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Orthodox Jewish Women Get in on Zumba Craze

But Rabbis aren’t thrilled with the female-only dance class’ suggestive moves

Stephanie Butnick
April 03, 2014
A scene from a standard Zumba class. (Jersey Fit Life)
A scene from a standard Zumba class. (Jersey Fit Life)

Tablet contributor Lucette Lagnado, who is currently working on a book for the Nextbook Press Jewish encounters series, reports on a hip-hoppin’ new trend: Orthodox Jewish women doing Zumba, the high-energy dance fitness craze sweeping gyms across the country. “With lives guided by Do’s and Don’ts, few of these women are Livin’ La Vida Loca, she writes in the Wall Street Journal, “though in class they do at least get to dance to it.”

The classes are women-only, and inappropriate lyrics are painstakingly edited out of the pop and hip hop songs played (Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” is a favorite, with its Klezmer-lite sound, though it probably took extra time to sanitize). Still, some rabbis aren’t exactly thrilled with the gyrating dance trend, which they argue violates Jewish modesty principles.

Led by Shimrit Adar, a 31-year-old Israeli-born instructor, the Zumba class has become a popular venue for an especially insular group of women. “These women need an outlet and I have found them an outlet—dance,” says Ms. Adar. “It is such a relief.”

Her students, who call her “Shimi,” couldn’t agree more. Every Wednesday night, they make their way discreetly to class, situated in a synagogue basement. Stepping out of their traditional ankle-length skirts and long-sleeved blouses, they don typical exercise gear—stretch pants and tank-tops or T-shirts. Many let their hair down, literally, by removing hats or wigs.

I did a Zumba class once at the Boca West Fitness Center, and it was basically the best day of my life. And maybe I was in the wrong place (or the right place!), but it really wasn’t that inappropriate, though some of my fellow classmates were definitely getting down.

I say dance on, ladies.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.