The Ocean Man Meets Zumba

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - October 26, 2011
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Kulia Kualapai leads high-energy Zumba dance fitness classes. Photo courtesy Kulia Kualapai

I’ve always said you know something is popular when a simple name becomes a verb.

For example, Xerox is the name of a copy machine company, but we “Xerox” papers all the time. Jet Ski is a brand name of a personal watercraft, but if you ask someone what they did at Maunalua Bay last weekend, they’ll tell you, “We went jet skiing.”

So what’s the latest name that’s become a verb? Ever Zumba before? There’s no question by now you’ve heard about Zumba either you’re hooked on the craze or you know someone who has the fever.

Zumba is a Latin-inspired dance fitness program created by a dancer from Colombia. Its birth came in the 1990s when choreographer Alberto Perez gathered Latin salsa tapes from his car and used them in an aerobic class he was teaching. He incorporated hip-hop, mambo, martial arts, meringue, salsa, samba and some belly dance moves into one intense workout.

After much success, he brought the program to the United States in 1999, and the rest is Zumba history.


For months, one of my dear friends has urged me to join in on the fun.

“I’m a paddler,” I would jokingly respond. But for some reason, whenever I walked past Maunawili Elementary School on Tuesday and Thursday nights, I found myself tapping my feet and nodding my head to the music that was coming from the cafeteria. Inside the well-lit room was Zumba instructor Kulia Kualapai, dozens of women and a handful of men dancing, screaming and burning calories. “She’s the best!” they would say.

My curiosity was killing me, and I started poking my head into the room to see what all the excitement was about.

“Come on in!” the 21year-old Kualapai would shout.

Kulia Kualapai. Photo courtesy Kulia Kualapai

“I’m an ocean man,” I would shout back even louder.

But every time I walked by, I would spot a tall fellow in the middle of this sea of energy. His name is Mike Strong, and boy did he look like he was having a blast. I told myself once the 2011 Molokai Hoe was behind me I would give it a go. Mike was my inspiration. A week after crossing the channel, I circled Tuesday on my calendar. I was going to Zumba!

When I walked into the class I received a warm welcome. Everyone knew I was heading to the back of the room after all, that’s where all the firsttimers go to hide. Kualapai gave me a big hug and within minutes I was doing the salsa, the mambo, the samba, and I think I even did a little belly dance although it probably looked like a big belly dance.

After an hour I was drenched. I could see why health experts say Zumba is considered exercise in disguise. I also can understand why they say a typical class burns between 500 and 1,000 calories.

“You did great,” Kualapai said as I limped to the door. I know she was being kind, seeing that I nearly tripped over my feet several times. “Will you come back?”

I said yes and told her I was even aiming to attend her upcoming Spook-AThon Oct. 29. Proceeds from the two-hour Halloween-themed class from 9 to 11 a.m. will benefit KHON2’s Lokahi Giving Project.


“We’ve donated to other programs and organizations before, but I wanted to give back to our local community,” says Kualapai. “I thought it would be a good way to kick off the holidays, encourage good health and make a difference.”

I know who will be there, Mike Strong will. Before I left, I walked over to him, shook his hand and thanked him for inspiring me to walk through the doors.

“I started a year ago with my wife (Kim), and I’m hooked,” he said with a big grin. “Glad I could help.”

Thank you, Mike and Kulia, now I can finally say: I Zumba!

 

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