Tori Heeb has danced since she was 5 years old. She even majored in dance at the University of Illinois.
After graduating and moving to Chicago, she continued to dance, mostly modern and concert. Eventually, though, all the technique reduced the fun for her.
Enter Zumba, a fitness program that incorporates Latin dance and music and is designed to be like a dance party.
A friend in Chicago suggested Heeb take a class. She did and immediately fell in love with the Zumba program. So much so that she decided to become a certified instructor.
A week after she received her credentials, Heeb moved to Champaign. A week later, she got a job teaching Zumba for the Urbana Park District and at The Refinery, a fitness center in Champaign.
The Zumba class led by the 26-year-old at the Phillips Recreation Center in Urbana is the first offered by the park district, though other entities in town, among them the Champaign Park District, Stephens Family YMCA and Parkland College community education program, have offered Zumba for a while now.
The Urbana district began receiving requests for Zumba two years ago and plans to expand its offerings, said Mike Iorio, fitness and wellness coordinator for the district.
It will offer the zero-impact Aqua Zumba starting in May at the new Crystal Lake Aquatic Center and plans eventually to add Zumba Toning, for those who want to sculpt their bodies, and Zumba Sentao, in which students use chairs in their dance routines to work and strengthen their cores. (There are at least eight official Zumba programs, among them Zumbatomics for kids.)
The Parkland College community education program's offerings include Zumba Gold, a low-impact Zumba designed for senior citizens. Rena Leake teaches it at 8 a.m. Saturdays at Parkland.
Zumba Gold might be a bit lower impact, with fewer jumps than in Heeb's Zumba class for all ages. But it's still a workout, one that burns calories and strengthens the heart and lungs and works every part of the body, particularly the core, Leake said.
Student Mary Nicholas, 69, of Champaign, said she works up a sweat in Leake's Zumba Gold class.
And she said Zumba is not hard to follow.
"You can't do anything wrong. You just keep moving," she said.
Nicholas, who enjoys exercise and participates in University of Illinois studies on how exercise affects older folks, looked like she enjoyed every minute of a recent class with Leake.
Zumba is supposed to be fun; the Colombian fitness instructor and entrepreneurs who developed it in Miami in 2001 (Zumba has since spread to 140,000 locations in 150 countries) want it to be like a dance party and want the routines tied to the music, Leake said. The official Zumba program requires that 75 percent of the music played by instructors be international. (Zumba also is the first trademarked fitness program to launch a video game on all three major platforms: Wii, Xbox and PS3.)
At her Feb. 2 Zumba Gold class, Leake threw in a little Middle Eastern belly dance, having her students wrap around their waists fabric from which gold coins dangled. She occasionally uses country-western music as well.
Zumba classes start with warmups and end with stretching. Those as well as the rest of the class tend to be based on Latin dance steps such as meringue, salsa and mumbai.
However, "You don't have to be a dancer to do Zumba. You just have to like to dance," said Leake, who also teaches Zumba for the Champaign Park District, where people may "drop in" and take just one class, rather than have to register for all of them, as at Parkland.
"You just have to like to move and have fun and not be afraid to look a little funny. After the students get comfortable with it, it's such a fun class."
Leake makes it comfortable, modifying moves for seniors who have trouble with their knees and hips. Heeb also adapts moves for students in her class.
Barb Fuller, 66, is one of Heeb's students. She seems to have no trouble keeping up with Heeb and the rest of the class, even though Fuller calls Zumba the most active fitness class she takes — she's also in water aerobics, low-impact aerobics, senior strengthening and beginning yoga.
"It's almost easier to follow than low-impact aerobics," she said of Zumba. "But I've never sweated through my ears, eyes and neck as much as I do in this class, after just two minutes."