Zumba classes inspiring local women to burn calories

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Women of all ages enjoy taking Jill Schroeder's Zumba classes at her Mattituck studio, Jabs. Here, they move to Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor."

About 60 women are lined up within an arm’s distance apart at Jill Schroeder’s fitness studio, JABS, in Mattituck. Some are as young as middle schoolers, some appear to be past middle age, many are wearing yoga pants and T-shirts and are quickly trying to put up their hair before the music starts.

Then Jennifer Lopez’s “On the Floor” starts playing and it seems every woman in the room knows what to do.

“You have to smile,” Ms. Schroeder tells her students as they participate in a Zumba Fitness class, the Latin-inspired dance fitness program that is quickly catching fire around the globe. The ladies have no problem following Ms. Schroeder’s call.

But unlike most aerobics classes, Ms. Schroeder is not wearing a headset or shouting commands like, “Now, grapevine!” or “Around the world!”

“Zumba is non-verbal,” said another Zumba Fitness instructor, 27-year-old Chrissy Locrotondo of Manorville, who has taught classes across the East End. “You’re supposed to suck people in with your energy and passion.”

Instead of listening, participants just follow the instructor’s lead as they shimmy to the hip-hop, dance, Latin and African-inspired beats.

Created in Cali, Colombia during the mid-90s by aerobics instructor Alberto “Beto” Perez, the fitness program is an international sensation both in the dance studio and at home for people using Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360. But just a few short years ago, most people had never heard the exotic word Zumba before.

“When I first started doing classes [three years ago], no one knew what the heck it was,” said Ms. Schroeder, also 27. Today, classes taught by Ms. Schroeder, who has become a sort of unofficial authority on all things Zumba-related on the North Fork, can reach up to 80 students. A certified personal trainer, Ms. Schroeder previously taught classes at other studios and at Southold Elementary School. She opened up the Pike Street location about a month ago.

“My business grew by word of mouth,” she said.

Ms. Locrotondo said her classes have been so successful she has been able to quit her other job as a nanny.

To become an instructor, one must be licensed from Zumba Fitness, the organization that holds the trademark on the program.

There are many variations on traditional Zumba, including Zumba Gold, a program that targets the older generation, Zumba Toning, Aqua Zumba, Zumbatomic and Zumba in the Circuit certifications. The brand has become a global franchise selling Zumbawear, the company’s own line of clothing with instructors hosting Zumbathon’s for charity.

And if you’re trying to decipher just where the word Zumba came from, don’t hurt your head. The creators say it is a made up word with no meaning.

The exercise program is ideal for anyone who is sick of the treadmill and is looking to have some fun while they burn calories. Some say the classes can even be addictive.

Friends Nancy Mullen and Nicole Taggart, both of Southold admitted while taking Ms. Schroeder’s class last month that they come to class two to three, and sometimes four, times a week.

“We’re junkies,” Ms. Mullen admitted.

Greenport High School sophomore Shayanna Jiminez also said she attends every class she can.

“It’s just the energy Jill spreads,” she said.

Ms. Schroder attributed Zumba Fitness’ popularity to simply how fun it is.

“This is more like a party,” she said. “The music’s loud and you just go for an hour.”

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