I’ve been living in London for about 6 months now and have only made it to one Zumba class… I am hitting the usual roadblocks of all the classes being at gyms. With my long working hours and regular travel, the cost of gym membership didn’t seem worth it. While I’ve been entertaining myself by playing a lot of Just. Dance, I was missing the fun of a live class so I decided to check out Frame.
They offer a huge variety of movement classes – from pilates to something involving mini trampolines. Drop-ins are welcome, though you should probably sign up a day or two in advance as the studios are small.
The highlight has been the 80s Aerobics, which was essentially this:
(but with fewer leotards, thankfully). It was a genuine aerobics class, with all the classic moves including lots of pelvic thrusts, legs lifts, jumping jacks, etc. – set to a soundtrack of Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Madonna, and more. It was genuinely hard, and a lot of fun. The entire class was basically singing along (when we weren’t panting to catch our breath).
I also went to a Dance Cardio class, which as the name implies was Zumba-esque. While it was a great workout and much dancier than the aerobics class, the acoustics made it impossible to understand the instructor’s verbal cues. Also, the room got so sweaty that the floor was pretty slippery. I enjoyed it, but it also left me pining for a proper Zumba class with a large space and non-verbal cues.
Frame also offers something called Music Video, where they spend an hour teaching you a piece of choreography from an actual video. When the instructor announced today’s class was from Dream Girls, I wasn’t exactly thrilled… I am not a fan of musicals and was hoping for something more contemporary. To my surprise, the song was actually a bit disco-y, and the choreo was a mix of Bob Fosse with bits of Beyonce-fierceness, both of which I love.
Plus, the instructor was really into the drama of it all… he kept motivating us by saying things like “pretend like your arms are draped in diamonds!” or “whip your head around like you’ve got Beyonce’s long weave”. Obviously, I adored him. While it wasn’t a high impact workout, it was definitely a lot of fun and I enjoyed throwing myself into the dramatics.
Upcoming classes there include: Beyonce Dance Workshop, Spice Girls Cardio, and Kylie (Minogue) Butt Lift. Even if the classes aren’t perfect, I love having these kinds of options (and it’s only a 5 min walk from my house)!
(I started this post before I broke my rib so it’s looking like this is the last of the fitness posts for the next 6 weeks or so…)
I wasn’t expecting to find any Zumba at all in Bali and had resigned myself to a couple weeks of yoga as my physical activity. Don’t get me wrong – I always feel great after doing yoga and I know how good it is for me, but I just don’t enjoy like I do dancing. I’m not terribly flexible and even when I was doing yoga more regularly (back in my bellydancing days), I never felt like I got any better at it.
Yoga at The Amala
Our first hotel was in Seminyak and offered 90 minute classes twice a day for the reasonable price of 50,000 rph (approx $4). It was a lovely studio with huge windows, beautiful dark wood floors, and lots of new yoga mats and blocks.
My first class was Vinyasa Flow with Nita. She was very friendly and did a great job guiding 4 of us through the poses, speaking alternately in English and Indonesian. Because it was a small class, we got a lot of personal attention/helpful adjustments. I was thoroughly fatigued by the end and sore for the following days.
I also went to a Hatha class with Budi. He took the time to check with everyone’s experience levels and adjust the poses accordingly. There was a Japanese girl who claimed this was only her second yoga class ever, but either she didn’t understand the question or was just naturally bendy as she was far better than anyone else in the room. (While I was struggling with the basics, Budi kept telling her how to increase the difficulty!)
Bali Fitness in Seminyak
This gym did offer Zumba once or twice a week with drop-in pricing, but not on the days I was in Seminyak so I didn’t get to try them out. Their website schedule wasn’t current, so best to contact them in advance if you’re hoping to attend one.
Zumba in Ubud
Ani teaches at Ubud Fitness three times a week. The drop-in rate was around $5 USD, and the gym was really responsive when I messaged them on Facebook to check the schedule. The studio was open air, so even though there was a nice breeze and plenty of fans, I was definitely extra-sweaty by the end of class. It also meant we had the occassional chicken checking out our moves.
Ani is a tiny little firecracker with boundless energy. Her class was great all around – her cueing was fantastic, the routines were easy to follow, and she was always helping adjust where people stood, since the room could get quite full.
