This study explored women’s subjective experience of Zumba, a new, popular form of group fitness. We interviewed 41 racially/ethnically diverse adult women from the Los Angeles/Inland Empire (California) area who had taken Zumba in the previous year. The women reported taking Zumba for the purpose of exercise and did not challenge the notion that exercise is imperative. However, they reported positive experiences of Zumba, contrasting it with other fitness forms, which they characterized as boring, stressful, painful, lonely, and/or atomistic, and with other dancing, which they characterized as more restrictive. They perceived Zumba to prioritize fun over work and process over outcomes; value individual autonomy and personalization rather than strict conformity; and engage the participant as more than just a body to be shaped. They felt freer to engage in behavior that is considered to violate structural gender norms, but their experience did not translate to an explicit challenge to the gender structure.
The authors are with the Department of Sociology, University of California at Riverside, Riverside, CA.