‘We have a blast and shed pounds’

To the outsider looking in, a Zumba class looks like a marvelous party.

To Janet, a Lake Houston resident, it was a lifesaver.

Janet, not her real name, had a stroke. She could not participate in most fitness classes. Then, she tried Zumba.

“Now she attends five Zumba classes a week and just added a more traditional aerobics class. She’s an inspiration to me,” said Zumba instructor Margarita West. “With a good diet and Zumba classes, she has lost 120 pounds. We see her here every day. She is an inspiration to me.”

Zumba has become one of the most popular group exercises in Lake Houston and around the world.

What is it about Zumba that is so compelling, so irresistible, so contagious?

To find out, The Tribune contacted three Lake Houston Zumba instructors, Margarita West, Jessica Murray and Aisha Martin.

I throw parties at the gym,” said West. “We get loud and just have a blast while shedding pounds.”

Jessica Murray’s classes are energetic, fun and super-sweaty incorporating Latin and world music “…with fun dance moves disguised as a calorie-burning workout,” she said.

Aisha Martin sparks joy and passion for dance while making everyone feel successful when they finish a class.

“I want everyone to feel like they had a great workout and leave with their endorphins running high,” she said.

The craze now called Zumba was a mistake, according to the American Council on Exercise. In the mid-90s, a Colombian trainer, Beto Perez, forgot to bring his aerobics-style music to class, so he grabbed his Latin dance music, added in his Salsa moves and the class loved it.

“You don’t need to know how to dance. Just come and have fun,” said Margarita West.

West has an international pedigree. She is a native of the northernmost city in Russia, way above the Arctic Circle.

“I am married to an Alaskan I met in Hawaii,” she said. “Our three children were born in Hawaii, Alaska and Texas. Now I am a proud American. A Texan for almost a decade. I love the Texas heat.”

In Russia, West earned an MBA. When she married and came to America, she pursued a major in art, loving the hands-on art classes. Now she manages her husband’s CPA/law office.

“I was a young, first-time mom and wanted to get out of the house and be active once in a while, so I tried this Zumba class I heard about,” West said. “Love at first class. Got my license to teach two months later because I wanted to be a part of this amazingness.”

The “amazingness” of Zumba had the same mesmerizing effect on Aisha Martin, a Kingwood native and graduate of Kingwood High. She discovered Zumba when the stay-at-home mom, with a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Pepperdine University, began her own weight-loss journey in 2010.

“It all started with walking with my best friend, then moving into CrossFit,” said Martin who was a marketer at the University of Houston. “I found a love and passion for fitness and nutrition. My life was forever changed.”

Martin completed two half-marathons and one triathlon, losing 100 pounds in the process. Then she discovered Zumba.

“I discovered Zumba right here at the Lake Houston YMCA, my very first class with Sandra Green on Friday mornings,” Martin recalled. “I followed a friend to Sandra’s class – and was hooked. By 2012, I decided to become a Zumba instructor, teaching the same Friday morning YMCA class for years.”

Before Zumba, Jessica Murray was a high school teacher, married to her high school sweetheart with three “amazing” kids. She considered her master’s in education and her teaching background especially beneficial when she began teaching group exercise and Zumba classes.

She attended her first Zumba class after the birth of her third child.

“I was looking for a way to drop some of the baby weight and saw Zumba on TV. I tried it and was hooked.”

After her third class, she took the instructor training and became a licensed Zumba teacher.

“I love helping people reach their true potential,” she said. “First-timers often think they can’t or shouldn’t dance. I enjoy showing them how wrong they are – all while helping them meeting their fitness goals.”

Zumba is fun and friendly. Margarita, Aisha and Jessica stress the friendships they developed with members in their classes. But is it an effective workout?

A team of exercise scientists commissioned by the American Council on Exercise studied a group of healthy females going through the paces. They gave Zumba an enthusiastic “thumbs-up.”

“Zumba is a total-body exercise, a good, high-energy aerobic workout,” said the lead scientist from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “Good for core strengthening and flexibility. In comparison with other exercises, Zumba burns more calories.”

Margarita, Aisha and Jessica have seen firsthand the positive effects of Zumba.

“I teach Aqua Zumba, the best workout on the planet,” said West. “Zumba is pure cardio, but in the water, it is a resistance exercise and easy on the joints. I am super-inspired by the folks with disabilities who normally would have a hard time standing. Their eyes light up. Smiles come to their faces. They work hard.”

Martin recalled the student who took her Zumba class just to be able to dance at her son’s wedding and not feel uncomfortable.

“Not only did she dance, but she also shined,” said Martin.

Murray has had several members lose large amounts of weight, but her favorite transformation to witness “is the back row participants becoming comfortable enough to dance on the front row. I love seeing their confidence grow,” she said.

All three instructors insist Zumba is effective for men, too.

“My husband used to laugh at my ‘dancy-dance’ exercise. Well, I made him attend once and he had a tough time,” said West. “Besides being good cardio, it worked his legs and back. Zumba truly is a universal exercise.”

In addition to the Lake Houston YMCA, Margarita West leads Zumba classes at the Kingwood Community Center, although the center currently is not offering classes, and at a senior living center. Aisha Martin also teaches at Kingwood County Club and Fitness Project Kingwood. Jessica Murray also conducts her classes at Stacey’s Dance Studio in Kingwood.

Because of the popularity of Zumba, there are as many in-person and virtual classes available in Lake Houston as there are fitness centers and dance studios. A club membership is required to participate in Zumba or any of the other club offerings. Zumba also is offered at Town Center in Kingwood for $5 and through the YMCA at no cost at Redemption Square in Generation Park near Beltway 8 and Lake Houston Parkway, or Google “Zumba classes near me.”

Tom Broad
Author: Tom BroadEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Besides being a proud graduate of The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, therefore, a Cornhusker, I am retired from Memorial Hermann. I am a correspondent and columnist for Lake Houston's hometown paper, The Tribune, as well as a director of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Corporation, a member of the board of the Humble Area Assistance Ministries, and Volunteer Extraordinaire for the Lake Houston Area Chamber.

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