Zumba 101: What to Expect in Your First Zumba Class (14 Insights)

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

If the thought of joining a Zumba class strikes as much fear into your heart as it does excitement, welcome to the club. I was there once, and if I had given in to the fear and never attended my first class, I would never have found what is now my favorite thing to do!

There is a lot that I know now, that I wish I knew when I was hesitantly walking into that very first Zumba class. And that’s the very reason why I am sharing a few pointers on what you should know and expect when you attend your very first Zumba class. 

Regardless of your reasons for taking up Zumba, being in a class is bound to be some of the best fun you will have in your life. Zumba classes are based on dancing, and if you are prepared to really dance your heart out, you can get a great workout.

If you are ready to give Zumba a try, keep the following pointers in mind so that you know what to expect. 

14 things to know and expect for your first Zumba class:

1. Instructors often use non-verbal cues during class.

Yup, it’s true. You will be standing there trying to keep up and have absolutely no clue how everyone seems to know what to do. This is because the class has learned the non-verbal cues that the instructor uses. Non-verbal cues are used by instructors to tell you what to do and when to do it. Of course, each instructor has his/her own cues, but typically there are between 6 and 10 cues that are used repeatedly. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Finger counting,
  • Pantomime,
  • Pointing,
  • Directional cues
  • Sign language (including signs for the turnaround, from the top, and so on).

While the first 10 to 15 minutes of your first class will be highly confusing to you, keep in mind that non-verbal cues are designed to be quick and easy to learn, so you can expect to pick them up quickly.

2. Coordination is taught – you don’t need to “have it” before you start.

A lot of people worry that they lack coordination and that it will affect their ability in a Zumba class. Lack of coordination is to be expected in the first few classes, but because coordination is like any other element of exercise such as fitness, or strength; it can actually be learned. Just like any other skill, if you never put it to use, it will become a bit rusty. Keep at it and your coordination will improve. 

3. There will be laughing (and giggling).

Something I was really worried about; was making a fool of myself. I didn’t want other people in the class to laugh at me. In fact, I was so sensitive about it that in my first class, some ladies burst into giggles and I had to look around to see who was laughing at me. To my surprise, these ladies were laughing at themselves. And that is the case in most Zumba classes. Everyone is too busy trying to get the moves right to worry about watching and laughing at you. 

4. Intensity levels of classes can be customized by you.

You don’t have to worry about being overexerted to the point of near-death. A Zumba class can be as intense or low-impact as you want it to be. You will find that there are different variations of each move or sequence that you can do. This makes it easy for you to decide just how intense you want your workout to be.

5. A sweat towel and water bottle are must-have items.

There’s equipment that you will need to bring to your Zumba class: a sweat towel and a bottle of water. You will probably sweat more than you have in a long time. It is good to have a towel to mop it up. It’s also essential to keep hydrated, as you will be sweating a lot of your water intake out. 

6. You will miss the steps often.

Another thing that I noticed in my first class was that the sequence was quite difficult for me to learn. Everyone else seemed to have it down pat. As I got more and more self-conscious while missing the steps, I took some time out and just looked around. And then I saw it. Everyone was missing steps from time to time – even the regulars. Just laugh it off and bamboozle your way through it. So what if you throw in a few extra steps that weren’t there, just to keep up – as long as you keep moving and you keep cheerful about it, it’s all good.

7. Zumba classes truly embrace diversity.

If you are looking for a fitness class that embraces the concept of diversity, Zumba is it. You could be doing Zumba alongside teenagers, much older people, fat people, or skinny people – there’s really a genuine mix in each class. With some exceptions, you aren’t going to join a Zumba class specifically aimed at one group of people or age group. And this really does add to the element of fun.

8. There will be “wooting”. 

I nearly jumped out of my skin when everyone around me started wooting in my first Zumba class. The music was loud and people were wooting too – what was this? I remember wondering what on earth was going on. Nowadays, I am probably the first one to let out a very satisfying woot. It’s a great way to up the tempo and keep motivated. Get into the music and woot!

9. You need the right kit.

It’s not a good idea to wear an old baggy t-shirt and sweatpants to your first Zumba class. I wore a t-shirt, Yoga pants and some dance pumps I had found. Still, I found it quite inhibitive. For Zumba, you need athletic shoes with ankle support. You will be turning and bouncing a lot, so you want your feet and ankles to be supported. You also need to wear a vest, crop top, or form-fitting shirt that wicks away sweat and allows unrestricted movement. Yoga pants, tights, or gym shorts will work just fine, too. 

10. There are regulars – follow them.

At first, you are bound to feel intimidated by the regulars. They know all the moves and they seem confident about it. I very quickly learned that there is more value in following the regulars than being intimidated by them. My favorite spot was at the back of the class when I first started and from that vantage point, I often couldn’t see the instructor, but I could see the others in the group. I used the regulars quite often to follow the moves.

11. With the change of a song comes a whole new choreography.

When I first started Zumba, I expected the choreography in one class to remain pretty much the same throughout. To my surprise, when the song changed, so did the dance. Be prepared to be dynamic and pick up on new moves quickly.

12. Classes are noisy and chaotic.

Unlike a Yoga class or a Tai Chi class, the focus in Zumba is on making some noise and really getting into the spirit of dancing. You will find that the music is thumping, and the instructor regularly encourages the students to sing along, clap, woot, and cheer – it’s all part of the workout. 

13. In the beginning, the best spot is at the back.

When I first started Zumba, the back of the class was my spot. I didn’t want people to see me stumble my way through the choreography. To be honest, it really helped. I only started taking a more “upfront” position when my confidence levels and skills had developed.

14. You will leave the class with a healthy dose of dopamine. 

With a healthy dose of aerobic exercise comes a healthy dose of dopamine. The feel-good rush that you get after a fun Zumba class is almost unbeatable. If you want to get a good dose of the happy hormone, Zumba is the way to do it.

Zumba Your Way to a Life of Health, Happiness, and Fitness

Zumba has been truly transformational in my life. It has taken what I once saw as a boring chore (working out) and made it something so fun that I cannot wait to get to my next class. Now that you know what to expect, it’s time to book your very first Zumba class. 

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He covers topics like spirituality, philosophy, finance, sports, games, and food. JC earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business with a Marketing Concentration at Mercyhurst University. He is a certified USPTA professional who teaches tennis in the New York City Metropolitan area. He has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.