Kicks like a workout, feels like a party

  • Article by: ALYSSA FORD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2010 - 5:45 PM

Hot Latin dance craze Zumba shimmies from the gym into the nightclub scene.

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Awbria Simmons led a Zumba class at Bogart’s Night Club. Simmons is an instructor from Lifetime Fitness.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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The line of women dressed in fluorescent neon snakes down the hall and around the corner. Each of them is clamoring for the paper wristband that will guarantee their ticket in.

Tough-eyed bouncers -- guys who very clearly work out -- staff the entrance.

If it weren't for the tennis shoes and the elliptical machines nearby, this could very well be the scene of some hot, new nightclub.

But this is Lakeville, at an oversized LifeTime Fitness facility. And these women, plus a few scattered men, are waiting to get into a Zumba class.

It's one sign of just how hot the Latin-inspired fitness craze is right now. It even has its own magazine (Z-Life), its own kids' regimen (Zumbatonic), and its own video game for Wii, Xbox and Playstation (Zumba Fitness).

And now, some business-savvy fitness instructors are moving Zumba from the gym to the dance floors of Twin Cities nightclubs.

It's a natural transition for a fitness craze that goes by the motto "Join the Party" and encourages people of all fitness levels to groove to infectious music with simple, oft-repeated dance steps. Though not as rigorous as weight training or Pilates, health experts are just happy to see Americans getting off their tushes.

"For someone who's physically fit, probably going for a run is going to provide a better workout, but for people who work out rarely, this is a fabulous gateway exercise because it encourages all kinds of people to just start moving their bodies to music," says Beth Lewis, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, who studies various ways of motivating sedentary adults.

And for nightclub owners, a fitness trend that emphasizes moving to music sounds like a match made in heaven.

"My phone is ringing and ringing with nightclub owners who want to tap into this Zumba thing," said Awbria Simmons, a Zumba instructor from Minneapolis who has launched her own company, Minnesota Fitness Parties, to tap into the nightlife potential of her favorite cardio workout.

Simmons simply performs her LifeTime routines on the elevated stages of nightclubs, where the partygoers can feel a bit more funky-free than they would in a fitness club.

So far, the Zumba workouts have been held at Aqua Nightclub in Minneapolis, Bogart's Nightclub in Apple Valley, and Red Sky Lounge in Mankato, all organized by different instructors who seemingly came upon the same idea simultaneously. Simmons says she has January dates lined up at Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar and at Famous Dave's Blues Bar, both in Minneapolis. Also on her calendar: twice-a-month Zumba dates at Bogart's.

Bogart's manager Shona Sauter says the venue has plans to eventually host multiple Zumba instructors at the same time on its three-tiered stage. "Maybe even background dancers," she says.

Sauter just happened across the bouncer-wristband scene at LifeTime when she was trying to get her own workout in. "I was like, 'Hell-o. This could be huge.'" The club has also developed a Zumba-themed menu with a veggie platter, a fruit platter and a wine and cheese option, as well as a "Zumbatini" made with Blue Curacao, Midori, Malibu, sour mix and club soda.

Zumbatinis aside, women who attend the Zumba nightlife events say they're burning even more calories than they do at the gym, with the high-def sound systems and sensory lights to bolster the party atmosphere.

"You don't feel at all like you're working out. It's just a really wild, fun experience," says Katie Muller, 23, who says she's lost 15 pounds so far doing Zumba in fitness clubs and nightclubs.

Which is not to say that working out in a nightclub isn't a bit awkward.

The women who go to Bogart's race from their cars to the club in their fluorescent orange Zumba tank tops, black pants and tennis shoes. Then, after the Zumba-ing is over, they run out to their frozen cars to get their club clothes and cute shoes.

"Then we have drinks, while we wait for our clothes to warm up," says Lori Glynn, 39, of Jordan. Finally, there's the hustled clothes-changing in the bathroom and the improvised primping.

"I'm not gonna lie," says Glynn. "Deodorant, perfume, ponytail."

Zumba-ing at Aqua is particularly difficult, because the club maintains a strict dress code for its clubbers. Ellie Egan, 30, asked if she could just continue to wear her hot pink and black Zumba tank top the rest of the night, "but the bouncers at Aqua were like, 'Absolutely not,'" says Egan.

Plus, some women are having to negotiate with their partners to go Zumba on weekend nights. Angela Johnson, 33, of Rosemount, says she's lucky because her husband is into Zumba and eagerly goes to the Saturday-night events. But more women are like Glynn or Sandy Grinvald, 56, of Burnsville.

Glynn's husband, Steve, goes along to the party, but just watches from a sideline table. Grinvald dragged her husband to one Zumba night, but now leaves him at home. Staying home herself, she says, is not an option.

As for Muller, she has her own priorities.

"Listen, I'm skipping my brother's 30th birthday party on Saturday night so I can go to Zumba," she said. "That should really tell you something."

Alyssa Ford • 612-673-4116

  • related content

  • Zumba enthusiasts followed Awbria Simmons’ lead.

  • A Zumba class at Bogart's Night Club.

  • ZUMBA: WHAT IS IT?

    • A dance fitness program that combines easy-to-follow dance steps with infectious music. The signature Zumba sound is inspired by salsa, merengue, calypso, hip-hop, cumbia and bachata.

    • Zumba Fitness Inc., headquartered in Hollywood, Fla., has licensed more than 90,000 fitness instructors and sells branded workout clothes called Zumbawear.

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