While Libyan military factions remain divided over control of the country, hundreds of women in gyms in Tripoli are in agreement. Zumba dancing is en vogue. 

While Libyan military factions remain divided over control of the country, hundreds of women in gyms in Tripoli are in agreement. Zumba dancing is en vogue. 

Generally speaking, sports did not attract a good turnout at the beginning,” says Captain Amal, owner of a sports club in Tripoli for the last three years. “Recently, things have changed and exercising has become more popular.” Amal puts the number of women’s gyms in Tripoli at 15. Half of them offer Zumba as an exercise and dance fitness program, she says.

Zumba is a dance fitness program created by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto Perez during the 1990s. It involves dance and aerobic movements performed to energetic music and is now practiced by nearly 10 million people in over 110 countries.

Zumba is a non-violent sport and is therefore good for the heart,” says Mohammed Hemali, a Tripoli-based public health physician. “Weight loss is a major feature of Zumba, where a person may burn 600-1,000 calories per lesson. It speeds up metabolism, thus burning a greater amount of calories, and it also stimulates blood circulation and tightens lax abdominal muscles and buttocks.”

Social network

Zumba has made me love myself and I see myself beautiful when I exercise it,” says Doaa, an employee who used to weigh 114 kilograms. “I practice it every day to forget everything, especially since the club’s members are respectable and no one bothers me. I sometimes come to the club not to exercise, but to change my mood,” says Doaa, streesing that many of the gyms also serve as social centers and meeting places for Libyan women. The club Doaa is a member of has a sauna, a café and fitness equipment along with a Swedish exercise and Zumba hall. “Zumba has introduced me to a good group in the club,” says Doaa.

Najwa, a married engineer, says the dance exercise offers a vital release from the volatile security situation outside the gym. Despite work pressure, she does not miss any Zumba activity. “Since the club is secured, I do not have to face the difficult security situation in the street,” Najwa told Correspondents. She says Zomba is “fun and when I exercise it I do not feel the passing of time.”

Dance forum

The Zumba classes have a reconciliation effect too. “When we practice Zumba, we forget our political differences and we gather together to exercise and dance,” says Najwa, emphasizing that many gym members come from different backgrounds and hold different views on the current Libyan conflict.

Captain Hanan, a Zumba trainer, says the demand for sports clubs increased following the revolution due to increased psychological pressures. “Even my husband encourages me to go because I then come back in a better mood,” says Najwa. The cultural acceptance of the practice has filtered through to Libyans from the diaspora since the revolution, believes Najwa

Amal says most of her members are young women born in the 1980s and 1990s, since they Zumba it through the Internet. “Older women,” she says, “had reservations at the beginning, but when they tried it they liked it and started practicing it.”

Zumba is more like a Latin dance such as salsa or samba,” says Fatima, a trainee. “Through constant exercising, I have felt a big difference in the shape of my body. My abdominal muscles have become tighter than when I used to have stomach exercises.”

Libyan remix

Trainer Hanan says everybody is taking to the en vogue gymnastics routine, regardless of talent or experience. “Even those who do not know how to dance have practiced Zumba and learned it for its beauty, lightness and ease,” she says. “Some of them practice it to the tune of Libyan popular music. The important thing is to coordinate movements and make them as one.”

Marwa, a peditrician, says Zumba has helped her handle nerves in her high-stress job. “I needed to discharge negative energy due to my work pressure. Zumba has agile and quick moves, and the music is loud, distinctive, diverse and unrestricted. The real fun lies in the practice of a sport where you do not feel bored. It takes your body and soul to another place and helps you embrace life,” Marwa told Correspondents.