Autism, Arthritis, Parkinson's. Is There Anything ZUMBA Can't Tackle? Scientists Are Fascinated by Its Healing Properties -- and Here's What Happened When We Joined the World's Largest Zumba Class; Research Shows That Zumba Not Only Has a Positive Affect on Physical Fitness, but on Cognitive Function Too; 'It Creates New Brain Cells. It Could Be Used to Help Those with Dementia'
Byline: BEN CALMAN
IT IS barely 9am but the crowd in the Peabody Convention Center in Orlando are hysterical with excitement.
'Ohmygaaad! You are going to have the BEST time,' enthuses the plump, middle-aged woman next to me wearing a figure-hugging pink and green tracksuit.
Given the airport lounge-type setting -- all fluorescent lighting and garish carpets -- I find this difficult to believe. Then Joy Prouty, the woman we have all been waiting for, takes centre stage. The audience erupts into screams, whoops and wolf-whistles that would befit the arrival of a pop idol. We're at the Zumba Instructor Convention 2013 and the petite 72-year-old, sporting a snazzy combination of white, black and gold, with a hint of fluorescent yellow, is about to lead a class.
'Let's dance!' she says through a microphone headset. The beat thumps in through rock concert-sized speakers at a volume that makes my eyeballs shake, and we all shimmy into action. From the front, Joy shows how it's done -- a step in, then a step back, maybe a wiggle of the shoulder. Every minute, one sequence segues seamlessly into the next and this goes on for an hour. 'You guys rock... such great movers,' says Joy, obviously not spotting my ineptitude amid the 500-strong crowd.
THIS is Zumba Gold, a lowerintensity version of the Latin dance-inspired fitness class aimed at an older, less mobile audience.
A few weeks ago, participating in this class (or any other Zumba format for that matter) would have been my idea of hell. But for the past year or so, there have been murmurings in the medical world of Zumba's intriguing health benefits.
Programmes backed by the renowned Harvard Medical School in the United States suggest that Zumba has promise in the management and even treatment of dementia and neuromuscular conditions. And over in Britain, the charity Parkinson's UK already runs classes for patients. Indeed, the bizarre yet incredibly positive discovery that learned choreography can have an impact on these sorts of diseases is being welcomed by the medical community across Europe, including experts at Oxford University.
Of course, any activity is good for us, but is there something unique about these kinds of movements?
I was invited to see first-hand how Zumba instructors are being schooled to teach those with such specific needs, at a conference attended by 6,000 terribly enthusiastic instructors. It almost pains me to say so, but what I didn't bank on was how much fun it was going to be.
'HIGH-FIVES'... AND A PENCHANT FOR PINK LYCRA
MENTION Zumba to friends or colleagues and reactions will doubtless fall into two camps. Many will roll their eyes in a 'I can't think of anything worse' kind of way. All those 'high-fives' and the demand for participants to wear fluorescent Lycra outfits is, well, more of an American thing.
And yet, many of us on this side of the Atlantic have embraced the phenomenon.
According to the company's own research, nine out of ten women have heard of the class, and of these an astonishing 45 per cent have tried it. A third continue to attend classes regularly.
People from all over Ireland are also participating in Zumba on a weekly basis -- hitting health clubs and community centres in even the most
remote rural of locations.
In the Zumba community, they use the following slightly tongue-in-cheek equation to explain the success of the class: F = LBC. It stands for Fun equals Lasting Behavioural Change.
The same thing has been replicated in countless scientific studies: if a person enjoys a fitness activity, they are more likely to do it regularly.
Joy, a former professional dancer, says: 'We ask Zumba Gold instructors to have a basic fitness training so they know how to manage specific needs. 'I teach people with Parkinson's, arthritis or cognitive problems, and stroke survivors. …