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Some Like It Hot

Sporting tight black Capris, a tank top and a hoodie, Linda Buford looks like she’d be right at home in a gym — and she is. She works as an instructor and marketing director at the sprawling e-Fitness complex in Biloxi.

But she’s quick to show you that she hasn’t always looked quite so fit, despite making a living keeping others in shape for almost 20 years. A couple of years ago, she found herself battling depression and putting on some extra weight. She has the “before” picture to prove it, showing a heavier version of herself at a fundraising walk last October. So how did she lose some 40 pounds? She burned the weight off when she developed a new exercise class called Sizzle, offered exclusively at e-Fitness.

At the time, Zumba was becoming the hottest fitness craze, and Buford decided to create her own class with the same, this-is-too-much-fun-to-be-exercise philosophy behind Zumba, but with more of a hip-hop flair. It took her three or four months to develop the class, and during that time, and as the classes grew more popular, she lost the extra weight.

“It’s the little class that could,” she says, adding that, despite the fact that Zumba classes have now been added to the schedule, Sizzle still draws a crowd.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, some 40 to 50 devotees, mostly women, show up for the hour-long class. There’s a certain excitement in the room, almost like a crowd gathering for a concert — only this crowd is a wide range of ages and sizes, all clad in workout clothes.

The cheery, bright room with a big, yellow and blue checkerboard pattern on the floor has mirrors along the front wall and windows that overlook the entrance to the state-of-the-art e-Fitness center, so during the class people stop by, attracted by the thumping music and the dancers moving mostly in sync along with Buford and her co-choreographer, Marcia Turner. Buford and Turner alternate leading the group every couple of songs. Buford starts this class with “Party Animal.”

Wearing a Madonna-style mic, she makes jokes throughout the class. “You know who’s a party animal?” she asks. “Charlie Sheen!” Everyone laughs — even those who can barely catch their breath.

The high-energy class is fast and fun from the start, and soon everyone is drenched with sweat. ‘This kind of class is extremely fat-burning, which is what happens when you keep your heart rate up at a moderate level for a long period of time,” Buford explains later. “It feels like dancing, not like a workout — and people don’t want it to end. What other kind of class can you say that about?”

And the class gives her as much satisfaction as it does the participants. “I teach 17 to 20 classes a week,” Buford says, “and do you know how happy I am when it’s Wednesday and it’s Sizzle?”