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The Growth of Zumba continued...

In 2005, Perez, Perlman, and Aghion developed an educational division, wrote a training manual, and began offering Zumba workshops to those interested in teaching.

Today, there are an estimated 4 million Zumba enthusiasts and 25,000 instructors in 40 countries, according to Perlman. And Zumba executives continue to feed the frenzy. The brand also offers music and choreography; a clothing line; Zumba Gold classes, geared to seniors; Zumba Toning, a sculpting class using weighted sticks that sound like maracas; and ZumbAtomic, a program for kids aged 5 to 12.

No Complex Choreography

Barring any doctor's limitations, says Perlman, Zumba is safe for a range of ages and fitness levels because the steps can be modified so that it's very low-impact. And all you need are a good pair of dance shoes or cross-trainers.

Part of Zumba's appeal is its simplicity, says Perlman. Teachers are encouraged to forego complex cueing, and just let the students feel the music, he says.

"Other classes do complicated choreography. ... You need to pay attention," he says. "Zumba uses four or five steps in one given song and you keep repeating."

Sometimes, says Perez, people even forget they're in a fitness class.

"It's incredibly upbeat," says 39-year-old Jennifer Brooks, of Pittsburgh. "It's like going out with the girls dancing."

"I've never smiled more in an exercise class," says Pittsburgh's Deb Bogan, 59. "I laugh out loud, I sing."

And, Bogan says, she's not alone in feeling that way: "When I look around at the faces of these middle-aged to older adults, their faces are like the faces of children on the playground."

Benefits of Zumba Exercise

Zumba lovers credit the dance craze with freer inhibitions, sharper minds -- and tighter abs.

"It changes your body better than body sculpting," says McCalister. "Since I've started teaching Zumba, I've lost inches. My body has slimmed down. I've had to replace all my fitness clothes."

Though Bogan says she's always been a "gym rat," she admits to being uncoordinated. "I never had great balance," but since practicing Zumba, she says, "I can stand on one foot as long as I need to."

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