Zumba groupies: 'Join the party'
Dance fitness craze turns Seacoast gyms into nightclubs
By Rachel M. Collins
June 05, 2008 6:00 AM
With salsa music blaring and the mini multi-colored strobe lights and disco ball spinning in the
dimly lit room, Iliana Lilly admitted she had found the perfect setting to release "her inner dancer."
"It brings out that music that you have inside yourself," said Lilly, who is originally from Mexico,
but now lives in Stratham. "It makes you feel happy and brings out your inner child. It gives you
the energy for the day."
That's because Lilly has discovered the growing dance fitness craze called Zumba (pronounced
Zoom-ba) where participants sway their hips, swing their arms and shimmy their bodies to fast-
paced traditional Latin salsa and merengue music.
In the Seacoast area alone, many times a week, dancers, and would-be dancers, of all ages are
in constant movement to keep pace with the pulsating music and the high energy instructors like
Dressed in a tank top, flowing pants and a hip scarf most often worn by belly dancers, LaFlamme
not only shows those in her Zumba classes the moves, but eggs them on with shouting, catcalls
"Go, go, go girl," she yelled above the music as she danced forward and back in front of one of
the room's wall-to-wall mirrors. "Girls gone wild."
And, in the dark, the women — dressed in tank tops, yoga pants, shorts and sneakers with little
tread so they can move easier — truly feel
free to dance as if they are in a nightclub
where no one can see them.
"We find that when we turn off the lights in
the class we have six or seven more join
the class," said Brenda Perkins, of
Greenland, who owns the Elements for
Women gym in Exeter, where Zumba is
offered on this day. "It makes it very
That's because Zumba dancers are in
gyms that look and seem, for the hour at
least, more like nightclubs with their
dimmed lights and high-volume music.
"I think many of us are really frustrated dancers inside," said Janice Murray of Stratham. "Here,
when the lights are out, you can all feel like fabulous dancers."
Dancers who are in constant movement following instructors like LaFlamme, who do basic moves
rather than complicated routines.
"In our mind we are all goddesses in that room," Perkins said. "And with the disco lights it's like a
party in a disco."
Certainly, it is no coincidence that the Zumba fitness program's tag line is "Join the party."
The atmosphere is all about getting together with your friends for an hour to have some fun — it
just so happens you'll be sweating and getting fit at the same time.
"It's the fastest, most fun hour of my entire week," said Patricia MacDonald of Exeter. "Absolutely,
I wish I could do it more."
In fact, that seems to be the consensus since Zumba started catching on in the Seacoast area in
the past couple of years.
"I've been teaching fitness for 15 years, but this is the best," LaFlamme said.
Her evidence is that she, and the other area instructors, have noticed so-called "Zumba groupies"
who travel from gym to gym around the area to take in as many classes a week as their schedule
They may be in Exeter one day, Portsmouth the next and in Epping on another.
Although some classes require gym memberships, there are plenty of classes that are offered to
drop-ins on a pay by class basis.
"The cool thing about it is that each instructor makes it their own," Perkins said. "Each brings their
own personality and experience."
For instance, LaFlamme's experience is in fitness, while fellow Zumba instructor Angela Garcia,
who is originally from Puerto Rico, is a dancer.
"It's really sweeping the country," Garcia said. "And I get most people from word-of-mouth. Some
women treat it like a 'girls night out.'"
Yes, there are those, like MacDonald, who think it's that much fun.
"There's no boredom factor," she said. "It's not step, it's not weights, it's just fun."
And it all began simply enough.
As the story goes, it all started when celebrity fitness trainer "Beto" Perez forgot to bring his
aerobics music to a class he was teaching in his native country of Colombia in the mid 1990s.
His only option was to grab the tapes he had in his car, which were songs he loved, as well as the
traditional Latin salsa and merengue music on which he'd been raised.
Those in the class enjoyed the new format so much, they told him to stop bringing along the other
music — and before he knew it Perez's Zumba! Program was so popular he brought it to the
United States, where he jump-started its popularity with an infomercial.
Now there are thousands of Zumba instructors worldwide.
"I love it," said Elizabeth Pross, of East Kingston. "I'm telling everyone to do it."
"This is the best workout I've ever had and it's really fun," she said. "When you leave this class
you definitely have a smile on your face."
And, though most of their moves may never see the light of day, the smile is evident as they walk
out of the gym.