And on Valentine’s Day, she brought in these treats for everyone:
She offered Zumba Toning once a week, where you use the maraca-like weights for part of the class. They felt light initially but after several songs you could definitely tell they were working! She provides the weights so you just need to show up and shake them!
The other days she teaches Zumba to a packed room of (mostly) expats. It was always a great time! There was usually one or two other instructors in the class, and Ani was so gracious to give us each a chance to lead a song. (Her class was particularly excited about my routine to Bottoms Up, so hopefully the California-style booty shaking will continue once I am gone.)
She has a very active community on Facebook and everyone in the class was so welcoming – I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it if you’re in Ubud!
Zumba At Roam
There was an underutilized, gorgeous yoga deck at the place where we were staying, Roam, so I decided to offer a (free) Zumba class for any interested residents.
7 brave folks showed up for the first class (including 2 guys!). The humidity was oppressive – I was amazed that 4 people stuck through to the sweaty, sweaty end. So many of them had seen me working out on my own (with headphones) so it was fun to crank up the stereo and have a proper class.
When we returned for our second stay, several folks wanted to do it again. Zumba is always more fun with friends, so I held a few more classes. I was impressed with how willing the guys were to go for it!
One of our roomies took this timelapse of the last few songs – look at them work it!
When I wasn’t teaching a class or going to Ani’s, I would use the yoga deck to work on new choreography or just rock out on my own. It was amazing to have so much space to use, plus I could jump right in the refreshing pool afterwards!
Balinese Dance Class
To my untrained eye, Balinese dance looks similar to Odissi (Indian Temple Dancing), with angled body positions, dramatic eye movements, and expressive hands. Ubud Studio offered classes once a week for about $7.50, so I decided to give it a shot. (They also had a lot of partner dancing classes like salsa, bachata and kizomba.)
The studio was on the top floor of what seemed like a half-abandoned building (the ground floor was occupied by a pretty shabby-looking gym). The dance floor was lovely, though, with pristine floors, lots of mirrors, and a nice stereo.
I was the only person in the class that day. While it was amazing to get a private lesson, it also meant there was no disguising my cluelessness. We literally spent the first 40 minutes just trying to get my body into the default standing position, which required more flexibility in my hamstrings than I had. I did do better at the basic walk, so we managed to do the tiniest little combo before the time was up.
The instructor was very good and a lovely dancer – though her English was great, she also wasn’t shy about giving me hands-on adjustments. She told me she had been studying this dance since she was very little, including spending an hour a day with her arms wrapped over a pole to try and open her chest and improve her carriage. Suffice to say, I have new respect for how challenging this dance is!
All in all, it was very easy to find classes in Ubud, which seems especially set up to handle travellers. Whether you want to do acro-yoga, ecstatic dance, Zumba, salsa or just meditate, there are plenty of classes available!
I was in Melbourne for almost 2 months, so this is a long one…
The main reasons why I post these Zumba recaps are:
to help other travellers find great classes.
to help other instructors become better. When a class is bad, most often the students think it’s their own fault… that they aren’t good at Zumba, or that they are terrible dancers. The main point of Zumba is for everyone to have fun, so no one should leave feeling frustrated, insecure or awkward. I’m not trying to publicly shame anyone – just offering some constructive critique which I hope will be helpful to others. It certainly has helped me be more aware of the areas where I need the most improvement.
And of course, I hope it’s fun for you all to share in the comedy of these adventures, especially when they take me out of my comfort zone.
Hunting for Classes
Because we had been moving around Vietnam & Thailand, it had been several weeks since I had been to a Zumba class. Even though I had done some practicing on my own, I know I don’t push myself as hard as when I am in a room full of people. Also, it’s really nice to have mirrors so I can check my form – in my mind I always look amazing but in reality there is room for improvement. 🙂
I encountered my usual struggle of trying to find out about classes (where do you look if not zumba.com?), not having a gym membership, plus many places were on hiatus due to Christmas & New Year’s. (It’s summer in Australia, so this is peak holiday time.) Another challenge was that we were staying in 3 very different parts of the city and reliant on public transit.
My lesson learned is that even if a dance studio or gym doesn’t advertise a “pay-as-you-go” option, it’s worth inquiring… At a minimum, you can usually get a free trial class out of it, but most of the time I have found there are unpublished options for short-term visitors.
