The tinny sound of brass horns filled the room as accompanying drums created a catchy calypso beat. Fitness coordinator Cindy Kropid stood in front of a dozen noon-hour exercisers as she stepped from front to back, her hips swiveling from side to side to the recorded music, and cheered on her students. “Come on! Move those hips!”

 

The tinny sound of brass horns filled the Walnut Room at the YMCA of Springfield in mid-December as accompanying drums created a catchy Calypso beat.

Fitness coordinator Cindy Kropid stood in front of a dozen noon-hour exercisers as she stepped from front to back, her hips swiveling from side to side to the recorded music, and cheered on her students.

“Come on! Move those hips!”

“Shake it! Shake it!”

“Go! Go! Go! Go!”

The energy level was high, and the red cheeks on many participants’ faces suggested they were getting a workout.

Yet, with the mambo steps and Latin party music, they seemed to be focused more on the fun they were having dancing than on the workout.

That’s the secret to the success of Zumba, a combination of Latin-inspired dancing and exercise movements. It’s a fast-paced “party” that sneaks in a solid cardio workout, instructors say.

“It’s the music, for sure,” Kropid said. “You feel like you’re not exercising because you’re having such a good time. The music motivates you.”

Colombian fitness instructor Beto Perez created Zumba in the 1990s. Zumba tones everything from the midsection to arms and legs, making it a full-body workout, said Jill Kennedy-Broughton, a fitness professional for 29 years and a certified Zumba instructor. Participants can do the workout at low- or full-intensity, making it ideal for any age or gender.

Perez’s Web site has video of some basic dance moves that emphasize use of the hips and abdomen. Some participants in the video hold small weights as they dance, but otherwise, the only necessary equipment is recorded music, something on which to play it and room to move.

Kropid, a certified Zumba instructor who originally is from Puerto Rico, began offering Zumba at the YMCA last March after teaching it on her own for about three years. It took off immediately, she said — her first class at the Y attracted about 60 people.

She now teaches Zumba six times per week, along with other fitness courses.

Because of her heritage, Kropid already was familiar with some of the moves used in Zumba, and her 18 years as a fitness instructor made it easy to incorporate exercise techniques. She calls Zumba a great “gateway” exercise for people who haven’t done group exercise before.

“It kind of introduces other people to exercise who never worked out before to experience what fitness is,” she said.

Kennedy-Broughton, who with a staff of five associates offers 23 Zumba classes in six locations in the region, said the exercise should not be intimidating, even to those who think they can’t dance.

“It’s just fun — you don’t have to think about the workout. That’s secondary,” she said.

Kennedy-Broughton’s “poster child” for Zumba is Shirley McGlennon, 44, of Sherman, who attends Zumba twice a week with several friends at First United Methodist Church on Springfield’s west side.

Last January, with her only son a few months away from graduating high school, McGlennon said she knew she needed to get in shape.

“I didn’t want to be the frumpy mom at graduation,” she said.

After reading an article about Zumba, she talked to some friends at church and attended a class that same week.

“The first time we went in, it was so completely different from anything I’ve ever tried before,” she said. “Everybody was friendly; everybody was having a good time. Nobody cared that you were going left when other people were going right. You just make it your own. … We had a blast. We laughed, we clapped, it was rowdy — it was too much fun.”

A year later, she’s still having fun.

“I’ve never stuck with any exercise regimen in my entire life, and I’ve tried everything that’s been available,” she said. “You name it, and I’ve tried it. I’ve never enjoyed it — I’ve hated it all. The only thing I’ve ever really enjoyed doing was having fun, and that’s what it looked like (Zumba) was, and I was right.”

In combination with Weight Watchers, McGlennon lost 40 pounds and trimmed down from a size 14 to a size 6, she said. It’s the slimmest she’s been since high school.

Kennedy-Broughton, whose two adopted children are from Colombia (the home country of Zumba’s creator), has been offering the classes since last January. It took off like no other exercise class ever had before, she said, and has maintained its popularity throughout the year — an unprecedented trend.

“Wherever we start a class, it just takes off,” she said. “The beauty of it is, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s whatever is fun for you. You enjoy the music and the movement.”

Kelsea Gurski can be reached at kelsea.gurski@sj-r.com.