Zumba in Penang

In my continued adventures of Zumba Around The World…

Our stay in Penang was going to be almost 3 weeks, so I was hoping I could find some great classes. I started off emailing a bunch of local instructors since I was faced with my usual troubles of trying to find accurate class info or places that don’t require monthly memberships. Only 2 instructors wrote me back.

One of the instructors let me know about a fitness studio that was having a “3 hour Halloween party” which was very close to where we were staying and open to non-members.  The studio was small but had lots of mirrors, huge windows on one side, a decent sound system and small platform for the instructor… it looked promising.

As soon as the class started, I was dismayed to learn:

  1. There was no A/C in the studio and the windows barely opened.  (Penang is incredibly hot and humid, so even with the help of some fans it still felt like we were doing Zumba in a greenhouse.)
  2. They actually intended to Zumba for 3 hours (without any breaks).  My assumption was that it would be around 90 minutes of Zumba and then a party… even instructor trainings have breaks built into them!

The instructors were all in costume, which was cute.  And some of the students dressed up too. (Sadly, I had no costuming with me.)  I give props to the guy who never took off the Jason mask or put down the plastic axe while he lead songs.  Not all the outfits were as successful, though… Ladies, if you’re going to Zumba in costume, try out some moves at home first to make sure you’re not over-exposing yourself!

Halloween Zumba

There was definitely not enough cueing happening and people just weren’t moving much, including the instructors… its like they were tip-toeing around the room.  Granted, if you’re going to do Zumba for 3 hours in a sauna, you do have to pace yourself!

After 90 minutes it was so crowded that I could no longer see the instructor despite trying to move to different spots in the room. And I was so sweaty it felt like I could wring out my clothes, so I called it a night.

The studio had a $20 new student registration fee, and then a 10 class minimum purchase so this wasn’t going to be my home base for our visit.


Unfortunately, I saw some common themes: not enough cueing, not cueing early enough, or verbal cueing.  While the majority of instructors here are great dancers with sharp movements, that is only part of the formula for having a great class… we are repeatedly told in instructor trainings “its not about how good you look, its about your students having fun”.  And your students aren’t going to have fun if they are frustrated, confused, or embarassed because they don’t know which move to do next. I pick up choreography very quickly, so if I can’t follow someone, I can only imagine how frustrated others are. And verbal cueing just isn’t as successful (even if you’re wearing a mic) since its so hard to hear over the music. 

(The exception to this was Lisa – I highly recommend taking a class with her if you can.)

Classes rarely start on time here, which seems to just be how things are but it still annoys me. Even at gyms where the studios are booked back-to-back, classes often start late.

And I’ve seen too many instances of instructors prepping their playlists in the middle of class (or even when every song ends). If you must mess around with your playlist, do it before you start class or at a water break to minimize interruptions – this will ensure students’ don’t get confused about whether or not the song is done, and their heartrates will stay up since they will keep moving.

Strong by Zumba

This is a new style of class by Zumba: music-driven interval training. It is not at all like dancing – its entirely fitness-based movements like squats, lunges, crunches, etc. but the timing with the music is unlike any other exercise class I’ve ever experienced. I was initially unenthusiastic as I am such a fan of dancing, but Melissa worked some Strong routines into her class, and I have to admit, I loved it. (And my abs were sore the next day!)

I had a great time at Melissa’s class at Jatomi Fitness – it was a very friendly group in a huge studio in a very nice gym. I wound up leading about 6 songs, while Melissa did a number of Strong routines and we all had a great time!

Melissa's Class
Goofy, sweaty, post-class photo with Melissa’s fun group!

Auntie Mee Mee

One of the women I met in Melissa’s class was Mee Mee. She’s pretty much the queen of the gym – she knows all the instructors, all the gym staff, and all the regular gym-goers. She seems to be always smiling and having fun.

She took me under her wing and was quick to let the teachers know that I am also an instructor. She tried to get me a free 1 week pass to the gym, and when they said that promotion was over, she offered to sneak me into the gym with her if I couldn’t find something that worked – ha!