Zumba, Latin, and Bubbles…
I was really pleased to discover Dance Dynamics. They have a few different studios throughout Melbourne (I was closest to their Malvern location) and offer a variety of dance and fitness classes. They had an unadvertised “casual membership” for people who are not residents. The catch is that classes are only 30 minutes long… this is probably great for people who are busy or too intimidated to try a full hour, but that’s far too short for me. I wound up doing several classes back to back (as did many other attendees).
I loved Tara’s Zumba classes. She was super-friendly, easy to follow, and had some very fun routines. (Some of them involved “spanking it”, and there was even some quick dabbing at one point.). She had 3 of the same songs that I do (Booty, Talk Dirty, and Shaki Riddim) with completely different choreo, so it was an extra challenge to try and follow along even though my muscles wanted to do something else entirely.
As a bonus, there was champagne after class to celebrate the holidays!
I also went to a class called “Dance & Tone”, which was basically a more fitnessy version of Zumba. The first time I went, the instructor was not that great – she used vocal cues (without a mic, over loud music) which were impossible to hear, so I found myself getting frustrated. However the second time was a different instructor and much better. As with most dance classes, the quality of the experience often depends on the instructor.
Carla was another favourite of mine. She taught two classes – “Latin” and “Street Latin”. The Latin class was basically like Zumba but with only Latin rhythms. Street Latin was more of a choreography class – we learned a very easy bachata sequence and she gave us a few notes about technique along the way. This made it feel more like a “dance”class, but it was still accessible to any skill level.
After she broke down the sequence, we danced it over and over to all kinds of bachata covers of pop tunes like Roxanne and Careless Whisper (which was extra dramatic given George Michael’s recent death – we all let out a mournful sigh when it came on). Carla was super-enthusiastic throughout all of her classes – I would happily take from her again given the chance.
Goodlife Health Clubs have a number of locations around Australia. There was a free 5 day trial option on their website, and I was pleased to learn they have a 4 week (unpublished) membership option. They have many different classes – from Zumba to Yoga to Boxing to Pilates Reformer. It sounded promising.
I went on Sat, Dec 24 to try out a Zumba class at the Glen Iris location. The normal instructor was away and the substitute was terrible. She started off by being late to class and literally half the people (wisely) left when they saw her walk up. (Apparantly she substituted a few days earlier so those folks knew what was coming.)
She spent some time fumbling around trying to get the CD player to work. (The stereo is clearly optimized for digital input.) She was wearing a mic, but even so it was impossible to hear her over the music (and I was standing very close to her). She rarely cued and her movements were tough to follow.
People were trickling out, one by one, stopping to complain at the front the desk. I tried to make the best of it, but after 45 minutes I was too frustrated by her muddy movements and inaudible mumbling so I also bailed. On my way out, I let them know I would be happy to substitute, as they clearly seemed desparate. The staff was super-apologetic and acknowledged I wasn’t the only one who was frustrated by the class.
I didn’t go back, mainly because we moved across the city at that point. The normal instructor is actually a Zumba Jammer with a huge following, so it was probably just bad luck on the holiday timing.
Zumba at Fitness First
Fitness First is another gym with multiple locations throughout Australia with tons of classes, including: Zumba, Les Milles programs, Yoga, Boxing, Pilates, etc. I got such an amazing deal on a one-month membership it seemed suspicious… I figured the manager must have had some end-of-year quota to hit.
The catch was that I had to buy the membership that day – having never set foot in the gym. This was a little worrisome given my last experience, but they had so many dance fitness classes on the schedule, I decided to go for it.
On my first day, I first spent 15 minutes trying to find the door to the gym, which was in a massive mall. I could see it was on the top floor, but no matter which escalator, staircase, or elevator I tried, none of them went high enough. I felt ridiculous, but I eventually had to call them and get directions to the right bank of elevators. (So embarassing – I was basically lost in the mall.)
My first class was a 45 minute Friday lunchtime Zumba session with Nelly. Typically, short daytime classes are low impact (ie. tailored for an older audience) and aren’t enough for me… but that was absolutely not the case with this one! Nelly was high energy, high impact, and left us all happy and sweaty. She was very easy to follow, friendly and up-beat.
I really appreciated that Nelly gave me some really thoughtful feedback on one of my songs about how to breakdown a movement so students would be able to pick it up easily. It was a small adjustment that made a huge difference. I have often wished there was a forum for soliciting feedback from other instructors for the sake of improvement – I really need to be better about requesting it when I do a song in someone else’s class. (When I was bellydancing, I thought of organizing an event where dancers could perform for each other and then get constructive critique from other dancers – perhaps an idea for a Zumba workshop when I’m back in SF.)
Julia was another instructor with fantastic energy and flawless cueing. One of her routines included a move I named “angry muppet” and she also used Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” which I loved.
Carmen was over-flowing with enthusiasm – you could really feel her love for teaching Zumba. She is so full of joy it was impossible not to have fun and work yourself into a sweat. She was especially good at creating a “party” atmosphere, and also briefing new students on what to expect (which removes any pressure on them to feel like experts after only one class).
Towards the end of my stay, Carmen pulled together a special class which included me, Nelly and Carol & Leora from Sydney. Because it was at the gym, we had to use official Zumba songs (due to licensing rules), which meant I had to pull out some pretty old routines. It was a ton of fun to have so many different instructors in one place and I was impressed at how many students stayed through the whole class, which went for almost 2 hours!
Carol & Leora always teach together, and they are a super-fun pair! They have incredible energy and play off of each other so well… you can tell they are great friends as well as great dance partners (and it made me miss my girls even more!) If you are ever in Sydney, definitely check them out!
In 4 weeks, I only had one bad Zumba class at the gym, which was bizarre in a unique way… First, the instructor stopped before every song to explain something, or tell us how great we were, or to pass out props (ugh). It’s impossible to keep your heart rate up if there are long gaps between each routine…. I really don’t need to high-five my neighbour constantly, or be told to pretend I’m a butterfly emerging from a coccoon, or have very basic chorography explained.
Her songs were all very slow (most of them were designed to be Cool Down numbers) which could be fine if the intention was a lower-impact class, but the choreography was also far too repetitive. While you don’t want movements changing too often, having only 2 moves throughout an entire song gets boring quickly.
Several students had never done a Zumba class before and left feeling like it was weird and they didn’t get a good workout. I encouraged them to try again with Nelly or Carmen.
So the gym wasn’t perfect, but overall really great and I definitely got my money’s worth on classes!
One of the other classes offered at Fitness First was LesMilles BodyJam, which the gym described as “the cardio workout where you are free to enjoy the sensation of dance“. (What?)
Instructions came via a mic (which isn’t my preference, but at least the levels were adjusted properly so I could hear them) as well as some non-verbal cues. The class was spent learning long combinations of moves which worked with a number of different electronic songs. We started with one or two combinations at a time, and then gradually added on until there was a long sequence that I (almost) remembered. They repeated the same choreo for about 3-4 weeks, so it’s not surprising that the first couple classes were challenging.
Learning and dancing one combo lasted for about 20 minutes, accompanied by one long megamix of mostly techno with some trance and hip hop mixed in. There was always one or two warm-up songs, and then one “recovery song” between the two halves of class. The cool down was almost non-existant and there was no stretching. There was definitely a lot more potential to hurt yourself (especially your knees and back), so you had to be disciplined about taking care of your own body.
I was surprised to see that the class was consistently about one-third men! I’m not sure why it has a stronger appeal to them over Zumba… Perhaps it was the electronic playlist? Or that the movements weren’t as girlie as Zumba? Or that the class repeats for several weeks (so you have time to master the combinations)?
David MC was my favourite instructor – instead of using the names of the movements, he would describe what was happening, like “now you’re going to use your arms to clear people off the dance floor, and then you’re going to dance in that space”. Visuals like that make it so much easier to remember the moves. And it was also hilarious to have someone yelling things like “spank it like you mean it!”. He was incredibly sassy and I loved him.
There were usually other classes like “Body Attack” that followed, with the next group peering through the glass doors (impatiently) waiting for us to get out. One day class ended with what I can only describe as a “big gay dance party” – everyone was free-style dancing with each other to Diana Ross. I can only image that the hardcore circuit trainers were outside rolling their eyes as we were all prancing around the studio for the last few minutes of class.
It was fun and I grew to love this class, sometimes doing Zumba in the morning and then Body Jam in the evening.
Jammin with Tam!
I was super-excited for a Jam Session with Tamara Pitts during my stay. The goal of these sessions is for instructors to learn 5 new routines well enough that you can start leading them in classes right away. It’s basically 3 hours of non-stop Zumba: dancing the rountines, breaking down the steps, going over cueing, and then dancing them some more. It is as exhausting as it sounds.
