NEW YORK (Reuters) - Zumba, the Latin-inspired dance fitness craze, has attracted millions of followers worldwide with its call to ditch the workout and join the party.
Now Aqua Zumba is taking that party to the pool, with a low-impact exercise class that strives not to throw cold water on Zumba's good time and sexy edge.
"Why sweat? Aqua Zumba is easier on the joints" said Taryn Hitchman, who leads Aqua Zumba group fitness classes at New York Health & Racquet Club in New York City.
"It's fun and you don't have to be a dancer. You're up to your neck in water."
And swimming is not required. Hitchman said her 45-minute Aqua Zumba class mixes Zumba, the Colombian dance fitness program created by Alberto "Beto" Perez in the 1990s, with traditional water exercises.
"We have a very vigorous 10-minute warm-up to a Latin beat, like Gloria Estefan or JLo (Jennifer Lopez)," she said. "Zumba (on land) is a lot of choreography, so I inject a lot of regular water exercises, like marathon running around the pool and dolphin kicks (legs thrust up and down in unison)."
The choreographed movements are designed to be accessible.
"There's lots of repetition. It's very important that people feel successful," said Hitchman, who has been teaching for 10 years.
For the 15 to 20 people, most of them women, who attend each class, the result is a full-body workout, she said, with strength, toning and flexibility components, as well as that let-your-hair-down vibe that has defined Zumba.
"If they recognize a song, like 'La Bamba,' they'll sing with it," she said.
Lisa Latimer has never taken a Zumba class on dry land. Knee surgeries have left the 44-year-old administrative assistant unable attend most exercise classes without pain. So she takes her fitness in the pool.
"With the buoyancy of the water, I can do most of the exercises," said Latimer, who also frequents a water aerobics class.
"Aqua Zumba is a lot sexier. You can really feel your body," said Latimer, who has met a number of people in the classes who have had injuries.
"This is a way they can get back in shape," she said. "I go to class because I enjoy it, but a cool result of it has been maintaining about a 30-to-35 pound (13.6 to 15.9 kilogram) weight loss."
Barbara Bushman, an exercise specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine, said much depends on which end of the pool you're in.
"At the shallow end there's some impact on the lower extremity," said Bushman, a professor in the kinesiology department at Missouri State University. "At the deep end it's totally non-weight-bearing."
Bushman said because the density of water is about 800 times that of air, "typically you're not going to be able to move as fast."
Doing upright exercises in the water works the muscles differently, she said.
"Rather than gravity pulling you down toward earth, you have the buoyancy of water pushing you up toward the surface. Running is just a series of crashes to earth. In water we have to focus on pushing the limb down."
Bushman said exercising safely in water can offer extra support to those with balance concerns.
"Falling (in water), you might get a little wetter," she said.
Bushman cautions that exercisers in water need to hydrate, even though they are less likely to feel thirst.
"People (in water) need to realize they're still sweating, even though they're not perceiving it," she said.
Hitchman conducts her class in both the shallow and deep ends of the pool.
"If folks are not comfortable in the deep, I put them in a flotation belt," she said. "There are deep-end moves, but the dance-choreographed stuff is in the shallow."
Latimer's experience holds true to the festive mood that turned Zumba into such a runaway success.
"We sing and laugh because it is such a freeing feeling to be moving in the water," she said. "I feel like I'm in a club."
Editing by Patricia Reaney and John Wallace