Wednesday, February 24, 2010

From Malden to Wakefield: North Shore Senior Centers Join the ZUMBA Party

By Alysa Obert
Gordon College News Service
February 24, 2010
(This story appeared in the February 25 edition of the Boston Globe, Malden, and in the March 6 edition of the Salem News)

What does Malden Senior Center have in common with the fastest growing workout program in the world? Everything.

In fact, Malden Senior Center Director Christine DiPietro said Zumba is not only popular, it’s their most attended class, surpassing even belly dancing and chair yoga. But Malden Senior Center isn’t the only one on the North Shore. Everett Senior Center was the first to offer Zumba classes but Marblehead, Lynnfield, and Wakefield are also embracing the Zumba motto: ditch the workout and join the party,

Zumba was created in Columbia and means “to move fast and have fun.” It combines a variety of Latin dance moves such as Salsa, Cha-cha, Hip-hop, Flamenco with traditional exercise moves. With more than five million participants worldwide, Zumba is certainly moving fast.

“When you have something that works, it spreads like wildfire,” said local Zumba instructor Jill Martin, who has helped create a strong following. “Zumba is fun and for me that’s number one. People will exercise if it’s fun.”

The official Zumba Web site reports participants are taking weekly classes in over 40,000 locations in 75 different countries. These bodies are burning anywhere from 400 to 600 calories every class.

Fast Latin dance moves and North Shore seniors may seem like a contradiction but the popular dances of their youth give them a foundation to start on.

“The seniors get it. They used to dance when they were younger,” she says. “Talk about inspiring: I have clients well into their eighties who are dancing flamenco. Most of them did the jitterbug and the swing so they embrace it faster than some of the younger people."

This could be because younger generations seem more self-conscious, and Martin says that it’s hard to move your hips when you’re worried what the people behind you are thinking. For these seniors it’s a whole different approach. “They’re happy their hips move!” Martin said.

A small group of seniors even follows Martin from center to center often attending a class in Everett on Tuesdays and another in Lynnfield on Wednesdays. Others like Bobbi Confalone and Judy Kentenjian of Lynnfield, MA, attend a Wednesday and a Friday Zumba class at the Lynnfield Senior Center.

For Confalone, two workouts a week is just a warm up. “If you can handle it, I can handle it,” she said. “Besides I usually do the line dancing class after this Zumba one and that’s an whole hour!”

Zumba may seem like a grand ‘ol time but the benefit these seniors receive is enormous.

“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘my hips, my knees my shoulders used to bother me and now they don’t any more,“ said Martin. “There’s a lot of range of motion with the moves, I look at it as fitness in disguise. They just think they’re having fun.”

Martin also focuses on the psychological aspects as well, encouraging participants to try and remember dance moves instead of relying on her lead. “This is like a big crossword puzzle,” said Martin. “I try to remind them to remember what’s next and to keep that brain going.”

As for Martin’s success with the senior population she attributes it to her own personal experience.

“I’m a little older and I have a back issue so I understand what it’s like,” said Martin. “When you work with seniors it’s very rare that they don’t have a health concern and I am getting better with them.”

Of course her dance experience, which started at age three, doesn’t hurt.

“What’s important is we embrace getting older and we fight our age every step of the way,” said Martin. “I teach them moves that their granddaughters are doing, and that’s fun.”

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