By Kristin Hackler
It’s dark, and there’s a cold bite to the ocean air, but a steady line of women bundled in fleece coats and exercise pants are marching into the Isle of Palms Recreation Center for what many say is the best hour of their work week.
The sound of hot and fast Latin dance club music pours out of the exercise room and one look at the wide grins on the faces of the class participants is enough to let you know that this isn’t your traditional exercise class: it’s called “Zumba,” and it’s spreading like flamenco fire through the southeast.
Already practiced in more than 90,000 locations in 110 countries, Zumba was created in the late 1990s almost by accident when aerobics instructor “Beto” Perez forgot his standard exercise CDs for class and instead grabbed some of his own music, the rapid-pulse Latin dance music of his native country, and taught a variation on a dance-fitness program which he learned in Cali, Columbia.
Today, Zumba is fiercely popular throughout most of the country and is rapidly gaining a strong following in South Carolina. Here on Isle of Palms, instructor Dale Ellison already has a following of roughly twenty participants who show up almost religiously to her twice-weekly classes at the Isle of Palms Recreation Center.
A native of San Franscicso, Dale first began teaching Zumba three years ago.
“I have taught Argentine Tango for about nine years, and prior to that I taught Salsa and the fitness program Salsa-Aerobics,” said Dale. “I was still teaching Salsa-Aerobics when I heard about Zumba and I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a try,’ and I loved it! It was so much more exciting and much more of a stronger fitness program than Salsa-Aerobics. I signed up for instructor training with Zumba and have never looked back.”
When Dale moved to Charleston last year, she immediately began looking for places where she could hold classes, and Isle of Palms Rec. welcomed her with open arms; as have her group of dedicated Zumba dancers.
“The music is wonderful,” said class participant, Melissa Platt. “I’ve been coming for nine months now and I’ve really noticed a difference! I feel so much more toned, and I’ve noticed a lot of good, positive changes, as well. It builds confidence, it’s a good workout and it’s a lot of fun. I hardly miss a class!”
Class regular Carly David is also thrilled about the new Zumba class. Having taken dance in college, she really hadn’t found an exercise program she liked until Zumba came along.
“It sucks you right in and becomes almost obsessive,” she smiled. “The musicality, the dancing … even if you have two left feet, it’s incredibly fun. I’ve been coming since May, and when I have to travel somewhere, I try to schedule it around classes so I can still attend.”
The class structure itself is quite different from your standard aerobics class. Cranking on the first tune for the evening, Dale doesn’t even give instruction to her students; instead, she makes simple, easy-to-follow movements and points in the direction of her next move when she gets ready to switch it up. The result is very similar to being in a dance club, but with someone showing you how to follow the beat and move with the hot, brassy, pulse-racing songs that leave you grinning, panting, and begging for more.
“It builds self-confidence in a woman,” said Inka Szczypkowska, another regular Zumba follower. “I have a niece who visits from Germany and while she hates yoga classes, she loves Zumba.”
Zumba classes are held every Monday and Wednesday at the Isle of Palms Recreation Center from 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. The next series of classes begins on January 5, but the class is also available for drop-in participation. The cost for eight classes is $50 for island residents/$55 for non-residents, and drop-in cost is $8/per class. Besides Zumba, Dale also teaches Argentine Tango in Charleston, and beginning in January, she will host a monthly Tango Milonga (dance party).
For more information about Zumba at the Isle of Palms Recreation Center, visit www.iop.net and click on “city services”, then “recreation”. For more information about Dale and her dance classes outside of the Rec. Center, visit her website at www.TangoRojo.com.