Zumba in the square

As the workday ended, the workout began.

With a blast of salsa music piping over the speakers at North Boulevard Town Square in Baton Rouge, the Thursday Zumba class kicked and shimmied and shook into gear.

On stage in front of the downtown lawn, instructor Elizabeth Reid, clad in bright green polka dot tights, started the exercises, mixing in moves more often seen on the dance floor.

“It’s just a fun way to exercise,” said regular Zumba participant Nanette Olivier, 58. “You’re not watching the clock.”

Created by mixing hip-shaking choreography adapted from salsa, mambo and merengue dance styles, Zumba burns calories quickly, said Reid, who started teaching Zumba classes last year.

“It’s real fitness, it’s real high cardio,” Reid said. “It elevates the heart rate and it makes people sweat all the calories out. All the things people are looking for in a fitness class, really.”

The YMCA of the Capital Area paired with the Downtown Development District to bring the free Zumba classes to the lawn in the shadow of the Old State Capitol.

Created in the 1990s by a Colombian fitness instructor, Reid said, Zumba allows participants to move at their own pace. Instructors traditionally do not speak or call out instructions during the class, a practice begun when the creator moved to the United States and knew little English, said the Colombian-born Reid.

Most Zumba classes thrive on high-tempo Latin music, making the class more like a dance party, but sometimes high-tempo pop and hip-hop songs may get mixed into the playlist.

“It helps to burn more calories because it’s faster paced,” said Reid. “With other types of music you have to keep it slow, but it is more hard core so you work other parts of the body.”

Zumba classes for children and seniors have been developed along with the swimming pool-focused Aqua Zumba.

While walking with her mother downtown Thursday, 4-year-old Leilia Fox heard the music and saw the dancing of the Thursday class. “Oooh Zumba!” the little blonde exclaimed before joining in.

Every week Leilia’s mother, Anne-Liese Fox, 40, takes Zumba in Mandeville, and Leilia joins for the last 15 minutes or so. “Now that I’m a mom I don’t get to go dancing, and this is a way,” said Anne-Liese Fox. “Plus I can dance with my children.”

After walking and working out at a gym, Clare Selig, 59, took up Zumba in January.

“I decided I wanted to kick it up a notch, burn more calories and do something with more movement,” she said.

Now she Zumbas twice a week, and finds that it improves her concentration, too.

For Reid, the instructor, Zumba is barely like working out at all.

“I do love to dance,” Reid said, “and I like to see people relaxing and removing the stress of the day, just having some fun.”