In a town where Khmer aerobics is king, there may be a new contender for the exercise crown. Over the last couple of months, twice a week at 6pm, a group of women have been shaking their booties to merengue, salsa and other Latin American beats, in a small guesthouse off Wat Bo Road.
Zumba, the exercise phenomena steadily taking the world by storm, has made it to Siem Reap.
Zumba instructor Tisam Oumazza started teaching the classes in February, following a stint last year teaching salsa at the former Angkor Photo Café-Gallery. For the uninitiated, zumba is a combination of dance steps and aerobic moves originating in 2001 in Miami, via Colombia. It is now arguably the world’s biggest fitness craze, claiming celebrities Jennifer Lopez and Madonna among its fans.
Oumazza, 28, is originally from Morocco but spent her formative years in Brussels, and has been dancing since she was ten, specialising in jazz, hip hop and salsa as well as completing a yoga instructor course.
As well as running her zumba classes, she teaches ashtanga yoga at Babel Guesthouse and Angkor Bodhi Tree Retreat & Meditation Centre.
“I’ve been dancing my whole life,” she says. “After college I went to Spain for a year, and that’s when I started salsa. I was just going out, social dancing. For me it was fun, it was the music, it was the people, and as long as I was smiling…”
When the zumba explosion happened, Oumazza tried it out and realised she not only loved it, but had a natural talent for it too.
“About a year and a half ago zumba came out in Europe and it was huge,” she says. “Every fitness club had it, it was so sudden. And since I was already dancing salsa and samba, merengue and bachata, it was really easy for me. I thought, I kind of like it and it’s actually getting me fitter physically, so it does work.”
Oumazza went to some classes, bought all the DVDs, genned up on the routines and started training. Some months later, following her salsa success at Angkor Photo Café-Gallery, a friend urged her to also start giving zumba lessons.
She says, “You have to do zumba. I love it – it’s great, it’s fitness, it’s fun.”
In February Oumazza began classes at Babel Guesthouse and since then has developed a steady following of regular attendees, as of yet all women.
The practice, she says, is essentially dance fitness aerobics based on a combination of salsa, samba, merengue, and bachata, a style of dance originating in the Dominican Republic featuring a lot of hip popping. The dance routine also has touches of martial arts moves and belly-dancing.
“It’s a whole mixture,” she says. “It’s cardio, it’s very muscle-strengthening and at the same time it’s just fun because you don’t really realise you’re doing all this exercise.
“It’s all sets of eight steps so in one class I will usually have four styles of music –for example, reggaeton which is urban dance based on Jamaican dancehall and Latin American music, bachata, merengue and salsa.”
Oumazza insists that anyone with a little bit of coordination can do zumba.
“You don’t have to be a dancer at all,” she says. “But it does require some coordination, that’s the only thing. If you can’t do left and right, and right and left, then it’s hard.”
Oumazza’s students are all expats, ranging from 21 to 45 years in age.
“I have German, Filipino, Indian and Norwegian girls,” she says.
“I think with a lot of fitness classes you can feel the difference after a month or two, but for me even though zumba is exercise, it’s fun – I think that’s the reason it’s so popular, you can just enjoy yourself.
“I can actually see the evolution in girls who started two months ago and now they can really move their hips,” Oumazza adds, demonstrating a wiggly hip movement.
“Not a lot of girls can do that, it’s complicated. In the beginning the girls could not do it at all, and now they’re amazing. After two months! So I think it really helps them.”
Zumba with Tisam is held twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, at 6pm at Babel. Classes cost $8.