by: ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - In the Woodstock Community Center's 'mirror rooms' where classes for Tae Kwon Do, watercolor, writing memoirs, country line dance, toddler movement, and children's ballet are held weekly, Zumba classes crank up the Latin music, and participants dance into a sweat.  Instructor Laura Neck is the one wearing the black top.On a late September Sunday afternoon, in the room at the Woodstock Community Center often referred to as the “mirror room”, a group of ten women and one man gather for a Zumba fitness class. This one, called Zumba Gold, is for older adults.

“This is a dance fitness class with mostly Latin music, although we’ll bring in some other kinds, like pop and maybe even belly-dancing,” smiles 46 year-old instructor Laura Neck. Introducing herself to the class, Laura says she has been doing Zumba fitness dancing for five years and instructing for three.

To reassure this class of seniors, Laura says, “We won’t do any jumping or anything too crazy. The main thing is having fun.” Promoters of “Zumba” emphasize that you don’t need to be able to dance well in order to reap the benefits. “It is basically follow-the-leader. We will have the same music and routine for many weeks, and if we get bored, we can change. We’ll just see how it goes.” She further reassures participants that if they have any body parts that are tender, or any hip replacements, they can just do what is possible for them, and not worry about being as active as the leader. “Modifying is absolutely encouraged and accepted,” she assures.

As the Latin music fills the room, participants follow the instructor’s dance moves. Bodies shimmy, and arms and legs move in rhythm with the music. Routines are repetitive and typically drawn from mambo, cumbia, merengue, cha cha cha, tango, and sometimes belly-dancing and hip-hop styles, among others.

Zumba was developed in the 1990’s by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez. It began when he forgot a tape of aerobics music for a class he was teaching. When he substituted tapes of traditional salsa and merengue he’d stored in his backpack, he found the non-traditional aerobics music was a smash hit.

After his initial success in Colombia, Beto brought the Zumba idea to the United States in 2001. With the help of two friends – Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion, both entrepreneurs – a demo reel was created, which was discovered by the company Fitness Quest. That company began a direct marketing campaign and a line of home videos.

These days, Zumba Fitness classes are held in fitness and community centers and dance studios in over 126 countries throughout the world. Besides Zumba Fitness (the “regular” Zumba), the variations include Zumba Toning, Zumba Gold (for older adults), Zumbatonic (for children), Aqua Zumba (in water), and Zumba Sentao (chair-based).

Zumba classes held at Inner Southeast community centers are helping people become acquainted with the centers, and giving them a financial boost. A Zumba class on Thursdays 7:15-8:15 pm at the Woodstock Community Center, is taught by Fasai Streed, a Woodstock resident and a local artist originally from Bangkok, Thailand. Call 503/823-3633 to register. Additional classes will be added as classes fill up. Zumba Gold classes (for older adults) are taught on Sundays by Laura Neck at the Woodstock Community Center, 12:45-1:30 pm and 1:45-2:30 pm. Those classes are currently filled.

A Zumba Gold class is held at the Sellwood Community Center on Thursdays, 9:30-10:25 am, taught by Amanda Valley, Sellwood resident and local actress.

There are hundreds of Zumba classes taught at fitness centers, athletic clubs, schools, and business headquarters in THE BEE’s service area, as well as the greater Portland area. To find a class near you go online – HYPERLINK "" – and click “find a class” on the top bar.

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