From the uninitiated’s perspective, a Zumba session looks like a group of human smartphones vibrating uncontrollably while frantically trying to keep up with an instructor who seems to have secured a drink-as-much-as-you-like sponsorship deal with Red Bull.
“We really could do with a bigger venue, about 6,000 square-feet would be ideal to accommodate the growing demand,’’ says Connie, whose revelation will no doubt cause Sai Kung’s estate agents to break out in an anticipatory sweat. Typically lasting about an hour, and taught by instructors licensed by Zumba, the lessons are currently taught at the Hong Kong Academy.
Having put Zumba firmly on the Sai Kung map, Connie recently introduced Piloxing, an exercise regimen that combines Pilates and boxing. “Sai Kung is the first place in Hong Kong to have Piloxing taught by fully accredited instructors,” she says with more than a hint of pride. Sounding more like a vaccination programme than an energetic full-body cardio workout, Piloxing is best described as being tailor-made for those keen to get in shape by unleashing their inner Manny Pacquiao while performing scenes from Dirty Dancing. Put aside uppercuts, side jabs and fancy footwork, Connie says Piloxing gets the endorphins buzzing and can form a fun part of any fitness regime.
While Zumba is an excellent cardio workout and a perfect regimen for toning arms, abs and thighs, Connie points out that Zumba can be enjoyed by men or women who simply want to loosen their joints a bit. A good example is the Tuesday Zumba sessions offered through the Caritas charity organisation to elderly people in Sai Kung, which include some of the card-playing senior ladies that occupy the covered area adjacent to Jaspers. According to Connie, some of the Tuesday Zumba-converts are the same ladies that reached deep into the expressive Cantonese dialect to tell Connie and a few of her students to “sling their hooks” when they were performing a Zumba display near the card-playing area.
Not that a few colourful Cantonese expressions is ever likely to dampen Connie’s enthusiasm for the high spirited, high-energy group exercise experience. “I am passionate about dancing and exercise, and helping people to improve their fitness and well-being,” she says, emphasising there is so much positive energy in Zumba. “People come to the classes not only to get in better shape, but for stress-release and to socialise,” adds the instructor, who before she moved to Sai Kung held down the stress-free job of running a playgroup for 300 families in Shanghai.
A bit like the “Game of Thrones”, betting on the Mark Six or embracing the virtues of the ukulele, the urge to Zumba can become addictive. According to Connie, there are those that would be more than happy Zumba-ing away five days a week. In fact, every day! Not only has Zumba-ing become entrenched in the lives of Sai Kung residents, it is creating employment and contributing to a positive lifestyle outlook. For instance, one-time Zumba students Czarina Chan and Cecile Osborne have trained to become instructors and now take charge of classes. Meanwhile, long-time Sai Kung resident Linda Vass says attending Zumba classes has perked up her energy levels and given her the zest to try new things.
To get the most out of a Zumba class, throw yourself into the energetic mass of dancers and become one with the Zumba throng, advises Connie. “At the same time, check your self-consciousness at the door and let yourself go,” she adds encouragingly. Also, wear what you like providing it’s comfortable and doesn’t inhibit a smile. To which some of her students interpret the attire advice as anything that could double as a Mongolian Yurt to second-skin spandex that in the US state of Montana could have the wearer – male or female – facing a criminal charge.
Anyway, the most important thing is that your shoes are comfortable and grip-free so they allow you to move across the floor smoothly without turning an ankle, Connie explains. Grips on the soles of shoes and the cha-cha, it appears, are rather like Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing advocates and those pushing for democracy – they make a very unpalatable casserole and could easily result in a visit to the Mona Fong clinic with a Zumba’d lower limb.
Incidentally, as the story goes, the name Zumba has no meaning, although some say it represents the sound a wasp makes, and was created in the 1990s by an absent-minded Colombian aerobics instructor named Alberto Perez, who forgot the music for the class he was teaching, so instead improvised by using the mix and match music tapes he played in his car. Today, across the world – including Sai Kung – there are millions of people shaking it until they nearly break it, either to wasp-inspired Latin-ish tunes or simply having fun while exercising and listening to the same music Mr Perez enjoyed playing on his way to work.