Zumba, the aerobics-gone-salsa dance craze that is making heads turn and hips gyrate, has transformed what used to be known as an exercise workout into a party.

"It's smiling and sweating without commitment," jokes dance and fitness instructor Naomi Betancourt.

Zumba is an aerobic dance exercise party that's spreading across Carbon County. At Dance with Kim in Lehighton, since the fall of 2009, every Monday night the regulars show up to Zumba with Betancourt.

What is Zumba? It's a marriage of an aerobic fitness workout with International, mostly Latin, dance. This aerobics-gone-salsa dance craze is making heads turn, hips gyrate, and calories burn.

"You can burn 350 to 800 calories in an hour doing Zumba," Betancourt said. "A class is about an hour long. There's a ten-minute warmup, 40 minutes of dancing, and a ten-minute cooldown. You can really work up a sweat."

Quite a workout-especially for Betancourt who teaches up to three classes a day. Then again, as a dancer most of her life, she finds Zumba to be a type of dance workout that she can continue to do as she is getting a bit older.

Betancourt is quick to point out that, "Zumba is a fitness program fist and foremost. It is not really a dance program-it is a fitness program set to International rhythms. It is not only Latin, although Latin is about 70 percent of it, but we add belly dancing, and African rhythms. We even do a little bit of flamenco. We use dance steps to exercise."

Zumba is not ballroom dancing. If that's what whet's your whistle, Betancourt can help you with that in another class-but that's Cha-cha-cha, Rumba, Samba, Salsa, Mambo and Cumbia. There's even a bit of Hip-Hop.

Latin dance stylings are not new to Betancourt, who danced professionally the New York City Ballet Hispanico company, where she taught Salsacize, a similar idea that failed to evolve.

Last year, she saw a Zumba class on YouTube. "That looks like fun. I knew I could do this. I've done this before," she thought. She took a Zumba class at Cedar Crest College and "I fell in love." She followed with a trip to New York City for certification.

Betancourt was teaching Zumba at Ladies Workout Express in Lehighton when she received a call from Kim Semmel - owner of Dance with Kim in Lehighton. Semmel, who had learned about Zumba at a dance business workshop, was looking for a teacher. They had worked together in past years and had fun reconnecting. Semmel is not only sponsoring Betancourt's Zumba class, she's taking it.

Zumba is the creation of Alberto "Beto" Perez, a Colombian dancer and choreographer. In the early 1990s, when Beto arrived to teach an aerobics class, he found that he packed only Salsa music. On the spot, he improvised a Latin dance aerobics. It became popular, and in 2001, the style was trademarked as Zumba.

"I do my Zumba on Monday nights, then have a Pina Colada," Semmel laughed. "It's my escape from the stress of running a business."

Dance with Kim has been offering six-week Zumba classes since the fall, with one session ending and another beginning.

The next session runs April 19 to May 24 from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday evenings. Dance with Kim is located at: 248 S. Fourth St. in Lehighton - 610-377-4884.