Heading many people's lists of New Year's resolutions is a desire to exercise regularly and eat healthier foods.

Area residents will have a leg up on their goals this year thanks to Zumba enthusiast and fitness instructor for more than 20 years, Emm Koteka-Wiki, who opened the doors to Studio M Dance and Fitness in Norwalk earlier this month.

Located at 112 Main St., Koteka-Wiki formerly taught at several gyms and fitness studios in Fairfield County and, for the last 18 months, rented space at Fred Astaire Dance Studio to house her popular Zumba classes.

Defined as an aerobic dance program using upbeat, rhythmic Latin music, Zumba is one of several fitness classes offered at Wiki's 3,600-square-foot studio.

A staff of 15 certified fitness instructors joins Koteka-Wiki in leading classes in step aerobics, pump, strength/toning, circuit/cross training and core training.

Derived from childhood in the Polynesian islands in the South Pacific, Koteka-Wiki is also introducing a new cardio program called Hot Hula Mix Dance.

Wiki stated, "My classes are filled with happy people. We have mums and daughters training together, our Zumbatomic for Kids classes (ages 5 to 12) are mostly our members' children, and my Zumba Medio/Beginners classes are attended by their grandmothers, mothers and aunts. My three daughters and husband are also Zumba fanatics and we do many of the classes together. I guess you can say Studio M has become a family affair."

Moving into 2011, Wiki hopes to increase the number of men enrolled in Studio M's Zumba classes. The six men currently enrolled in her classes "feel better, are more energetic and are having the time of their life," she noted.

At a holiday party that took place at the Continental Manor in early December, Koteka-Wiki was pleased to meet many of her students' spouses. She said, "All my ladies looked slim, beautiful and toned while the men were heading in the opposite direction."

However, when she conducted a master Zumba class in New Zealand in 2009, half of the participants were men, she added.

"Being a Zumba instructor is not just a job for me -- it's my passion and something that I'm grateful for," Koteka-Wiki said.

Wiki has, in fact, taught fitness classes all over the world. Accompanying her husband Pae Wiki as he traveled to countries in the Mideast and Asia in his role as chief security coordinator for East Africa at the United Nations, Koteka-Wiki taught global communities how to increase their strength and flexibility through exercise. Although she loves teaching all different kinds of fitness regimens, Koteka-Wiki was drawn to Zumba when she was first introduced to this energetic workout that provides cardiovascular benefits and overall toning. Varying in age, Koteka-Wiki's students enjoy Zumba because everyone -- from beginners with "two left feet" to teachers training for their certification -- could receive its benefits.

"The routines feature interval-training sessions where fast and slow rhythms and resistance training are combined to tone and sculpt your body while burning fat," she said.

"It targets areas such as the glutes, legs, arms, abdominals and, most importantly, the heart. The dance steps are easy to follow and participants can adjust their aerobic level by either increasing or decreasing their pace and amount of movements. It's spicy, it's sexy, it's fun, it's invigorating and it's for every one of all ages and fitness levels."

Obviously, her students agreed because Koteka-Wiki's classes were increasingly filled to capacity.

"Members were starting to complain about not having room to move around and that's when I decided it was time to get my own studio," Koteka-Wiki explained.

And, after searching three months for a property, she discovered the "ideal location in Norwalk."

"Most of my members are from Norwalk, Wilton, Westport, Fairfield, Darien, and Stamford area. I knew opening up a new studio was going to be a huge responsibility, and it's scary because I had no money to start off. However, my heart was in it. My business is about helping people. I wanted to bring joy to as many people's lives as I could through dance and fitness. It's a great feeling to affect people's lives in a healthy and positive way."

As a two-time cancer survivor, New Yorker Jaqueline Touby said that she's had a difficult time grappling with her body's changes since treatments. Koteka-Wiki's "energy and good will," though, has helped to elicit emotional and physical healing, though.

"Zumba with Emm has been the only medication I have needed since starting," Touby said. "Not only have I whittled down in size but I feel good about my figure in a way that I have not since cancer appeared in my life. Emm is extremely knowledgeable about the safe ways to exercise and so giving of her time and experience. She encourages all to better themselves as her love for dance and life infects all she does."

Another student, Stephanie Rumore, of Norwalk, agreed.

"Emm is my favorite part of the Zumba experience," Rumore said. "She makes everything fun. We get a great workout and, as she always says, `Zumba is a party.' That it is."

For information on Studio M Dance & Fitness and to view the class schedule, go to www.studiomfitness.com or email emm@studiomfitness.com.