Tamara was a ton of fun! The routines we learned were great, but I think the highlight was actually her warm-up… it was a rock mashup of songs like “I Love Rock n Roll“, “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and even “Enter Sandman“.
Typically, these sessions are 30-35 people but in this case, less than 20 attended. I’m not sure if it was the holiday timing or because it was literally 100 degrees outside, but this meant everyone had a great vantage point in the huge studio and plenty of room to move. It was a luxury to have a small class with such a fantastic instructor.
In these sessions, instructors take turns leading each other as practice. At one point, there were more people teaching than there were followers – ha!
Tamara really pushed us to keep our energy up for the entire 3 hours. (There was only a 10 minute break.) I was definitely ready to spend the evening on the couch with a big glass of wine when it was all over!
You Get What You Pay For
MeetUp.com advertised a free Zumba class that was very near one of our petsitting gigs. The organizer seemed to be really active in fitness so I thought maybe he had city sponsorship or something. The event was billed as a class followed by social time, so I thought it might be a good way to meet some people.
Unfortunately, the class was really, really terrible in almost every way. It was in a small, carpeted room with no mirrors and poor ventillation. The instructor was far too green. We chatted briefly before class and when she learned I was an instructor, she starting offering up excuses – that she was used to using a mic, and having mirrors, etc. (Neither of these should be necessary for a great class.)
She spent the next 45 minutes shouting unintelligble things at a wall while we watched her back and tried to figure out what was going on. The routines were far too complex and inconsistent, there was no cueing, and I have no idea why she wouldn’t face the room (even if this meant starting on the wrong foot). She often fell off the beat – even clapping in time to the music was challenging. The fastest songs she did were the 3 she described as “cool down”.
She was not ready to be teaching a class on her own – she should either be doing a song or two in someone else’s class, or holding practice classes with friends until she’s more comfortable.
When that was done, they invited everyone to stick around, socialize, and buy Herbalife shakes from them.
Keeley’s Zumba Class
I made contact with Keeley over email, who offered to have me teach a few songs so I could get into the gym for free. It was a weekday morning class at Collingwood Leisure Center. They do offer the ability to buy one-off classes, but they are not cheap ($17 AUD per class) so I appreciated the hook-up!
It was mostly a (much) older crowd, which isn’t surprising given the timing. There were a couple younger women, and I could tell from eavesdropping that they would appreciate some higher impact songs.
Keeley has great form. Her songs had more complex choreography, which I think was a struggle for some but I really liked them. The routines were lower impact, which made sense given the audience. I enjoyed getting on stage for a couple songs and giving them a taste of some higher energy numbers.
The group was really friendly and clearly a lot of regulars. Many of them go out for coffee all the time and invited everyone to join them. It was nice to see such a close-knit group, which reminded me of my own class (except we always opted for tacos & margaritas instead of coffee – ha!).
Kpop, Waacking, and Other Dances I Can’t Do
Passion Dance Studio offers various street-style dance classes 6 days a week. They have 2 small studios with great floors and huge mirrors, plus they don’t do advance registration so you can just show up! The class styles are pretty specific: KPop, Waacking, Popping, Locking, and Krumpography (along with some general Hip Hop). Most classes are for beginners, so I thought I would try some out.
My first class was Kpop. (Kpop classes usually teach you the choreography from a Korean Pop Music video.) It was marked as “Beginniner/Intermediate”ont he schedule, but I knew I was in trouble when I watched the Beginner Hip Hop class that was wrapping up ahead of us. As it turned out, I probably needed something more along the lines of “Remedial/Pre-Pre-Beginner”.
The teacher demonstrated the choreography once, talked through 4 phrases of movement without counts, and then had us run it at full tempo just once before moving on. I managed to catch about 6 of the first 32 moves, but they didn’t look pretty. It continued like this for most of the class.
He gave us a few notes on nuances of movement, while a third of the class (including me) was struggling to just remember what we were supposed to be doing. Clearly, I needed something that covered the basics before I jumped into memorizing a music video’s worth of chorography in 1 hour!
The waacking class, however, was so much fun! (Waacking is a form of dancing with really expressive, fast arm movements – it’s reminicient of vogueing. Some of you might recognize this clip from Princess Lockaroo’s audition for So You Think You Can Dance.)
The instructor, Marnie, took us through strengthening drills and a technique breakdown for the first half of class. The movements are all very fast and mostly near your face. (I won’t lie – I did smack myself a number of times but managed to avoid giving myself a black eye.)
After we were done with self-flagellation, we either learned short combos or practiced the basics while walking across the floor. Waacking is as much about attitude as it is technique, so each time she challenged us to bring more – I did my best to channel my inner gay man and werk it!
Class ended with an (optional) dance circle – people could take turns moving into the middle to freestyle. Marnie would start and end it for us, and it was fabulous to watch her dance! Almost everyone else was too intimidated but I forced myself to give it a shot at the last class before leaving Melbourne. (There’s no need to be embarassed when you’re about to flee the country, right?) Suffice to say I am not in danger of being recruited by a Waacking crew, but it felt good to challenge myself. I would love to learn more!
Despite the how many great dancers were taking classes there, I found everyone to be friendly and supportive. And the studio’s website and Facebook page is always up to date with the latest info (a rarity!), so all in all, two thumbs up!
The first class I found in Bangkok was excellent, and we were only here for a week so I didn’t bother trying out anywhere else. The class is taught by Beatriz, who is a long-time instructor and also a Zumba Jammer (choreography teacher for other instructors). She is originally from Guatemala but has been in Bangkok for several years.
In a nutshell, it was a perfect experience.
I found her class on Meet Up, where she included incredibly detailed instructions (along with photos) on how to find the studio, plus class prices, etc. (This is one of the few times I haven’t spent at least 10 minutes trying to find the exact building location or door to a studio.) And as a bonus, when I expressed interest via the Meet Up event, one of her students reached out to tell me how great the class was!
Also, all of her class info on zumba.com was accurate. (I hate that this comes as a surprise to me now.)
The studio was large, air-conditioned, with a great sound system and mirrors on all four walls! The other students were incredibly friendly (to me, and each other) – its clear they have a nice little Zumba family. And best of all, her cueing was perfect – it was so easy to follow along.
It goes without saying that she’s a great dancer, and her choreography was super cute, too! Several songs had little sassy moments in them. One song included high-fiving your neighbour (which I think terrified the Japanese guy who was closest to me). I also loved the bollywood song that we did like a “battle” (facing each other), but the choreography was kind of a call & response of different Bollywood moves.
Definitely catch her class if you find yourself in Bangkok!
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:
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.)
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
After failing to make it to any classes in Dubai, I was determined to get back into action in Singapore. Its was a mixed bag, especially in comparison to Cape Town, who really spoiled me.
I did my usual pre-arrival emails to local instructors. I discovered a large amount of incorrect/incomplete info on zumba.com… its surprising how many people don’t keep their class info up to date! How do they find new students? Is it entirely through word of mouth?
I also came across quite a lot of “requires a membership” venues, and not just for gyms… dance and yoga studios either had mandatory year-long memberships or made you purchase packages of classes. I was struggling to find anything that would work for a short visit. (one place was around $15,000 to join… it was more than just a gym, but still!)
Hip Hop/”Swag Fitness”
My first success was Rhomeiny’s class. I found him through zumba.com but he let me know in advance that he was in the process of transitioning his class to something he calls “Swag Fitness”. It’s predominantly hip hop and pop music, and the choroeography is more complex than Zumba but it is still easier than a regular hip hop class. I figured I’d give it a shot.
Overall, I loved the music and enjoyed the challenge of more complex routines. There wasn’t as much cueing, though, so suffice to say I was the white girl bumbling around in the back of the room. The toughest part is that he used a lot of the same music as I did for Zumba (like Dessert and Shawty Got Moves), but the routines were totally different. This meant my body wanted to do something other than what my brain was telling it to do, which often manifested in some less-than-graceful results. Still, the class was a lot of fun and I imagine it would get easier over time (especially some of the crazy footwork).
Jammin’ with Gerald
I managed to secure a spot at a Jam Session with a Singapore instructor, Gerald. (Jam Sessions are classes held for Zumba instructors to learn new choreography.) In addition to leading jam sessions, he teaches regular classes every day of the week. He knew everyone in the room by name – I suspect he’s a local Zumba celebrity.
It was a generously-sized studio for 30+ instructors, with plenty of mirrors and a platform for Gerald so it was easy to see him. He was super-sassy and very positive – I loved his sense of humour and all 4 of his routines were great (which is a rarity for a jam session – usually there’s at least one I don’t love.)