She’s in great shape and goes to the gym almost every day – I hope I am just as active (and happy) when I reach her age!

Zumba in the streets

Bellydancing Class

As a former bellydancer, I am always hesitant to go to bellydance classes at a gym as its usually someone inexperienced leading the class, or so much compromised technique it makes me cringe. However, I had a free morning so I went to one, despite my reservations.

The instructor, Lisa Lim, is a fantastic bellydancer and also a Zumba instructor.  She did a very impressive job trying to teach bellydance technique while keeping it light and fun and accessible to everyone.

Other than the rare impromptu dance around my apartment, I hadn’t done any bellydancing in years so it was a nice surprise to see my body still remembered the movements. It was a small class full of enthusiastic women and they were all very welcoming. So all in all, I really enjoyed it!

Occupy Beach Street

Every Sunday morning, the city closes down about 3 blocks of Beach Street “to popularize the idea of healthy living” and “emphasize the importance of social interactions” (plus 5  other objectives).  One of the fitness studios was doing a one hour Zumba class there, so despite the humidity, I went to check it out.

I think at least 100 people were there (including Mee Mee), dancing in the streets!  They were rotating instructors every few songs, and everyone was instantly sweaty and having fun even though it was crazy crowded.

At Occupy Beach Street
Some of the many other Zumba students

Unfortunately, the Beach Street organizers decided to interrupt the class about 40 minutes in to give some speeches and have an opening ritual.  I think they were so excited about how many people were there (as the street was otherwise empty) that they wanted to take advantage of the audience.

Everyone immediately ignored all the speakers and took selfies with each other.  Then there was some taiko drumming which was actually good, but at this point 20 minutes had gone by and people started leaving.  They said they would start up more Zumba again “soon”, but then they started taking a bunch of different official photos (almost like a wedding)… most of the attendees were as annoyed as I was and people were leaving rapidly, so I also bailed. Hopefully next time the organizers won’t disrupt their own success!

Fun with Sue

My good friend Sue came to meet me in Penang.  She was formerly my bellydancing teacher, then troupemate, has come to my Zumba class since day one, and is always game for trying out any kind of dance class.

We first went to Lisa’s Zumba class.  As I already mentioned, Lisa is easy to follow so we both managed to keep up pretty well even though we didn’t know a single routine.  And even when we got a little lost, we managed to improv our way through it!

On our last day in town, we decided to try something called Sh’bam… it looked very similar to Zumba so we gave it a shot. The instructor, Mabelle, was really easy to follow. The music was very similar (and sometimes identical) to Zumba, so at least that was familiar even through the choreography was different.  We were able to pick it up quickly and I think at some point we were distracting Mabelle by embellishing the choreo.

We loved watching the other students and seeing how much fun they were having. The guy behind us was super into it but always seemed to be one beat off… so the room would jump right and then a second later his head popped up as he followed. He was having the best time and not at all self-conscious – we loved watching him.

All in all, it was a great way to end my workout time in Penang!

Short-term Options

If you find yourself in Penang and are looking for Zumba options (that don’t require monthly committments), here’s what I found:

Chi Fitness will give you one free trial class (register on their website), and offers a pay-as-you-go plan for about $9.50/day (or cheaper if you buy 5 or more). They have quite a lot of Zumba classes, and a number of locations throughout Pengang.

Jatomi Fitness also offers a free trial class on their website. And though its not advertised, you can get a 2 week membership for about $28 (and no registration fee).  They have a large dance studio with mirrors, A/C, a platform for the instructor, and mats if needed (which the staff cleans after every class). The gym itself is a massive space with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the ocean, nice equipment and a decent locker room.

Zero Fitness: when I emailed them to get more info, they offered to let me pay a walk-in price of about $4/class (even though they usually require a monthly membership). They have Zumba every day of the week, so its worth reaching out to them.

I also came across a few one-off events open to the public.  My best bet was searching Facebook for events in the area or just going to a class and talking to other students.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: