Men are missing out on one of women’s best fitness secrets: Zumba

Zumba instructor Taryn Brandt leads a group of 32 female students at the University of Denver.

Denver is one of the healthiest cities in the United States, taking the 5th spot in Forbes’ America’s Top 20 Healthiest Cities survey.

The University of Denver, with its active student population, may be equally fit – due, in large part, to its state-of-the-art fitness facility, the Coors Fitness Center, which is fully equipped with machines to target every muscle group, a cardio deck with treadmills and elliptical machines and even a swimming pool that, if anything, is underused.

The Coors Fitness Center also offers group fitness classes multiple times on a daily basis. One of these classes, Zumba, while not intentionally gender-specific, is comprised of a dominantly female demographic – even though its founder Alberto Perez, a man, created the salsa-style choreography by accident, as he has explained in many interviews including one published in Reader’s Digest in 2009. In the interview, when asked who Zumba students are, Perez sidesteps the question and focuses on generalities instead, altogether ignoring mention of their gender identity:

“With Zumba, anyone can do it,” he said. “Ninety percent of [Zumba students] hate to exercise.” He doesn’t divulge how many students are male or female.

Only this year has Zumba, a Latin-dance inspired fitness program that focuses on turning rhythmic dancing into an hour-long cardio workout, made gains in national popularity. The program entered at no. 9 in a survey by the American College of Sports Medicine’s regarding the top 10 worldwide fitness trends. Men’s Fitness magazine has also shown interest in the program, as Perez appears on the May 2012 cover of the magazine.

However, all of this coverage is a bit misleading. Zumba may be a national fitness trend, but it seems to have only caught on with women. And that is most apparent during the Zumba classes offered by DU’s Coors Fitness Center.

The Coors Fitness Center doesn’t promote any group fitness classes by gender; they are clearly open to men and women. For students, the attendance cost of the classes is even included in DU tuition. Yet week after week, more women attend Zumba class than men do; it’s the only group fitness class at the Coors Fitness Center that appears to have an imbalance between male and female students.

But why?

While we can’t look to research for the answer, as none has been conducted, we can consider the Zumba experience at the University of Denver and how that relates to a national trend in gender attendance.

Taryn Brandt, University of Denver Zumba instructor

Taryn Brandt, a senior at DU and group fitness instructor at the Coors Fitness Center, said that it’s rare to see men in her weekly Zumba class, the most popular of the three fitness classes she teaches weekly.

“Zumba usually gets 70 people on a regular basis,” said Brandt, who has been teaching the class for more than a year. “Almost all of them are female, and only usually a handful of male students.”

For Brandt’s hour-long class last Tuesday, 32 women were dancing along to the Latin pop-flavored music, jumping, stepping, cheering and clapping. There were no men to be found.

“Sometimes the songs I play during class are geared more towards the female population,” Brandt explained about the dearth in testosterone in her classroom. “I choreograph to go along with the songs, so the moves tends to be feminine, too.”

Brandt teaches two Zumba classes per week during the school year – one on Tuesday and one Wednesday. Last quarter, Brandt said, men tended to only show up for the Tuesday class.

“I have one song that is from the movie ‘Burlesque’ that is definitely geared more towards the female population,” noted Brandt. “I would tend to only use that one on Wednesdays rather than do it on the night that the guys were there because it just felt better.”

When there are male students around, though, Brandt said she is highly aware of their influence.

“Sometimes it’s stereotypically female. I think guys can do Zumba the same as women – it’s just a matter of staying more traditional to the Latin moves rather than adding in some of the more female-oriented pop songs,” she explained. “I just think I have to be more aware in making sure that I’m not using songs that would turn a male away if he were in the class.”

Last quarter there were a select few men who would attend Brandt’s class on a regular basis.

Two of them, seniors Adam Greenberg and Nick Pisciotta, went to Brandt’s Zumba class five or more times in the 10-week period. On non-Zumba days they opted for solo fitness activity – Pisciotta lifting weights and Greenberg cycling – but they planned their Tuesday nights around the 5 p.m. Zumba class.

Nick Pisciotta is one of only a few male students in Bradnt's Zumba class.

“I didn’t miss a week,” Pisciotta said of Brandt’s Zumba class. “Besides for the few male companions I drug with me, I’d say there were no other male students.”

Despite the lack of other men in the class, Pisciotta said that didn’t stop him from breaking a sweat. He explained that he enjoyed the aerobic activity, the high-energy atmosphere and, sometimes, even the music. Typically Pisciotta lifts weights at the Coors Fitness Center, but he says that he enjoys the change of pace that Zumba provides. It’s much more a social activity than weight-lifting, plus it’s more fun, he said.

“I had an amazing experience – I’m a big proponent of dancing, so every week I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fact that you’re the only guy is kind of intimidating; I think I might have been slightly more comfortable with males around me – I’d be more willing to go all out,” Pisciotta said.

Adam Greenberg, one of the friends whom Pisciotta brought to the Brandt’s class, also enjoys the dancing and the demands of keeping up with Brandt’s moves. While he never admitted to feeling embarrassed about going to the class, Greenberg was more reserved to express how much he enjoyed Zumba, if at all.

“Zumba was a place where you could go with your friends and have a good time,” Greenberg notes, but with one stipulation. “I definitely felt judged sometimes with doing certain moves, just shaking my ass or shimmying. It also seemed like there were some belly-dancing songs that Zumba did have that were definitely geared towards women, being that there were very few men besides me that would go.”

As Greenberg and Pisciotta continue to tell their friends about Zumba and its benefits, they’re hoping that more men will attend, they said. Brandt is equally optimistic. Whether or not that, in combination with the program’s national exposure in Men’s Fitness and other health magazines, will translate to an increase in male attendance, it’s hard to say – but one thing is certain: Zumba is one of the best-kept female fitness secrets at the University of Denver and across the nation.

3 Responses to Men are missing out on one of women’s best fitness secrets: Zumba

  • Brian Lupo
    Brian Lupo says:

    Nice article, it was very informative, and I learned a lot. I was actually unaware that our city ranked fifth in the nation for healthiest city.You also do a great job explaining why there is a lack of men in the classroom, and explaining what Zumba is. I had no idea, it sounds like a pretty fun form of exercise, but I can see why there is a lack of men, because as the instructor noted she designs her class knowing it is dominated by females. The counterpoint to this, is when she sees men she uses moves and songs that are less feminine, and I would imagine that if she found her class becoming more split fifty-fifty between genders, she may orient both moves for men and women. I’m curious approximately how many calories are burned in about an hour of Zumba, so I would truly know it is one of the best forms of fitness as claimed in the headline. Overall I really enjoyed your piece, it made me think a lot about the bias that we also see with exercises like Yoga and Pilates.

  • Taylor Cedarholm
    Taylor Cedarholm says:

    I thought this article was very interesting mainly because this is something that has never really been brought to my attention before. I have personally never attended a Zumba class and ironically enough this article made me interested in the work out. I can defiantly see why this workout would be geared toward women seeing as it is more dancing based it seems. Although I think this class would be fun for either gender, I can understand why males would be less interested in this type of work out. Overall I thought this was a original and thought provoking article, nicely done.

  • Rhianna Dow
    Rhianna Dow says:

    Interesting article. I was interested in it because I didnt even know we had Zumba classes. I hate working out so I am considering it. It seems like the class is very aimed towards to women so no wonder men don’t join it!

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