The session was non-stop for over 3 hours. (Typically there’s at least one break built in.) We rarely stopped moving! First we all danced through the 4 songs, then broke down and repeated the individual sections, and then everyone took turns leading them. Gerald was particularly organized how he handled who led which song, which I appreciated. I was surprised (though exhausted) when the time was up!
Zumba with Erich
Classes here are pretty expensive… anywhere from $11-$15 (or more). I was excited to find I could do a free demo class at True Yoga, which in addition to offering a million yoga classes also has some Zumba. Erich’s class was a lot of fun. He did a lot of pantomiming to the song lyrics (including pretending to take shots) and ended every song with sassy poses. I absolutely loved it, of course, but I felt a bit bad as the other women in the class weren’t as enthusiastic about all the campy fun.
The studios were all gorgeous and they have very nice facilities – they provide towels, yoga matts, and have a lounge with free wifi and drinks in it. Unfortunately, the smallest number of classes I could buy came down to $29/class, so I won’t be going back.
Halfway through our visit I moved to our pet-sitting gig across town, which meant starting all over again with the class hunt or spend over an hour going to and from each class. I was excited to find a studio closeby, but then disappointed when it appeared it was actually of business (despite still having events posted on MeetUp.com and a website advertising classes). Sigh.
Luckily, I discovered 1Fiesta who offered drop-in classes in 5 different locations around the city. They offer multiple classes every day and have a bunch of different instructors (like Gerald).
Some classes were better than others, and that’s partially because of the attendees. I wound up in one mid-week morning class that was mostly older ladies. The class was so shoulder-shimmy inept that the instructor tried breaking it down for them. These women barely moved the entire time… the instructor was trying her best to amp them up and I was trying to be extra-energetic to support her, yet they were somehow just sucking the life out of us.
Tomomi’s class was particularly good. She’s very high-impact so I got a great workout, plus my arms were sore the next day (a rarity!). I was a little worried as I was the tallest (at 5’6) and whitest woman amoung the 40 students, but Tomomi was easy to follow so I didn’t stick out at all.
And Gerald’s regular class was just as great as his jam session – he’s got an enthusiastic group and he is very playful with everyone. And as you’d expect, he’s very easy to follow.
Classes in Singapore are very quiet. No clapping at the end of song or cheering or singing along or shouting “hey”… I’m not looking for a cheerleading squad, but its a little weird that its absolutely dead silent between songs.
One instructor was trying so hard to get her class to make any noise at all, I thought I’d compensate for their silence with my booming American voice. It was comical – the two of us shouting, call & response style, in a room full of slient people. It was almost like I had Zumba tourettes.
Classes At A Gym: Zumba, Kpop, HipHop
I had to buy some additional workout clothes since I was going to class so much (and was tired of doing laundry every day). At the shop, they gave me a 7 day pass to a local gym. I was especially excited as not only was it free access to some Zumba classes, but it would only take 20 minutes to get there (whereas the other studios were 40 minutes away or further).
I should have known it would be too good to be true. Just finding the gym in the massive mall was problematic. Then I had to deal with a very pushy sales guy. He didn’t listen to anything I said about my experience or fitness goals, gave me a half-hearted tour (which included no practical info, like how to sign up for the classes), followed by a hard press to sign up for 12 months (even though I hadn’t even used the gym yet). When I repeated that I wasn’t a permanant resident, he was reluctant to honour the pass and then badgered me to give him names & phone numbers of friends he could call and try and sell memberships to!
While the gym had a great view of the harbour, the facilities were pretty tired. The dance studio was nice, but the gym equipment was old and the locker room was far from inviting. And they don’t keep the class schedule updated, so you might show up for a Zumba class and find that it’s something else.
The first class there was with Tomomi, so at least I got one great Zumba class for all the time I spent trying to get the guest pass out of them.
Later in the week I went for a class which was called “Kpop” (with no supporting description). I assumed it would be like Zumba, but in reality it felt more like a dance workshop for professional dancers learning music video choreography… except that everyone in the room was far from being a professional dancer.
In less than an hour she tried to teach us 40 seconds of very fast choroeography for the chorus of this music video (:58-1:38). (I have new respect for those girls in the video – they make it look easy!) The moves were cute, but she was going through them really quickly, not breaking them down very much, and not giving us much time to run them. I’d wager she spent as much time cueing up music as we did dancing.
