People describe Zumba as a ‘craze’ or ‘epidemic’. Beto Perez, the founder of this dance-exercise craze says it is popular because it is “different, effective, infectious and easy-to-follow.” Of course, it also helps that celebrities including Shakira, . JLO and others have taken lessons. There are even reportedly “kosher” Zumba classes, where Orthodox Jewish women can sway their hips in a females-only setting.
The widespread interest has allowed 47-year-old Perez to develop the seemingly fun workout into a full-fledged empire and franchise over the years. The physically fit Perez has taken to be in a whopping 190 countries with over 200,000 locations. Beto also plans to launch a TV show with India’s Bollywood channel which will urge viewers to match steps to Latin American and Hindi tunes and this shows that Zumba has no boundaries.
The Zumba routine works on a physical and emotional level, says the founder, observing that people often smile as they exercise. The atmosphere, he says, is judgment-free with no pressure to perfect the moves and because Zumba is repetitive, participants come away feeling successful. At the same time, Perez’s trainers ensure the class is activating every part, from arms and core, to hips and feet until the heart rate increases, calorie burn is boosted and more muscles are engaged. The focus is on maximizing motion by fully extending arms and shaking the whole body. Usually one feels sweat building within just few minutes.
Zumba was developed almost by accident when at the age of 16, Perez was working as an aerobics instructor in his hometown of Cali, Colombia. He says he walked in one day without the right music and had to manage instead with personal cassette tapes from his backpack, which included traditional salsa and merengue tunes. This improvised class soon became popular, Perez recalls, with participants vowing to bring friends along.
Beto arrived Miami in 1999 even though he barely spoke any English. Perhaps for this reason, his dance-exercise relies more on non-verbal way when teaching, so people pay attention to movement instead of verbal commands. “At my very first ‘audition’ at a fitness center in South Florida, I had to convince the manager there to let me show her what I could do because I couldn’t explain it well,” he recounts. “Once I started showing her what Zumba class was like, people in the gym began standing around the room, smiling, and I knew right there that I was going to do something special.” The form initially found favor mainly with the Latin American community.
Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion approached Beto in 2001 and the Zumba brand began developing. Perlman’s mother, it turns out, had been taking Zumba classes in Miami and before that in Colombia. The instructor has since created new specialty programs including workouts for active older adults and children and Zumba in the water, called Aqua Zumba.
Zumba’s estimated value is $500 Million, not bad for a language limited and broke immigrant, huh…the American dream is alive and well for those that work hustle and grind like Beto did!