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Height-of-the-party vibe before the sun goes down

By Ryan Saxby Hill on February 8, 2014

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Every year, restaurants, galleries and clubs sprout up around the city, offering new and undiscovered spaces for artistic and culinary talent, cultural and social activities, and opportunities to meet new people. Sometimes though, places that have been in the scene for what seems like ages change how they do things and offer up a traditional space for reinterpretation.

That’s exactly what’s been happening every Monday night at the Mercury Lounge since the start of this year, where a few dance lovers have taken over the floor albeit in a different way—through a Zumba dance-fitness class. We talked to Stephanie Kale, the Zumba instructor running the class, to find out more details.

Apt613: For those newbies out there, can you explain what Zumba is? How does it work?

SK: First of all, I’d like to say that newbies and experienced dancers or fitness aficionados are welcome, as Zumba truly is an activity for anyone who finds joy in dance and moving to music. (And it’s not just for the mommies and great aunties either, as some skeptics are want to believe)! Essentially, Zumba is a dance fitness program that draws on several forms of Latin and other global dance styles, like salsa, merengue, bachata, reggaeton, dancehall, soca, hip hop and more. Classes are made up of easy-to-follow choreographies to music that you can’t help but want to groove to, and the focus of every class is to have FUN and to create that ‘height-of-the-party-life-is-so-great’ vibe together.

The instruction style is a bit different from traditional dance classes, since the aim is not to flawlessly learn complicated choreography but to understand the basic principles of the styles I mentioned above and to eventually groove to music in your own way. That’s why Zumba can accommodate all skill levels and does not demand any previous dance experience.

Amid all this dancing to super catchy tunes, you’re also getting a moderate- to high-impact aerobic workout, so the fitness part comes pretty easy, unlike slogging out an hour-long cardio workout at a gym.

How did you get into Zumba?

I’ve pretty much been dancing my whole life—from ballet, jazz and modern lessons as a kid to dancehall, hip hop and house more recently. We’re really lucky here in Ottawa because there are so many amazing dancers to be inspired by and to learn from. And more generally, I’ve always loved going out dancing—loud, thumping bass bringing people together on the dance floor to share space in unconventional ways. I love it! When I became a mom almost five years ago, my ability to seek out those places became pretty limited—sleeping on a Saturday night seemed more important than going out dancing! Still, I was in dire need of an outlet to tap into and express that kind of energy.

Like many other new moms, I joined the gym to get back into shape, but I quickly found myself bored on the treadmill wondering how long I could keep up the cardio routine. Thankfully, one day when I took a break to walk around the gym, I heard that loud, thumping bass I love from one of the studios. I peeked in to see a group of people (men and women) seriously getting down to a dancehall tune. That day, I joined the class and since then I’ve been hooked.

Earlier this year I became a certified Zumba instructor and I’ve just recently started teaching regularly at a few spots around town.

Why take the fitness activity outside the gym? Is there something special about the venue?

The spirit of Zumba for me is about celebrating the love of dance in a community atmosphere, so I think it’s an activity that could be held any place where there’s a decent sound system and enough space. Since I used to get that spirited feeling from a night club, I’ve always fantasized a bit at what a Zumba class might look like in a club. For sure it would have better lighting, a kickass sound system, a proper dance floor, and a built-in community of dance lovers, unlike most gyms. Naturally, my first choice in club was the space where I loved to dance since I moved to Ottawa more than a decade ago—the Mercury Lounge. When I approached the management, they were open to the idea.

Generally, I think it’s cool to experience traditional spaces our city offers in new ways: for the people who have known and grown with the Mercury Lounge throughout its 17-year history, it’s a different way to be on the dance floor; and for those who have never been, it’s an opportunity to discover an institution that has been instrumental in building and sustaining Ottawa’s dance community.

What is your personal approach to fitness? Any advice for those of us who need some extra help keeping our resolutions?

Given my own experience of getting back into shape after becoming a mom, I understand what it’s like to start with no fitness base and the challenge of taking on a new exercise regime can seem daunting. For many people, it’s hard to make a commitment to exercise regularly, to eat properly, etc., because we set our goals too big, become overwhelmed with obligation, and then often revert to old habits. So, my strongest recommendation to anyone who wants to get into shape or start to exercise regularly is to start small and to make your activity FUN, that way you won’t overthink whether you want to do it or not (which is when many people make the choice to stay on their couch or go for pint, instead of sweating it out!). For me, Zumba and any kind of dance really, is what made exercising easy because I was going to class to have fun, the fitness part was just incidental.

For anyone who’s curious about Zumba, come out and try a class! Chances are that you’ll meet some great, open-minded people who like to get down to funky tunes just like you! All you need is an open mind and a willingness to move around and get a little sweaty. I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll see improvements in your stamina for cardio activities and your muscle memory, as well as an increased ability to pick up new moves and groove some of them out the next time you’re in the club.

ZAM!: Zumba at the Merc! Happens every Monday evening from 5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. at 56 Byward Market Square (2nd floor). Just drop-in, no need to sign up, and the cost is $10 a class (cash only). For more information or to ask any more questions, visit the ZAM! Facebook page or message Stephanie from her Zumba instructor profile.

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