Suffice to say, everyone in the room was lost. It wasn’t even clear when we should start dancing since she wasn’t always counting us in. And then there was a part where you supposed to trade places with the person next to you… people were literally bumping into each other.
Then she very abruptly proclaimed it was the last run-through. We all bumbled through it one last time, then she grabbed her stuff, and ran out the door. No cool down, no “thanks for coming”, nothing. It was very odd.
Since I didn’t feel like I got any kind of a workout, I decided to stay for the next class. The schedule said Zumba but when I went to the front desk to sign up for it, they let me know it was going to be Swag Fitness instead. (Why can’t anyone provide accurate info here?!) At least this was a pleasant surprise. While his format is certainly a little harder than Zumba, it seemed like a breeze compared to the Kpop class and I was certainly glad I stuck around for it!
So while it took a lot of effort (and commute time) on my part, I did manage to go to 4 classes a week throughout our stay! I also spent some time recording myself and then watching it back for places where my movements could be cleaner or my cueing could be better. (We used to do this for bellydancing all the time – why have I not done this for Zumba before now!?) It was a little tough to watch, but a very useful exercise. I definitely want to continue doing this.
Next up is Penang, Malaysia… its a much smaller place, but I know they have Zumba there. Fingers crossed I can find some drop-in opportunities!
My Cape Town Zumba-thon continued with Monique’s class – at the risk of being repetitive, it was another fantastic one! It’s amazing how much energy the students and instructors bring to the class.
Like the others, Monique was super-welcoming and her packed class was tons of fun! She’s a great instructor with years of teaching and mentoring experience. She was very easy to follow and clearly loves hip hop, which is always a favourite of mine.
There were several other instructors there too. I especially enjoyed Lucas, who is the South Africa ZES (the person who instructs instructors) – he incorporated a lot of African dance styles and music into his routines. And Westley is an amazing dancer with incredible energy (more on him later).
I’m impressed with how often I’ve seen instructors taking each other’s classes here. I know how much time it takes to prep for your own class, not to mention holding down a day job… Cape Town has a very dedicated and passionate group of instructors!
The next weekend, Omar invited me out to wine country for a special 90 minute class. The gym was close to a University campus, so the class was predomonantly college students. It was exam time, so our host Natasha, was a little worried the class would be small… they only had about 65 students show up instead of their normal 80 or so. (Ha!).
Its such an incredibly supportive community in Cape Town- there were 7 guest instructors who came along (plus me). Most of them traveled 40-60km (about a 45 min drive) to support Natasha. And this wasn’t a special fundraising event – just a regular class. This gives the students exposure to different styles, gives the instructors a chance to learn from each other, and everyone has such a good time. It was so nice of them to invite me along (and for Monique & Westley to drive me there).
I’ll confess I took a couple days off after that to play tourist… the climb up Table Mountain was rough on my knees so I needed to let them rest (briefly) before I jumped back into it…
… withZumba with Jess, who teaches twice a week in Sea Point (very close to where I was staying). Jess is vivacious and teaches in a small studio filled with incredibly friendly students. She leaned towards latin songs and had disco lights, which transformed the pilates studio into a Zumba dance club!
I followed this with Westley‘s class, which Virgin Active calls “Groove” on the schedule (but it was essentially Zumba). Jevon also joined him, when meant 2 high-energy guys to work the class into a frenzy. They were both so easy to follow, super energetic, and the right amount of sass. Everyone was having so much fun they kept begging them to do more songs, so it ultimately turned into an 80 minute class. (Ask Virgin Active Wembley Square for their current teaching schedule.)
Then the grand finale was a special 90 minute BioRhithm class on Heritage Day. The whole crew was there – Rukaya, Mansoor, Omar and Marel, plus all of their newer instructors.
It was non-stop for 90 minutes and the room was never low on energy thanks to all these instructors, working hard to keep everyone fired up the entire time. And then of course, there was plenty of photos afterward:
Even the guys got into it…
The fabulous Rukaya, looking gangster!
Big thanks to Omar (of BioRithms) and Cindy (from the Zumba Addicts group) for all their hospitality – I never expected to meet so many people and take so many fantastic classes in Cape Town. I’m blown away by how many enthusiastic students and incredible teachers there are here. And I am really touched by what strong and supportive community this is. I’ve learned a lot and had a blast!