People who have never exercised are dancing their way to fitness and enjoying every minute.

Zumba, the latest fitness craze, is a Latin-inspired dance program that is so popular that BREC now offers classes at more than 10 locations.

“The essence of the program is that it is designed for fun first and fitness second,” said Ben McGuire, area supervisor for BREC’s Department of Recreation.

Zumba Fitness, which owns the Zumba trademark, describes Zumba as an “exhilarating, effective, easy-to-follow, Latin-inspired, calorie-burning dance fitness party.”

The Zumba craze began in the mid-1990s, when Alberto “Beto” Perez, a fitness instructor in Cali, Colombia, forgot his traditional music for an aerobics class and ended up improvising with Latin tapes he had in his backpack. The program was an instant hit.

In 2001, Perez brought the concept to Miami and with two entrepreneurs created Zumba Fitness and the program they describe as “exercise in disguise.”

Bridget Conrad, BREC’s assistant director of communications, sees Zumba as a fun way to work out.

“I have to make myself go to the gym,” Conrad said. “But Zumba is not like exercise, it’s like a party with your friends.”

The critical element to the program is the Latin and international music. “These rhythms motivate people and make them want to come back to the classes,” McGuire said.

Conrad finds the classes different from any dance classes she has tried. Not every Zumba dancer has a slim dancer’s body.

“There are all body types and all ages,” she said.

All BREC Zumba instructors are certified by Zumba Fitness and continually receive new music and dance routines.

“The instructor varies the music, varies the beat and continually, on a monthly basis, varies the program,” McGuire said. “That’s why Zumba continues to flourish and not be a fad.”

BREC offers four different Zumba programs — Zumba for participants over 16, Zumba Gold for active older participants, Zumbatomic for kids 4-12 and Aqua Zumba, known as the “Zumba pool party.” Prices vary according to the number of classes participants take each week.

Because physicians often recommend exercise for patients undergoing treatment for serious illnesses, Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge offers Zumba as well as general aerobics and yoga to its clients through its Fit & Fearless Program.

“Doctors do recommend staying active during treatment,” said Connie Boudreaux, marketing associate for Cancer Services. “As long as a doctor gives permission, a client of Cancer Services can participate at any stage of the illness.”

The programs through Cancer Services are held at BREC’s Independence Park and are catered to clients’ special needs.

The Zumba classes are taught by Donna Hincks, a cancer survivor.

“One of the most important parts of these programs is having the opportunity to exercise with other survivors,” Boudreaux said.

Kristen Hogan, marketing director of the YMCA of the Capital Area, describes Zumba as “not your typical kickboxing class or step aerobics class.”

“It’s easy for any level of fitness,” she said. “A beginner or someone who has exercised for years can take the same class. It’s so different and fun.”

Katie Chabert and Danielle Boudreaux are attorneys and certified Zumba Fitness instructors who teach at BREC’s Perkins Road Community Park. They have between 25 and 30 students at each session.

“It’s definitely a great creative outlet,” Chabert said. In the 14 months she has been teaching, she has had “major success stories.”

“One person lost 30 pounds in two months,” she said.

Chabert believes Zumba works because anyone can do it.

“People modify it to make it easier,” she said. “And people modify it to take it up a notch.”