Alice* is a senior lecturer in a very traditional career. She has been in the academia for ten years now, but since 2015 she is also performing as Zumba instructor. According to several researches and the campaign #ThisGirlCan, Zumba is an excellent exercise for people’s body and mind. Still, Alice does not want to disclose her hobby as she fears being taken less seriously in her work environment.
It’s Tuesday evening and Alice arrives in London wearing a formal office outfit. She just got off from the train that brings her to the city after a long commute. Alice has to change clothes quickly, she has a Zumba class to teach in half an hour. “It’s always nice to come when you have a Zumba class in the evening”.
Alice did her PhD in London, got a full time job and then a position as a senior lecturer at a university outside London. After five years in academia, she started taking Zumba classes regularly and three years later her motivation for the workout turned her in an instructor. “I see it more as the holistic part of a person rather than an alter ego”, Alice says.
After changing clothes, Alice reappears wearing a sporty top, leggins, trainers and a big smile in her face. However, she is nervous about the interview. She doesn’t want to openly admit that she is a Zumba instructor. But why? “Maybe is the whole idea of what’s the difference between a male lecturer and female lecturer”, she says. Alice’s concerns are not unfounded. She is part of a traditional and challenging field, and she is young, blonde and a woman.
Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign recently relaunched with a vibrant celebration of active women. Its aim is “to help women overcome the fear of judgement” and be proud of being active. The first phase of the campaign in 2015 prompted nearly three million British women to get more active, according to Sport England figures. By showing real women being part of activities such as Zumba, the campaign helped lower the participation gap between men and women from 1.75m to 1.3m.
Alice deeply embraces the message and purpose of the campaign, but she feels that in the academic environment it might not be acceptable that a lecturer, and particularly a female lecturer, is also a Zumba instructor. “When you have university disciplines with a strong professional focus, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, who also do Zumba, it doesn’t really go together somehow”, she says.
Kate Dale, campaign manager for #ThisGirlCan at Sports England says that “these barriers, such as fear of judgement, never go away but it is about giving women the tools to constantly challenge them.”
Alice is aware that she is being too cautious with the decision of not disclosing her Zumba passion, but she hopes the university culture can change to “not only say that accept diversity, but support people and welcome the different things you like”.
Still, she is optimistic. “I think we are moving to the idea that we don’t need to be secluded in our own disciplines and that we need to be open to the difference.” Alice has always been curious about different cultures and truly thinks that “Zumba is one of the ways to explore those differences.”
But what is Zumba?
“We have music from all over the world”, says Alice. Created in Colombia in the late 90s and established as a trademark in 2001, Zumba takes the fundamentals of salsa dancing and combines them with aerobic cardio exercise. Today, Zumba choreographies incorporate Latin beats such as samba, merengue, salsa, reggaeton and mambo, as well as afro beats, hip-hop, bollywood, etc. However, it’s not just dancing, the routines also include squats and lunges, to make it an integral workout.
A Zumba class usually ranges from 45 to 60 minutes. It is a high-energy instructor-led workout with simple dance moves, heavy on the hips. A mixture of fast and slow rhythms are used to tone and burn fat. Alice says it “is a great combination of keeping fit and dancing.”
According to Zumba official site, approximately 15 million people take weekly Zumba classes across 180 countries. In the UK, more than 1 million people is enrolled in classes today, making Zumba one of the most popular physical activities for women in the country.
Zumba in London
Adrian Walters, Studio Manager at YMCA Club in London, says that Zumba began to be highly demanded in the city around 5 years ago. The largest gym facility in Central London didn’t think it twice and that same year began offering Zumba classes. Adrian says that currently “over 100 members attend Zumba classes per week” in the club.
Over the last few years, Londoners constantly look for Zumba classes according to Adrian. “Most classes are well attended but as Zumba became prominent in media and Health Clubs”, its popularity is beyond question.
For the studio manager, “the appeal is simple choreography and lots of repetition”. He says that Zumba is “inclusive to all fitness levels and has no age barriers”.
But what is so attractive about the workout to people who practice it? “Zumba is popular as many people are having fun dancing and not realising that they are exercising”, Adrian says.
For most of people, the answer seems to be the same: Zumba feels more like a party than a workout. But it’s not just a feeling. Several researches have supported the statement that Zumba may be one of the best workouts for women who do not like other forms of exercise.
A study published in the Sociology of Sports Journal, found that people who practice it “prioritise fun over workout” and find other fitness activities “boring, stressful, painful and lonely”, as well as they characterise other dancing classes as “more restrictive”. The research also highlights the psychological benefits of Zumba. Women feel more independent and report having fewer reservations about social judgement than in traditional group workouts.
Where to go for Zumba classes
In London, you can find Zumba classes all over the city. The cost per class generally ranges from 5 to 10 pounds.
Zumba Fitness London by Slice Live, has the largest timetable of Zumba classes in the city and it gives you the possibility to buy an unlimited class pass, which you can use to go to different instructors’ classes in different locations across London. You book online and you show up at the class you like.
There are many single Zumba events taking place regularly in the city, which are published on Eventbrite, platform where you can also buy the tickets.
If you’re looking for stability and would like to choose a venue that offers Zumba, you might be interested in searching for classes at the official Zumba fitness website, where you will be able to type your postcode, and the system will show you all the classes available and locations hosting Zumba classes near you. Then, you just have to approach directly to the gym or club of your choice and join the dance fitness party.
*Name changed on request.