STOCKTON -- Sylvia Orozco moved her hips to the rhythmic sounds of the samba, merengue and salsa.
The group of about 40 women danced in unison, feeling carefree, energetic and even a bit sexy.
"I love it," Orozco said. "It's so fun."
They weren't at a club or a celebration. They were doing Zumba, a fusion of Latin and international dance with aerobics that has taken the country by storm.
Gyms and dance studios throughout the nation are incorporating the fitness trend into their class schedules.
Perla Mata has built an entire business around it at Perla Fitness and Dance Studio in Stockton, and she believes the secret to its popularity is the combination of uplifting dance and toning effects.
"People are doing it everywhere. This is a big party," Mata, 31, said. "When the music comes one, you're gonna want to move.
"This is a workout that is easy to follow. You work out everything, from your abs and arms to your legs and calves. We do Zumba toning with weights, too. And you're moving everything without thinking, because you're having fun."
Mata says the fitness genre also encourages that warmth and friendliness shown by Latino cultures.
"This is not only my business," Mata said. "This is my family. We get together for parties. They bring me food. Not every work out style will do that."
Orozco, 34, is one of Mata's faithful Zumba enthusiasts. "It lifts your spirit," she said.
"You feel it in your muscles the next day, but you're just enjoying it when you're doing it," Orozco said. "No wonder why it's booming."
Monique Moral, a 20-year-old former dancer, was looking for a way to lose weight she had gained after she stopped dancing. She joined Mata's class and lost about 15 pounds in a matter of a few months.
"I came and I loved it," Moral said. "I found something that allows me to dance and sweat. Usually, you have to run to get the same effect."
Now Moral is training to be a certified Zumba instructor for Mata's business.
Zumba was created by Colombia native Alberto 'Beto' Pérez by accident in the mid-1990s. One day when Pérez had forgotten his music for his aerobics class, he decided to improvise by using the music he grew up dancing to. It became a sensation among his followers.
Mata realized its following when she began to lead classes at the Mexican Heritage Center in Stockton.
"This is so popular that I said I need a place to rent dedicated to this," said Mata, a former bartender and waitress.
Mata became a certified Zumba instructor in three levels, and partnered with her boyfriend, Miguel Mora, to start a business in January of this year.
Perla's Fitness and Dance Studio holds evening classes Monday through Friday, and a morning session on Saturdays. Admission is $5 for a drop in; $40 per month for unlimited classes; and $30 per month for twice weekly. Details: www.perlasfitnessanddancestudio.com.
Mata's studio is just one of many in the area that have joined the Zumba party. Other venues include InShape gyms and Curves centers throughout the county.
"It's just the newest trend in fitness," said Valerie Andrade, a Zumba instructor at Mata's studio and at Curves in Lodi. "The ladies are loving it. I mean, you can burn up to 1,000 calories in one hour."
Zumba is a culture, she said. Many of the women where the Zumba brand cargo pants with hanging back strings that accentuate hip movements.
"It's dressing the part with the pants and the ripped shirts," Andrade, 22, said.
Andrade's sessions at Curves incorporate circuit training into the Zumba routines. Andrade, herself, got hooked after lost about 65 pounds in eight months.
"I highly recommend it to anybody."
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