Research shows that women view Zumba workouts as better than exercise

December 2, 2015 by Mojgan Sherkat

Women who trade the tedium of treadmills, for the fun and zing of a Zumba dance-fitness class report having fewer reservations, insecurities, and concerns about social judgment than in traditional group fitness classes. That's according to research conducted by Tanya Nieri, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside.

"Women appreciate Zumba's incorporation of dancing which frames the class as a party," Nieri explained. "However, because Zumba is an exercise class, not an actual party or dance class, the participants perceive themselves to be freed from the rules that normally apply in such settings. Instead, they view the class as an opportunity to build skill, explore their bodies, and express themselves creatively."

Published in Sociology of Sport Journal, Nieri's study, "All About Having Fun: Women's Experience of Zumba Fitness," describes women's experience of Zumba in an effort to understand the popularity and impact of the workout. Her curiosity about the Latin-themed dance workout stems from her own experience as a group fitness instructor and a Zumba participant.

Nieri, along with a team of research assistants, interviewed more than 40 women from Southern California who ranged in age from 18 to 68 years. The women came from different ethnic backgrounds, and the majority had taken other group fitness classes prior to Zumba. Two themes emerged from the study: First, that Zumba is fun, but exercise is not; and second, Zumba is dancing, but not exactly.

"Although participants viewed the class as exercise, rather than recreation, they distinguished Zumba from other forms of fitness," Nieri explained.

The women associated other fitness forms with negative characteristics, describing them as boring, stressful, painful, lonely, and involving awkward movement. They described Zumba, however, as fun, stress free, holistic, socially supportive, and involving natural movement.

Many of the women said they felt insecure while participating in other fitness forms. One of the participants said, "When I'm working out on the treadmills, I'm like 'Oh my gosh, people are walking by and looking at me!'" But, she described Zumba differently. "I can go in there and dance like I want, like I was in my own room by myself. I don't think people are watching me like, 'Oh, look at her; she's doing stupid stuff.' I don't feel that vibe; so I like the feel I get from Zumba."

Participants also attributed their positive experience of Zumba to its incorporation of dance. They described it as "good exercise disguised as fun dancing" and as less restrictive than social dancing due to the ability to wear comfortable clothing that supports movement and the lack of need for a partner. Some noted that it also provided an opportunity to perform sexual dance moves, such as "booty poppin'" (i.e., rhythmically shaking the buttocks), without eliciting sexual advances. They viewed Zumba as a safe space where they can be sexual, and do so for their own benefit.

Nieri noted that despite the perception of Zumba as liberating, the positive experience did not lead participants to question society's expectations about the need to exercise or the ideal female body. While Zumba presents itself to be countercultural—its motto is "Ditch the workout; join the party"—it does not appear to challenge dominant cultural ideals related to physical fitness and beauty.

Explore further: Scientists take a look at the feel-good benefits of belly dance

More information: Tanya Nieri et al. All About Having Fun: Women's Experience of Zumba Fitness, Sociology of Sport Journal (2015). DOI: 10.1123/ssj.2015-0071

Related Stories

Scientists take a look at the feel-good benefits of belly dance

September 8, 2014
Belly dancers have fewer hang-ups about their bodies. Most women who participate in this torso-driven dance do so because it is fun and they get to perform interesting moves – not because they necessarily feel sexier while ...

New York supermarket combines gym with groceries

May 26, 2014
Grocery shoppers who visit one of Hannaford's supermarkets in New York's capital city can also take time for a workout.

Researcher finds men strip for self-esteem boost

July 9, 2015
A new study from the University of Colorado Denver finds that male exotic dancers, or strippers, remain committed to stripping because it enhances their self-concept.

Recommended for you

Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

November 22, 2017
Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm

November 22, 2017
Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Sunrise and sunset guide daily activities of city-dwellers

November 21, 2017
Despite artificial lightning and social conventions, the dynamics of daylight still influence the daily activities of people living in modern, urban environments, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

Older men need more protein to maintain muscles

November 21, 2017
The amount of protein recommended by international guidelines is not sufficient to maintain muscle size and strength in older men, according to a new study.

Exercising and eating well are greater contributors to health than standing at work

November 21, 2017
By now you've probably heard the edict from the health community: Sitting is the new smoking. Perhaps you've converted to a standing desk, or maybe you have a reminder on your phone to get up once an hour and walk around ...

Motorcycle crashes cause five times as many deaths as car accidents, six times the health costs

November 20, 2017
Motorcycle accidents are costly in terms of lives and health care costs. Compared with car accidents, motorcycle accidents cause 3 times the injuries, 6 times the medical costs and 5 times the deaths, found new research in ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

EnricM
not rated yet Dec 07, 2015
Whaoooo, Amazing discovery!!

Scientists demonstrate that women find one form of exercise better than exercise.
Or maybe I'm wrong an Zumba is not an exercise but a type of food?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.