What's your New Year's resolution?
If you take a quick survey of your friends, the answers will probably include: getting into shape, exercising more often, losing weight, being more active, eating healthier ...
West Hartford resident Lee Newton [no relation to this writer] won't tell you what to eat, but she can help with the fitness goals, in a way that's both enjoyable and affordable – and maybe even addictive.
Newton has been a Zumba instructor since 2009, and thinks the Latin-inspired, calorie-burning, muscle-toning fitness classes provide one of the best ways to get into shape and have fun at the same time.
She took her first class at the Elmwood Community Center in 2007, and soon became hooked, although she admits that it took a few classes to feel comfortable with the movements and the style.
"I was not good. I was in the back row. Unless you're born Latin, I'm not sure anyone feels comfortable in the first class or even the second," said the Kentucky native who did not previously have any dance experience. "But once you get it, it's really fun."
"Before that I had memberships at some of the finest health clubs in the Hartford area, but I never went," Newton said.
She likes Zumba because it's a great cardio workout, but it's also fun, with a different mix of music and dance in each class. "I found I was concentrating on the steps, not watching the clock," Newton said.
After a few years she became a certified instructor through Zumba Fitness – the international company that provides its instructors with training as well as some of the music and choreography to use in their classes. Newton said that every class is about 70 percent based on Zumba's "international rhythms," but instructors can do what they want with the other 30 percent.
Some other area instructors incorporate Broadway styles or power aerobics, but Newton said she favors hip hop and reggaeton.
Newton teaches three classes a week in West Hartford on a "drop in" basis. There's no obligation to come to a set number of classes during a session, or to ever return after the first class. Each class costs $6, or you can purchase a 10-class card for $50. "There's no expiration date," Newton said of the card.
Typical attendence at each class is 25-30, said Newton. "There could be a little more in January because that's when people generally rededicate themselves to fitness," she said.
Newton holds Zumba classes at the Masonic Hall, 11 S. Main St. in West Hartford Center on Wednesday nights at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. She also teaches Thursday nights at 6:15 p.m. at the West Hartford Senior Center, 15 Starkel Rd. in Bishops Corner. The classes are open to men and women of all ages, from teens to "active seniors."
All you need to bring is a bottle of water and a hand towel – "because you will get sweaty," she said. She also suggests exercise shoes with a flat sole. Running shoes are meant to grip and the tread may make the moves more difficult, although worn running shoes would work fine, she said.
Newton is married (her husband teaches at Watkinson) and has two sons, ages 5 and 9, who attend Whiting Lane School. When she's not teaching Zumba, she works as director of program promotion for CPTV and WNPR. "That's my day job; this is my personal passion."
"Most everyone has struggled at some point with trying to incorporate exercise in their life, but often the greatest obstacle is that working out can so often be something you dread," she said. "[Zumba is] the sort of thing you look forward to doing all day which is why so many people are hooked on it."
"Zumba is just fun. If you like to dance, it's great to do. I'm a big believer in group exercise."