On first glance, you might not have realized that the 17 students — all over 55 and some over 80 — were working out. But they are. The theme of the experience that has been sweeping the nation with classes for young and old, active and sedentary, is “Ditch the workout; join the party.”
And party it was on a recent Monday afternoon, as the women — men are invited, but none were present this day — stepped, swayed and swung their hips to the zesty Latin music.
At the front of the class, 67-year-old Christensen was having just as much fun. Zumba Gold takes the Zumba party-fitness atmosphere and modifies the pacing and the impact so the moves, including a combination of mambo, salsa, merengue, tango and flamenco, are easier on the body, said Christensen.
“My purpose is to bring the joy of movement and rhythm,” she said. “It’s so good for our cognitive processes, as well as the traditional cardiovascular benefit of exercise.”
Zumba, a Colombian dance-fitness program combining dance and aerobics, was created by dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez during the 1990s. According to enthusiasts, there are 12 million people taking weekly Zumba classes at more than 140,000 locations in 150 countries.
Christensen said she wasn’t originally a dancer.
“Following dance steps never came easy to me,” she said.
Rather, she was a fitness buff and bodybuilder who was named San Diego Ms. Muscle Beach when she was 39.
“During my 50s, though, work stress and caregiving duties interfered with fitness and I gained 50 pounds over a seven-year period,” she said.
She started training as a Zumba instructor, received her certification and began teaching in April 2011.
“I loved the Latin rhythms,” said Christensen. “I grew up hearing them. Mom was Panamanian. There are Latin rhythms in my blood … Now, I am happy to say that with return to exercise, particularly Zumba classes, and careful attention to diet, I have lost those 50 pounds and maintain a healthy weight.”
Zumba Gold is moderate aerobic exercise, aimed at beginners, boomers, active seniors, expectant new moms and anyone who hopes to get into shape or stay there, she said.
“I have a heart for anyone who wants to exercise, but hates to go to the gym,” according to Christensen.
She said the exercise is ideal for people with high cholesterol or blood pressure. She described the dance as slower baby steps.
“You feel the music at your own pace,” she said. “A person can come in a three-left-footer and leave having had some success.”
One student, E. Bass, 80, said that in spite of her big knee brace “that keeps me walking,” she has fun and enjoys the music at Zumba Gold.
“I can’t do regular aerobics because it’s too jarring to the joints,” said Bass. “Here, I don’t have to jump and I can pace myself. The Latin music makes me feel like I’m not exercising.”
Another student, Lori Libs, a 55-year-old chiropractor in Pacific Beach, said, “It’s just so much fun. It’s dancing more than exercise. I definitely recommend it to my patients. I recommend anything that’s healthy and fun.”
Christensen teaches the free classes at the PB Library, 4275 Cass St., at 4 p.m. Mondays and at 10 a.m. on the fourth Saturday of every month. She also teaches at other San Diego city libraries. Basic higher-impact Zumba classes at the PB Library are held at 10 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month.
Christensen believes Zumba Gold is so popular “because you don’t have to be a fitness buff to enjoy it. It reaches the woman in the street, the grandmother. Everybody likes to dance.”
And judging from her students’ smiles, she’s right.
• Zumba Gold, (619) 299-0778, www.cashfitliving.com
Pacific Beach/Taylor Library, (858) 581-9934, www.sandiegolibrary.org.