In a large studio at Temperance, the newly opened “culture hub" in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra, around 20 young men and women are sweating it out to Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca. Track pants, sports bras and muscle T-shirts—they’re dressed for a high-intensity cardio workout.

The Colombian dance fitness programme Zumba is the new girl in the Indian fitness circuit. It masks a dozen sets of squats, lunges and hip rolls with a mash-up of Latin American dance moves.

Think of it as power aerobics with serious sex appeal: Zumba’s choreography incorporates salsa, merengue, samba, mambo, tango and bachata with hip hop and a few Bollywood and belly dance moves.

Get moving: Sucheta Pal conducting a class in Connecticut, US.

Part of the winning formula for Zumba (which some believe is Spanish slang for “buzz like a bee") is that instructors are encouraged to keep the choreography simple, and avoid over-directing so students can drop their inhibitions and “feel" the music.

“You can burn anything between 600-1,000 calories in one session," says Singh, who calls it an “exercise in disguise". “Women, especially, are easily bored by treadmills and gym routines. This works for just about anyone because it’s never the same and you’re motivated because you’re learning something new," he says.

Zumba is part of the first set of classes offered at Temperance, which started rolling out batches last month. “We were gauging the demand for Zumba along with our planned classes for Hatha and Iyengar yoga, power pilates, mixed martial arts, Bolly-hop and contemporary dance. We realized its potential at the ‘it’ bag of the fitness circuit. We had to offer classes," says Aakanksha Gupta, communications director. Temperance now offers Zumba in three evening slots, and three morning slots are in the works.

Dianne CobbPennisi with branded Zumba ‘toning sticks’. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Delhi Dance Academy, a 10-year-old dance studio in New Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, also started offering Zumba three months ago. A senior instructor, Sanjay Kumar Angaria, who goes by “San", says they had to start classes “because it was in fashion". The fad following aside, he lists benefits that would impress gym rats. “Indians tend to put on weight around their midriff. Since Latin dance is entirely dependent on waist movements, Zumba makes for a superb core workout," he says. The academy offers add-ons such as dumb-bells and exercise balls in their classes. San mentions another benefit: It can work as a primer for those interested in pursuing salsa, merengue and other Latin dances.

Zumba was born of a “happy accident" in the mid-1990s when Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto" Perez forgot to carry the required aerobics music to his class. He decided to wing it with old salsa and merengue music in his personal collection and the experiment resulted in a non-stop dance class.

In 2001, Beto brought his dance-fitness style to Miami, Florida, and with two other Colombian entrepreneurs—Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion— branded it Zumba Fitness. Zumba® is now a trademarked style, and by 2005, it had spawned a full-fledged Zumba Academy™ to license instructors.

Roshan Singh with his class at Temperance. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

An engineer before she quit to pursue Zumba full-time, Pal was introduced to Zumba while living in Connecticut, US, three years ago. “I was hooked to the music at first. Then I came on board with the fitness aspect: It’s intense cardio, and at the end of a session, you’ve worked on almost all your muscle groups. I call it the happy drug. It’s addictive."

Pal pegs the number of licensed instructors in India at more than 300. A search on the official website Zumba.com throws up around 50 centres in Mumbai, and 15 in Delhi and Bangalore each. Most of these are between a month to a year old.

Jaya Maheshwari, 38, a furniture retailer from Kolhapur, is part of a group of women who meet five times a week for a mixed aerobics session. They sent their trainer to Pune, 220km away, to learn Zumba. “We met a girl visiting from Pune who had lost a lot of weight doing Zumba, and what she described seemed like a lot of fun," says Maheshwari, before adding: “It wasn’t just for us. There’s such a demand now that it made business sense for our trainer to learn Zumba." The newly opened branch of Gold’s Gym in Kolhapur, she points out, offers Zumba as well.

The mushrooming of Zumba classes across India brings up the question of authenticity. San, for instance, confesses that the Delhi Dance Academy trainers are self-taught. As the first ZES in India, part of Pal’s job (she moved back to India in April) is “to sort out this mess by training more instructors".

“There are lot of instructional videos online, which is where the problem lies. Licensed Zumba instructors receive a DVD every month from the headquarters in Florida to update their music and choreography," says Pal.

Pal recalls her only meeting with Beto, earlier this year, when she was receiving her ZES training. “Every single move on every Zumba DVD that goes out has been approved by him. He’s very hands-on."

Zumba Fitness currently offers eight styles of Zumba—from Zumba Gold, which is geared towards senior participants, to Aqua Zumba, which is meant to be performed in a swimming pool. In 10 years, Zumba has developed into a mega brand with its own Z Life magazine, Xbox and Wii video games, and an extensive line of music CDS.

Zumba’s founder, Alberto Perez. Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Meanwhile, other new dance-fitness styles are already emerging to compete with Zumba. Batuka has caught on in Spain in recent years as a Latin-infused cardio workout with “a Zen-like approach". There’s also Latinva, which offers a heart-pumping workout with bachata, cha cha, cumbia, mambo, merengue, salsa and tango dance steps.

It’s picking up fast, CobbPennisi says. “People no longer ask me if it’s an African dance form," she says. With general awareness on the rise, it sets the scene for introducing the different styles. In April, CobbPennisi started Zumbatomic (for children) at the Hogwarts School in Bangalore.

Temperance, too, plans to host Zumba Gold classes for its senior clientele, says Gupta. “In July, we’re planning to invite the international Zumba Education specialist Kelly Bullard for a masterclass," she says.

The Zumba beat is slipping out of fitness studios and into pop culture. Last month, CobbPennisi thought she heard a Zumba track in a club in Bangalore. “That’s when I knew it had really arrived."

anindita.g@livemint.com

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