ELLSWORTH, Maine — The sounds of salsa, merengue and reggae music, along with tapping feet and panting dancers, filled the darkened gym Thursday morning at the Downeast Family YMCA.
More than 40 people exercised in an 8 a.m. Zumba Fitness class, an aerobics-style exercise program done to Latin dance music, before heading off to prepare and partake of calorie-filled Thanksgiving meals with their families. At 9 a.m., a smaller group arrived for an hour of yoga — a far more sedate form of exercise.
The YMCA, located on State Street, decided to open its doors from 7 to 11 Thanksgiving morning several years ago, Colleen Somer, who works at the front desk, said Thursday. By 10 a.m Thanksgiving Day, there were more than 50 people in the building.
The YMCAs in Bangor and the Portland areas were closed, but the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA kept the same hours as the Ellsworth Y.
“People requested that we be open and offer some classes,” Somer said. “It gives them a chance to work out before they have that nice big meal.”
Most of the people who arrived to swim, use the workout rooms or participate in a class are members who regularly use the facility, she said.
Michael Stickney of Surry said after the Zumba class that he is a regular at the Y.
“I’m here five days a week,” he said. “It’s my Zen.”
Stickney said he quit smoking about 18 months ago and six months after that began regularly working out.
“I began doing lots of walking,” he said. “Now, I mostly do Zumba and when I get tired of that, I use the weight room. I probably haven’t lost more than five pounds but its been redistributed.”
Kim Crane, a member of the Y’s fitness staff, has been teaching Zumba classes since 2010. She described Zumba as “a Latin-inspired fitness party.”
“It’s a fun, hour-long workout,” she said. “We dance and hoot and holler.”
In Ellsworth, Zumba is done in the dark. The overhead lights in the gym are turned off. The instructor leads the class from a raised platform, which the students face, while music blares through a speaker system. On Thursday, Crane was lit by small spotlights on either side of the “stage.”
“People like it dark,” she said. “That way they don’t feel like other people are watching them and they can’t see the clock, so they aren’t always checking the time to see how much longer they have to exercise.
Crane said that an hour-long Zumba workout burns between 500 and 1,000 calories. USA Today estimated the total number of calories in the average Thanksgiving meal at more than 1,600.
“I don’t expect this class burned off the meal I’m going to have,” Crane said after the class.
Zumba is a trademarked fitness program originated by Alberto “Beto” Perez, a native of Cali, Colombia. A long-time fitness instructor, he accidentally invented the exercise program in the 1990s when he forgot the music he usually used to teach an aerobics class, according to information posted on the program’s website, zumba.com. Perez improvised exercises during class using the dance music he had in his car.
He moved in 2001 to Miami, Fla., and brought the new fitness program with him. Four years later, he and his business partners began licensing instructors around the world to lead Zumba Fitness classes. In 2010, it became the first branded fitness program to launch a video game for the three major game systems at once, according to information on the website.
The goal of Zumba is to offer “accessible fitness without the strain, without the sacrifice, just the pure joy of a party,” the website says.
Kristen Cough of Ellsworth started doing Zumba at home with the family’s game system. It was a hit with her 8-year-old Jasmine Cough.
“I just like music and dance,” the girl said when asked why she liked Zumba. “So it kind of goes together.”
The Ellsworth Y members who began their day exercising seemed to like being able exercise on a day best known for sitting and eating and watching football.