How Beto Perez invented the Zumba
WELL-BEING - Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit (The Philippine Star) - May 21, 2013 - 12:00am

Not even wearing my trusty Adidas spared me from aching feet after days of exploring the 2013 trade show of the “International Health Racquet & Sports Club Association” at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. On the last day of almost a week of fitness discoveries, we were on our way to leave hours before the event’s curtain call when my husband said he just needed to check out something.

I will just stand near the exit and wait for him, I said to myself.

I was glad I did because all of a sudden Beto Perez walked by. Like a giddy fan, I excitedly pulled my husband back to the Zumba stage. The top managers promised to introduce me but we were never there at the right time.

Zumba creator Beto Perez went onstage and led the ever-growing crowd into the global blockbuster dance fitness party. Beside the stage was a DJ booth, which provided upbeat rhythms and the party atmosphere.

While I have watched countless Zumba events and videos with Beto in them, the experience of a Beto-led Zumba party was simply magical. His passion and enthusiasm was contagious. He was also generous in sharing the stage with the participants.

Even as a confessed non-participant — I have always thought that since I have two left feet I should stick to my personal training regimen — I believe in the power of Zumba fitness. I have seen friends who not only have lost so much weight, but who have become such fanatics that they end up teaching.

I used to think a 150-square-meter studio was too big for our clubs because the best instructors can’t bring in more than 30 participants. That’s all history now as one Zumba class has over 100 participants. Thanks to three Albertos, especially the Colombian who created it.

Meet Alberto “Beto” Perez, a dancer and choreographer from Cali in Colombia, who actually developed the global fitness craze by chance. He explained on Zumba.com: “One day I got to my class, and I realized I’d left my regular aerobics music at home. I looked in my bag, took out some salsa and merengue tapes, popped them into the sound system, and taught the first-ever Zumba class. After a career as a trainer and choreographer in Colombia, I decided to make the big move to the United States. With only my moves and my passion, I sold all my belongings and moved to Miami in search of the American Dream. I didn’t speak a word of English. I’m here to better myself and bring the Zumba love to the entire planet. I’ve made a challenging position for myself as an instructor in a great work environment surrounded by friends who have become like family to me!”

 

Never did he imagine that this creation of a mix of hip-hop, soca, cumbia, samba, salsa, merengue, mambo, flamenco, cha-cha, reggaeton, martial arts, some Bollywood, belly dancing, tango, squats and lunges, would have 14 million students taking weekly Zumba classes in over 140,000 locations across more than 185 countries. 

Beto moved to the US in 2001, and found two more Albertos — Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion — to start a company. Their concept, promoted by the three Albertos through demo reels, was discovered by Fitness Quest, which then created a direct marketing campaign and a line of home videos.

Proponents say that a one-hour class of Zumba burns anywhere from 500 to 1,000 calories. There are currently eight different variations, all of which require separate certifications. There are different types of classes, aside from the regular classes, for different levels of age and exertion. Zumba Gold is for the older population. Zumba Toning is a workout with toning sticks. Aqua Zumba is done in a swimming pool. Zumbatomic is a class designed for children four to 12 years of age. Zumba Gold-Toning is a toning class for older participants. Zumba Sentao is a chair workout that focuses on using body weight to strengthen and tone the body.

Undeniably, celebrities have added to the popularity of Zumba Fitness. NA-listers like Jennifer Lopez, Kirstie Alley, Jackie Chan, Eva LaRue, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Natalie Portman, Emma Watson, Victoria Beckham, Halle Berry, Toni Braxton, Nicky Hilton and Wyclef Jean are all Zumba enthusiasts.

If Facebook had a movie, why not Zumba? Well, there’s talk of one, since this will be one very inspiring rags-to-riches movie. Beto told Club Industry when asked who should play the role, “It’s a good question. I don’t know. Wow. He needs to be a good dancer. Make me look like him. Make him have an accent.”

