Zezeh Zax, holding the baby in a blue shirt, teaches Samba Baby to youngsters.
Forget the tutu and tap shoes. The options in kids’ dance classes are broadening beyond the basics so parents can introduce those tiny feet to other ways to bust a move — and a few different cultures, too.
BloomBars, a nonprofit community arts space in Columbia Heights, launched Samba Baby in January. Every Wednesday morning, instructor Zezeh Zax is responsible for controlled chaos: a group of tykes (ages 6 months to 5 years) dancing with one another and their parents.
Zax, founder of the ZeZeh BraZil Dance Troupe and a former Carnival queen from Sao Paolo, Brazil, goes over the basic samba step: Switch your feet quickly, keeping one foot down as the other heel taps in front, and create a full-body bounce. But she isn’t concerned about technical accuracy.
“We have to teach the kids more that it’s OK for them to be themselves, to dance however they want to dance, and they should be happy and enjoy,” says Zax, who peppers the 45-minute class with Portuguese words for the body parts she’s moving.
Jeanne Fekade-Sellassie, whose husband and 18-month-old — who likes to shout “Samba! Samba!” around the house — attend the class weekly, says it’s been an educational experience. But the most important lesson is just that dancing is a good time.
Tots go similarly gaga for the chance to swing their arms like elephant trunks to the beat of fast-paced drums at Kukuwa Kidz Club. Clarendon Fitness introduced the class, an African music and dance lesson geared to 2- to 4-year-olds, this spring, and plans to offer it again over the summer.
Instructor Stacia Hughely is happy if kids simply give it a whirl. “They just get to move and just hear the drums — you know, something different than they hear on their radio every day,” Hughely says.
That formula has worked well for Zumbatomic, the child’s play version of the Latin dance class Zumba. Geared to kids ages 4 to 12, it’s not exactly the sexy shimmying adults are used to in their classes.
“The main difference is the choreography,” says instructor Jeannie Monroe, who teaches at the Sport & Health Club in Herndon. “Zumba for adults is all in the hips. To keep it kid-friendly, we don’t concentrate on hips, we concentrate on the whole body.”
To get the group of six girls ready for the hourlong class, Monroe has them tap their toes, squat and clap to tunes from “Yo Gabba Gabba,” a popular kids’ TV show. Next, the Latin beats drop as she breaks down the steps to the cha-cha — cross one foot over the other and quickly march in place three times — the cumbia, the merengue and the salsa.
To prevent boredom, she brings in props such as jingly skirts and maracas, and alternates between dance routines and games. Students create their own freestyle moves and then have the rest of the class follow along, which Monroe says promotes leadership and confidence in addition to calorie burn.
“It’s kind of like doing an exercise class,” says 10-year-old Emma Shacochas. “But it’s really fun at the same time.”
Take the Lead
Want your kids to give these dance classes a spin? Samba Baby is offered Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at BloomBars (3222 11th St. NW). It’s $10 for one session or $100 for 12. Zumbatomic is available at gyms and studios throughout the region, including Herndon Sport & Health (13037 Worldgate Drive). Visit Zumba.com for addresses and times. Clarendon Fitness (3100 Clarendon Blvd.) isn’t currently offering Kukuwa Kidz Club, but plans to put it back on the schedule.