A half-hour of Zumba — a high energy dance-based workout — is enough to make 3-year-old Noor Abdallah Ziadeh sleep all night.
“She’s a mover,” says her mother, Manwah Ziadeh, 30. “It gets her energy down to put her to sleep.”
Little Noor loves the Capital Area YMCA Zumba class’ loud and fast Latin music and the controlled raucousness of the workout. And her mother loves to exercise next to her to see her smile and sweat.
“Kids Zumba is great to get exercise, get away from the TV and get out,” she says.
The family that works out together stays healthy together, some less-than-surprising studies have found. Last year, a British study published in the journal Pediatrics found that the activity levels of 4-year-olds mirrored their mothers. Kids with sedentary mothers also didn’t move much, and exercise-loving mothers had active children.
Family exercise classes give parents the chance to sweat with their children. At Baton Rouge-area YMCA locations, parents can run and ride stationary bikes alongside their kids or practice yoga or Zumba.
“Families go to movies together and go to football games together,” says Gwen Bowie, the YMCA health and wellness director. “I would like for them to get active together.”
She says the first step in decreasing childhood obesity in Baton Rouge is getting families to include active together-time in their schedules.
“The whole family needs to be involved, especially when you are talking about a lifestyle change,” she says. “For our kids to be healthy, the parents really need to role model for them.”
The family Zumba class at the C.B. Pennington Jr. YMCA branch attracts mostly young mothers and their 3- to 5-year-old children. Early in the evening, they meet on a basketball court, loudspeakers blaring rhythmic drums pounding to a Latin beat.
Instructor Vanessa Mills starts by clapping her hands and leading the kids and parents to sway side to side with their hands in the air. In black high-top sneakers and a purple tank top, Mills moves with infectious rhythm.
It’s less structured than an adult Zumba class, which incorporates Latin dance-based routines like samba, mambo and salsa moves. Here, Mills just keeps the kids moving.
“It’s not like a dancing dance,” she says. “It’s a more playful dance.”
With excited eyes and large, expressive movements, she leads the children and their parents to run around in a circle and step from side to side.
“It’s less intense. It’s more basic,” says Mills, who also teaches adult Zumba classes. “The little ones don’t focus, so you have to really make it really fun for them to be able to concentrate and follow you.”
Many of the parents started taking Zumba for themselves and learned about Mills’ family and kids’ classes.
“It’s a great experience for us, moms being active and kids being active,” says Amy Tull, 35, who attends with 3-year-old daughter Anna. “It’s a great way to bond for us.”
It takes Anna a song or two to warm up in the class. She carries a plush pink toy puppy with her onto the dance floor and watches everyone else moving. Once she puts the puppy down, she begins to move with her mother.
“She’s a little shy in groups,” Tull says later, “but when I talk about it with her in the car, she’s having fun with it.”
For 30 minutes, the kids and their parents move constantly to silly, fun songs, dancing and growling to “Walk the Dinosaur,” then making a congo line followed by the limbo.
“Their world is different in a more playful and fun world,” Mills says. “It’s a kids’ world. The music is more for their ages.”
As class winds down and the music stops, a few children give Mills a hug and say goodbye for the week.
Little Joshua Abadie, 4, won’t say why he likes Zumba, just shrugging his shoulders, but it is clear he enjoys the dancing.
“He’s active,” says his mother, Rachel Abadie, 33. “He loves to move, and this is something different.”