Club Industry said: “The story of Beto Perez is one worthy of the big screen. From sleeping a couple of nights in a Miami park not long after he arrived from his native Colombia to helping run a multimillion-dollar international business with 14 million participants in more than 185 countries, Perez admits that his life has been the American Dream.”

Zumba Fitness was named by Inc. magazine as its “2012 Company of the Year” with Beto on its cover. At a recent IHRSA show, they received the “John McCarthy Industry Visionary Award,” presented to an individual or a company who has made a major contribution to the advancement of the club industry.

“In the beginning, the fitness industry was tough on us because the fitness industry had seen many things come and go,” Perlman said at the IHRSA show. “So when we started calling gyms trying to get our instructors jobs, at the beginning they would say, ‘No.’ We called up all the big chains, and they would say, ‘No.’ And to be here at IHRSA winning this award and to have every single big chain in the world now employing Zumba instructors and all these independent gyms now employing Zumba instructors, it’s a huge thing for us. It’s a dream come true!”

“Growing up poor and fatherless in Colombia,” the Inc. cover story by Leigh Buchanan continues, “(Beto) discovered dance at age 8 while watching the movie Grease. At 13, Perez and his friends were reenacting Michael Jackson’s Thriller on the streets. His devout mother disapproved but came around after Perez showed her the scene from Footloose in which Kevin Bacon reads passages about dance from the Bible.

“Many dramatic anecdotes follow: a shooting in a grocery, a chance meeting with a beautiful model who recruits Perez to teach dance to other beautiful models, triumph at a national lambada contest. By the mid-’90s, Perez was teaching dance and aerobics all over Bogotá. One day, he forgot his aerobics tape and resorted to what he had handy: salsa music recorded from the radio,” the article continues.

“Calendar pages fly. Perez moved to the United States in 1999, at 29. In 2001, he was teaching in Miami, and among his adoring students was Alberto Perlman’s mother. At the time, Perlman was recuperating from the demise of Spydre Labs, an Internet incubator that had launched nine companies, including a unified messaging service and an online community for expectant mothers. Aghion, a childhood friend, had worked at one of those ventures.”

Perlman then sat in on a class and he recalled to Inc. magazine: “There are 120 people, packed in like sardines. They are screaming and smiling. No one looks tired. No one is showing any pain. I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something with this.’”

During their first certification where they expected 30-40 people, 150 came to a Miami hotel in 2003 from as far away as California and Kansas. “By 2005, the company had trained roughly 700 Zumba instructors, who were pollinating the country,” Inc. disclosed.

“Another thing outsiders don’t realize about Zumba is its breadth. Yes, this is a fitness company. But it is also becoming an influential player in the music world, striking deals with such artists as Wyclef Jean and Pitbull to promote their songs in its classes and feature them on its CD compilations. In June, Billboard hailed Zumba as the next major music platform. A creator as well as a distributor, the company has commissioned and produced close to 400 songs; the 60 tracks available on iTunes have been downloaded a million times,” Inc. magazine said. They even quoted former chairman and CEO of MTV Networks International William Roedy: “It’s hotter than MTV in any of the hot years I saw MTV. They have this perfect synergy with music that is great for the whole industry.”

Perlman told Inc. of the rising profile of Zumba’s music business: “Universal, EMI, Sony — they’re calling us and saying, ‘Can we put this song we’re launching out on the ZIN (Zumba Instructors Network)?’ Because they know 14 million people are going to hear it. We have artists saying, ‘I don’t need a record label. I’ll just put my song up on iTunes, and Zumba can be my promotional vehicle.’”

Its new CD, “Zumba Fitness Dance Party,” recently went platinum in France, according to Inc. magazine.

* * *

Post me a note at mylene@goldsgym.com.ph or mylenedayrit@gmail.com.

ALBERTOS BETO BETO PEREZ CLUB INDUSTRY FITNESS ONE PEREZ PERLMAN ZUMBA
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