Zumba has shown up at gyms everywhere and, by simplifying dance moves, made it a whole lot more fun to go to a fitness class.

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I HADN’T really thought through the ramifications of taking Zumba at 7 a.m. I am not perky at that hour; without coffee, I am barely awake. I might have cringed a little when the upbeat music started for the Zumba class at the Seattle Athletic Club in Northgate.

Teacher Lilo Ritter either had no issue with the early hour or she masked it well. As soon as the music started, she was up in the front of the room, smiling and grooving. It was join or be left in the dust by the regulars.

I love to dance, but I make it up as I go. Following dance steps is not my forte. Until that class, I had only done Zumba in the safety of my home.

But live Zumba was a lot easier to follow, and I soon got over my early-morning resistance and was shaking my shoulders and bumping my hips with the rest of the class.

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Zumba has shown up at gyms everywhere, and by simplifying dance moves, made it a whole lot more fun to go to a fitness class.

I didn’t know the difference between the various Latin styles we were moving through, which included merengue, salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, flamenco and bachata. But Ritter was easy to follow, signaling what we were doing with our feet and arms. She made it clear when we were doubling up on moves or repeating ones we had done before.

A lot of the songs were familiar to regulars, but Ritter throws in a couple new ones every week for a challenge. As a newbie, I let go of anxiety about getting the steps wrong and instead let my body naturally move to the beat. I started to smile, especially when Ritter instructed us to do some pelvic swivels, then playfully covered her eyes when we really got into it.

Most of the music was Latin, but Korean YouTube sensation Psy’s “Gangnam Style” also made an appearance. Time to horse dance!

Ritter also whipped out colorful, coin-covered hip scarves for a Bollywood/belly dance song, and we merrily thrust our hips side to side and jingled to the music.

The dance moves ranged from relatively easy and low impact to high energy, with squats and knee lifts thrown in. We waved our arms overhead, dipped low and shimmied our shoulders. Ritter kept the energy up throughout the hour, encouraging us even as the sweat dripped and legs and arms tired out. At the end of an hour, I felt energized and ready for my day.

Zumba is more fun than the average aerobics class. Instead of a teacher shouting encouragement, we just have to follow her moves. It’s also low-impact and a great way to get your heart rate up without being hard on your joints.

If you haven’t tried it at your gym, Zumba is waiting for you. Take it early in the day and you might not even need your morning cuppa joe.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: papercraneyoga@gmail.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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