can't seem to get over my skinny high school frame, just like I couldn't a few years ago. But unlike them, I'd learned to love the extra meat on my bones—I mean, it's not as if I can't fit through the door.

However, I began to worry when I realized I would have to sit for nine hours straight before a computer in order to earn a living. More so when my train commute grew frequent and I would often find myself painfully out of breath at the top or bottom of the MRT stairs.

So when I heard some officemates were taking a Zumba class just across the street from our building, I hesitated only to calculate if my funds could handle it.

Some Zumbackground

In the 1990s, Colombian choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez accidentally invented Zumba when he forgot to bring his music to an aerobics class. He improvised the class with the Latin dance tunes he had in his car.

He teamed up with co-founders Alberto Perlman (CEO) and Alberto Aghion (COO) and together, they made a demo reel which caught the eye of Fitness Quest, an Ohio-based fitness company.

The company has since expanded to over 151 countries, 140,000 locations, and 14,000,000 adherents and practitioners.

"We offer different types of Zumba classes, plus DVD workouts, original music collections, apparel and footwear, video games, interactive Fitness-Concert™ events, a quarterly lifestyle magazine and more," reads their company snapshot on their website.

Last month, the Department of Health launched a campaign to combat the four factors (smoking, unhealthy food, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol intake) in developing lifestyle-related illnesses. Many of its officials taught an impromptu Zumba class at the gym of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

The campaign also aimed to lower the risk of heart attacks: Apart from eating right, a man's waist must be kept smaller than 35 inches, and a woman's smaller than 32 inches.

"May evidence 'yung ating changes sa puso, cardiovascular system, start between the ages of two years and 13 years old," said DOH spokesman Eric Tayag. "This [Zumba] will actually motivate the young people...that it's easy, it's inexpensive, and it's infectious."

Woes of those with two left feet

"Remember, it's okay kung hindi ka makasabay," said my mom on the morning of my first class. I was more worried about looking like a fool. Not so long ago, I was a klutz—and though I've gained more balance since, sometimes my legs get tangled up when following a new dance move.

But I discovered soon enough that she was right. Sure, the painfully shy person in me balked upon learning that I, along with a room full of other people, would have to belly dance, break dance, samba, salsa, tango, and mambo—in addition to doing aerobics moves, yoga poses, squats, and lunges. But many of my classmates were struggling with the steps just as much as I was; and after a while, I realized that we were all too busy trying to catch up with the beat and figuring out our coordination for one excruciating hour to laugh at each other.

Even though I call it excruciating—as most of us are exhausted by the half-hour mark—it's also loads of fun, especially when you realize you've memorized the easier steps by the third session. Then you can really get into the hip-hop beats, the banghra pop, the Latin music, and even the Christina Aguilera and Michael Jackson tunes.

What all this told me is that I had to stop worrying so much about whether I looked like a fool or not, as for as long as I still didn't get the timing or the steps, I was going to. What this freed me to do was to try and enjoy that single hour in which I can shake everything I've got, away from the blinding brightness of my computer screen.

Also, it turned out that I didn't need to worry about money too much, as the price varied depending on how many individuals show up to a session.

Dance until you die(t)

As with any exercise, Zumba will not help you lose weight right away. You need to pair it with a diet—not the crash kind, but a diet of appropriately-portioned fruits, vegetables, and proteins.

You cannot completely stave off the carbs, either, as you'll need something to burn during the workout—I learned this the hard way when I came to one class without having eaten breakfast. Suffice to say, the room spun after the session and I felt like a pig when I bought something extra even after eating my lunch.

Also, unless your Zumba classes occur every day of the week, you need to alternate it with another exercise regimen if you want to lose weight faster—perhaps an hour of running or Hip-Hop Abs for every day you don't have Zumba.

What it will do for you, however, is improve your cardio. I find that my thighs no longer feel as if they're dragging me down after climbing two flights of stairs—it's slow, but it's a start.

And, if nothing else, you have a few simple moves to show off on the dance floor. Nobody need know that you're more wobbly than a newborn calf when it comes to the more difficult footwork. — KG, GMA News