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It's official: Zumba is not 'Latin dance'

Zumbistas in Leuven, Belgium, June 2009
Zumbistas in Leuven, Belgium, June 2009
Photo by Cimm/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Okay, so it appears that some salsa instructors are not happy that some Zumba enthusiasts are conflating the two. At least this is what a couple of them had to say in an NPR piece titled "Zumba Is A Hit, But Is It Latin?" Case in point, from the story:

Jose Maldonado is one of the skeptics. He teaches Latin dance...and says that students who think Zumba dance is legitimate Latin dance are "misinformed."

"One of my students said, 'I took Zumba. I think I know how to salsa dance.' I said, 'Fine, strut your stuff. Let's see what you have.' They couldn't salsa," Maldonado says.

Another dance instructor's lament:
"The salseros will tell you that Zumba is not Latin dancing," Martino-Giosa says. "But anybody who takes Zumba does feel that it's part of Latin dancing."

That there's confusion about it in the first place is a little baffling, and the reactions to the story have been amusing. But I'm going to make it official: No, Zumba is not Latin (a term that conjures up Gregorian chants, by the way) dance. For those unfamiliar, Zumba is a popular and profitable style of aerobics with origins in Colombia set to the rhythms of Latin America, especially the Caribbean. As I've described it to my Cuban mother, "Mami, es ejercicio con musica latina."

And because the familiar sound and language of the music makes us feel warm and fuzzy and like we're dancing at a Miami nightclub, Latinos have had Zumba marketed to them in several countries. Not that we mind. My introduction came via a friend from Mexico City who convinced me that "it feels like a party," and it kind of does. It's at least more pleasant to be sweating it out at the gym while listening to Celia Cruz than to have to endure that thumping low-grade techno.

The biggest problem with Zumba? When the instructor starts leading us into those funky exercise moves, I just want to keep dancing.