Dance instructor Marcia Barrett cues the music and counts off like an authoritative drill sergeant:
"Five, six, seven, eight: Left march-march, right march-march."
Her tight calves flex as she steps to the music. Behind her, the class tries to mimic her lightning-fast moves.
"Hands up, relax the hips!" she orders.
Relaxing is not something my hips do well. They continue to sway in their ever-awkward way, moving mostly in right angles. But Barrett doesn't seem concerned. She is either oblivious to my herky-jerky shimmy or just choosing to ignore it — she has already moved on to teaching the class a sidestep.
Barrett has taught samba and other types of dance in Naples for eight years. She's been dancing as long as she can remember and has competed extensively. In 2005, she won sixth place at the World Mambo Championship.
Five minutes into the class, there's already a bead of sweat forming on my forehead, and I realize the lesson is giving me a workout.
"It's a great workout," Barrett said. "You're moving the entire time, you're up and down on your toes, so it really works your quads. But your core is engaged, too."
In fact, samba is one of several Latin dances rolled into Zumba, the fitness craze occurring at many local gyms and community centers. With its superfast beat and heart rate-raising steps, samba dancing burns some serious calories.
"It's killer cardio; the whole class is cardio," said Steve Szanto as he wiped sweat from his face.
Szanto has taken lessons from Barrett for several months and said he has noticed a change in his physique, especially in his legs.
Although Brazil has several different music and dance traditions, samba is, by far, the most widely known.
Mention samba and images of Carnaval — of bright colors and raucous crowds and dancing and debauchery — might come to mind.
Based on a rapid two-four beat, samba is wild and free — and fast. The steps aren't particularly hard; it's the speed at which you do them that makes it tough.
Just as I'm starting to catch on, Barrett switches to the Copacabana. Typically used during the Carnaval parades, the Copacabana is a stuttering step — you move one foot forward, shift your weight back and then drag the front foot backward for a single beat. With just the footwork alone, it looks like an awkward, inefficient march.
But when Barrett starts rolling her arms conga-line-style, she's suddenly a bouncing, one-woman party.
"I love the samba," she said while bobbing in place to the rhythm of the music. "I originally learned the dance in Winnipeg, Manitoba, of all places. But for me, with my background coming from Jamaica, I meshed with the music instantly. You can hear an almost reggae sound with the beat.
"Plus, I love to move my hips, and samba is all about moving your hips," she said.
Although, if you're hip-shimmy-challenged (like me) the great thing about samba is no one seems to care.
Why? Because everyone around you is having far too much fun to notice.