At Aqua Zumba, Ladies Keep It Wet and Mild

In the water, no one can see your jiggly parts.

That's one of the attractions of the exercise known as Aqua Zumba. That's "Aqua" as in swimming pool and "Zumba" as in splashing to a Latin beat. And jiggly as in the stuff on your body you'd rather not expose in public.

My jiggly stuff and I do the Aqua Zumba class at the Jewish Community Center pool, where on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, certified instructor Ashley Travis leads a group of 12 to 20 of us. It's a nice class to do at sunset on a summer eve, especially when the sun has set on how much pounding your joints can take at a certain age and weight.

Aqua Zumba lets you get some cardio conditioning and stretching to good music in the relative cool of the pool (though with this summer's heat, it can feel like a human stew in there). Mostly, it's exercise that lets you do big moves without killing your achy joints, which is why it appeals to an older crowd.

Through the 1980s and well into the 1990s, I suffered through "step classes" at a gym three or four times a week. Using plastic benches or crates of varying heights, we jumped, stepped, rocked and hopped on and off the things to throbbing disco music as some pin-thin instructor yelled at us to "feel the burn" and "do eight more." Now that step classes are déclassé in the gym world, we know that we were killing our ankles, knees and backs doing that stuff. Didn't help our eardrums either.

Around 2000, about the same time Boomer bodies were leaving hard-floor exercise classes for gentler workouts like yoga and Pilates, water aerobics started picking up steam. Variations like "Pool-ates" and water yoga followed. Those are nice but a little too mellow when you're looking to expend more than 20 or 30 calories an hour.

Aqua Zumba can be an invigorating workout. In chest-high water, you splash, twist, kick and cha-cha-cha at whatever level of intensity you choose. If you really go after it, you can burn between 300 and 600 calories an hour in an Aqua Zumba class. That's equal to running several miles on a treadmill. But in the water, you don't get nasty-sweaty (you do sweat but you don't feel it) and your hips and knees don't scream for mercy.

You're also camouflaged in the water. So you can go wild if you want to, splash-dancing like a maniac as long as you don't moisten the hair of the prim older ladies who somehow manage to get through class without dampening their heads.

Our Ashley teaches from the pool deck, swiveling her hips in the two-step-beat merengue and flinging her arms this way and that in the salsa numbers. She plays great music and keeps the momentum high for the middle 30 minutes of the 45-minute class.

I tend to be one of the most Zumba-y Zumba-ers, which I think Ashley likes. At least I'm paying attention. Some of the ladies at the "J" spend the class chatting on the back row in the pool, moving their mouths but not much else. If this annoys Ashley, she doesn't let on. She has invited me to visit Aqua Zumba classes she leads at the Richardson YMCA on Friday and Saturday mornings. Those draw 30 or more exercisers, she says, and even some men join in (never happens at the "J"). That's a livelier group, she tells me, with a more hoot-and-holler atmosphere.

Aqua Zumba, also known as the Zumba Pool Party, is an offshoot of the trademarked Zumba Fitness program, founded in 2001 by Alberto Perez, an aerobics instructor in Cali, Colombia. From mix tapes of the Latin music he liked dancing to, Perez created a new form of dance-fitness that now is taught in more than 100,000 classes in gyms, health clubs and dance studios in 125 countries. Aqua Zumba was a natural progression. To get certified, instructors must go through approved Aqua Zumba training classes.

There are lots of Zumba fitness classes, on land and in liquid, in the Dallas area. To find one, go here. And don't be afraid to get your hair wet.

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