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Jodt Stott never imagined she would be able to keep up with her friend, Zumba instructor Autumn McCavit, when she attended her first Zumba fitness-dance “party” in Hillsdale at the Elks Lodge two years ago.

“I remember when I started and thought ‘Oh my, I am NEVER going to be able to move like her [McCavit],’” Stott, 49, said. “I couldn’t even touch my toes. In just about a month I was able to touch my toes and squat and sit with the bottom of my feet touching!”

Now, Stott is the instructor of the same class at the Elks Lodge, which occurs on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. Stott took over in August for McCavit when she became busy with family issues. Stott had been assisting McCavit and took advantage of the oppor­tunity to get licensed and become the head instructor.

Cur­rently, six to eight people attend the class on a regular basis. The numbers usually increase in the colder months and decrease during the summer because people become busy with outdoor activ­ities, Stott said.

Zumba began in 2001 and has become a national phe­nomenon in the years since. Zumba.com defines the fitness style as “the only Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that blends red-hot inter­na­tional music, created by Grammy Award-winning pro­ducers, and con­ta­gious steps to form a “fitness-party” that is down­right addictive.”

The main dif­ference between Zumba and other forms of dance workouts is that it focuses on letting the music move the dancers instead of counting reps over the music, according to Zumba.com.

The website stated that more than 14 million people take weekly Zumba classes in more than 140,000 loca­tions across more than 150 coun­tries.

Classes are offered in Hillsdale at the Stadium Roller Rink, Curves, Perennial Park, the Elks Lodge, and – as of last semester – Hillsdale College. The class started as an ini­tiative of sophomore Emma Langston and the newly-formed Health and Wellness Club.

“Last semester, I was so sad when I came to campus and found out we didn’t have Zumba, so I talked to Dean Philip at the end of the first semester about starting it. I said, ‘there’s a need, and I can fill it,’” Langston said. “There was a group starting, called the Health and Wellness Club, under Brock Lutz, and so we got hooked up with them.”

Langston got her license over Christmas break in her hometown of Orlando, Fla., and began leading classes in Curtis Dining Hall on Wednesdays from 7 – 8 p.m. The classes will move to the new indoor ath­letic facility when that is com­pleted, Langston said.

About 20 – 40 girls par­tic­i­pated in the inception of the Zumba program last semester. This semester, that number has doubled and on some evenings, even tripled. This semester’s kickoff session had 102 attendees, while a con­sistent average of 40 – 60 usually attend.

Along with more par­tic­i­pants, an addi­tional instructor joined the Zumba fitness program this semester. Junior Shannon Baldwin became cer­tified right before school started after encour­agement from Langston. They now co-teach the class.

“You build rela­tion­ships and [Zumba] breaks down bar­riers. You’re going to dance and have fun; it’s very uni­fying to have women all across campus come together and have fun together,” Langston said of the program. “You don’t have to have musical rhythm or dance abil­ities. Anyone can do it and have a blast doing it.”

Baldwin agreed.

“A lot of people people think ‘I’m not good at dancing,’ but it’s def­i­nitely doable. You don’t have to mem­orize moves,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin and Langston do have extensive dance back­grounds, which they did admit is ben­e­ficial for instructors who chore­o­graph the rou­tines.

Stott said she has many favorite parts of the high-energy workout, including the ease with which non-dancers can par­tic­ipate, as Baldwin and Langston said.

“I like that you get a workout without feeling like you are exer­cising,” Stott said.

Stott and other par­tic­i­pants are, in actu­ality, treating their bodies to a vig­orous cardio and strength­ening workout. This is why the Zumba tagline is “exercise in dis­guise.”

“There are a lot of toning moves incor­po­rated with a cardio workout. You can burn between 400 – 800 calories on average,” Langston said. “But you don’t even realize you’re working out.”

The health ben­efits that arise from Zumba are numerous, according to the three instructors.

“I have seen and know of several people who have lost a sig­nif­icant amount of weight. I know of people who were not very mobile and now can move more freely. I per­sonally dropped my cho­les­terol levels sig­nif­i­cantly, to the point that I am no longer on cho­les­terol med­icine,” Stott said.

Langston agreed that the physical ben­efits are obvious, espe­cially to those who aren’t used to a steady exercise routine.

“A lot of girls have told me it’s inspired them to start workout reg­i­ments of their own. It’s easy for someone who doesn’t work out intensely like an athlete would, and it’s a great way to stay in shape and to get started,” Langston said. “A lot of girls say ‘I just didn’t realize how much I’ve been sitting down and how I’ve needed to get up and dance.’ They say its a big dance party.”

Baldwin also stressed the mental ben­efits Zumba offers.

“It’s good for your mental health, at least for me. I always look forward to it; it pumps me up to keep going and a lot of the girls that come get really excited about Zumba, so it’s def­i­nitely an endorphin boost,” Baldwin said.

All ladies are welcome to attend free Zumba classes on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. in Curtis Dining Hall.