Monday, May 23, 2011

Zumba founder Beto Perez showing students how to exercise and enjoy it.

Aileen Padilla, of Torrance, will begin Zumba fitness at San Pedro High Wednesday.
The Dance-Style  “Zumba” Fitness Workout That Has Gone Wild Internationally Will Soon Land at an LAUSD School As “Exercise in Disguise”; The Pilot Program Was Blessed By School Board Member Richard Vladovic Who Sponsored It

By Diana L. Chapman

This Wednesday, a non-traditional school exercise will land boldly at San Pedro High and students will find themselves doing a bit of hip shaking and foot stomping while tamping out cumbia, merengue, salsa, flamenco and other dance forms -- with enthusiasm and rigor.

The use of Zumba Fitness -- a contagious dance-style workout which has hooked thousands of would-be dancers into addictive exercise --  will have a shot at getting a work out of its own at the second largest school district in the nation.

It’s an experimental pilot to see if teenagers like it – and I don’t have a single doubt that they will.

“I want to try it, “said 16-year-old Kimberly Hernandez, a junior, who will attend the program after school when it begins at 3:30. “I’m really excited. You’re exercising and dancing at the same time.”

Freshman Vanessa Ruiz, 14, and her sister, Jazmin, 17, a junior, both high school volley ball players, plan to jump feet first into Zumba which will be held in the San Pedro High auditorium.

“I don’t like exercise at all,” Vanessa complained. “I hate running. I hate push-ups. I hate crunches. I think this will actually help me in a fun way.”

Jazmin said while she’s never heard of Zumba, she wants to try it anyway.

“I’m a bit hesitant, but all my friends are all going to do it,” she said. “Maybe it will get me into shape for volley ball.”

With child obesity levels on the rise across the nation, it seemed time to try a creative approach to get teens to exercise – one where they can have fun, feel confident and forget altogether they are working out. It also takes little equipment and students don’t have to know how to dance to do it. They only need a licensed Zumba instructor to learn.

That’s why I picked it as a pilot after school program for San Pedro High where I volunteer, besides that it has an international flavor, embracing many types of cultures that also reflect the school district

 Once I tried it at home for over three months, I was ecstatic that the program was a possibility for nearly everyone --one woman does a modified version from her wheelchair. The music and dance carries with it so much “spicy flavor” and a party atmosphere -- that I wanted to see how it would succeed at our schools. The San Pedro High Community Outreach Club helped bring the workout to the campus.

Beto Perez, creator of Zumba showing one of his moves
I also was pleasantly surprised that the founder, Beto Perez,  who accidentally stumbled on his creation in the 1990s , encourages all participants to come up with their own styles, a refreshing approach to dance, and the programs officials nickname it “exercise in disguise.”

 Millions have shed weight using the popular dance workout, say Zumba officials, and tout record numbers. Twelve million “people take a Zumba class every week” in 125 countries in 110,000 locations and about 10 million of the program’s DVDs have sold, said Allison Robins, media director for the fitness company.

 Zumba officials readily agreed to do a try-out at the high school and arranged for me to meet with Aileen Padilla, a 34-year-old woman who now trains and certifies Zumba instructors in California.

But it wasn’t that long ago that Aileen hated exercise, sat at a desk job in Indio

and refused to go to the gym with her husband. She had “no dance background whatsoever,” and could barely run.

Her cousin, Eliza Stone, asked her to attend a training for Zumba in 2005, at a time when people were asking: “What is Zumba? Nobody even knew what Zumba was,” she added.

 She fell in love with the program and so did her husband, Alfredo, 35. They both trained and became instructors and “education specialists.” Aileen quit her full time job, trading in for Zumba, and said her first class at a Palm Springs gym was so packed, they had to bring in more instructors. She now lives in Torrance, teaches at gyms in the South Bay and travels to Zumba international festivals when asked, saying she’s now visited countries such as Sweden, India and Scotland.

“I considered myself happy before,” Aileen said, “but now I have more friends, more social life partly because Zumba relaxes me. It doesn’t feel like a workout at all.”

The reason Aileen believes it will be successful at high school despite that it’s fun and healthy stems from the social aspect. Her students, she explains, tend to become friends and forge close bonds – which she suspects will happen with many of the teenagers involved.

More than that, Gina Grant, one of the leading education specialists for Zumba and a star attraction in many of the videos, said it’s time this type of programming comes into schools. Grant, a professional dancer and choreographer who launched Zumba in California, found not only that her participants were getting in better shape, it also eased their depression.

Because she so strongly believes in the fitness program, she helped design Zumbatomic classes for children ages four to 12. Teenagers are capable of doing regular Zumba lessons.

“Zumba puts the fun back into fitness and physical exercise and it offers a great alternative to traditional workouts or sports activities,” Gina e-mailed. “If kids develop healthy habits early on, it will provide a more health conscious outlook in their adult life.

“It’s a cardio workout and it’s something they’ll really enjoy doing. All kids like to go to dances or listen to music so this is the perfect workout that combines both.”

As a volunteer who sadly has watched scores of teenagers entering high school get rejected across the board for teams, basketball, dance, baseball, football and other activities – I realized we were sending the wrong message to our youth.

The message seemed to be: If you don’t make the team, you’re done. But sports for teens should just be beginning for both girls and boys. Instead of weeding them out, I want to weave them back in so they continue, as Gina said, and form healthy habits for the rest of their lives especially for students who don’t like traditional athletics programs.

Ironically, Zumba wouldn’t have existed at all if Beto, a fitness instructor in the 1990s in Colombia, hadn’t landed on the idea when he left his regular music tapes at home for his class. With a bit of improvisation, he used some of his favorite traditional Latin music, such as the salsa and the merengue that he had in his backpack, and had his students exercising to it on the spot.

His program grew so popular, he was later able to move to Miami to continue teaching when two entrepreneurs approached him and helped transform it into a global company.

While this program at San Pedro High is only a pilot, I figure we have to start somewhere and find new ways to teach students to continue exercise for the rest of their lives.

LAUSD School Board Member Richard Vladovic agreed, sponsoring the four week-after school pilot.

“It is wonderful to hear that our students are taking an active role in physical education and dance,” said David Kooper, Vladovic’s chief-of-staff. “Zumba appears to be a great workout that combines dance with exercise.

“The students will be getting fit and having fun.”