MIAMI – It started with VHS tapes. And now it is conquered over the world.
Twenty years after its inception, Zumba has helped millions of people find their way to fitter, happier lives, says co-founder and CEO Alberto Perlman.
Zumba was officially launched in Aventura by Colombian dancer Alberto “Beto” Perez, and in 2003 had TV sales of $ 20 million through TV infomercials. By 2012, the New York Times announced that Zumba was worth $ 500 million. The company currently employs 250 people at its headquarters in Hallandale Beach.
“The stories you hear are amazing – it’s not what you hear in a regular fitness class,” said Perlman. “It’s people who survived an illness, or stories of people who moved to a new city and didn’t know anyone and Zumba created a community for them, or someone who was able to leave an abusive relationship. “
Today the Zumba company works to license its material to instructors who pay a monthly fee for lessons. According to Perlman, the company’s largest growth market is in Asia, which he attributed to the region’s emerging middle class. Zumba’s Japanese Instagram page has nearly 15,000 followers.
“It’s non-stop in these markets – I don’t think you can find a gym there that doesn’t have Zumba,” Perlman said.
The Miami Herald spoke to Perlman to learn about the evolution of the dance-fitness madness 20 years later, how it survived the pandemic, and what the next 20 years could look like. His comments have been edited for the sake of clarity and brevity.
Question: How has Zumba changed over the past two decades?
A. The original Zumba class didn’t change that much, but what does change is the type of music we use. When we hit the scene there was no reggaeton, and when we heard these sounds from Puerto Rico, we said, “These are perfect for Zumba.” We were the first to bring reggaeton into the mainstream. As the music evolves, Zumba evolves – you dance to popular music and that always brings you back.
Question: How does Zumba compete with new movement trends in the scene?
A. Most fitness programs usually live in the realm, “We’re better from a calorie burn point of view or a fitness point of view.” But if you only live in this physical space, someone will come along and build a better mousetrap. Think about the hamstring master in the 90s or 8 minute abs – someone is going to come up with 7 minute abs.
Zumba is similar to yoga in that there are emotions – in yoga one thinks of zen or state of flow. In Zumba we call it FEJ: Liberation of electrifying joy. You lose yourself in the music, you have so much fun that all other thoughts are gone, you are just there, present in the moment.
And the other piece is the community. It is similar in yoga – there is a pilgrimage to India or a kind of yoga shrine. Zumba has a convention every year and it’s a magical place. Physical plus emotional plus community is why Zumba is a brand forever.
Question: How important is Miami to Zumba history?
A. This is where we live. It could have been born here just because of Miami’s cultural aspect, openness to Latin American music, and Latin American influence – Miami is the capital of Latin America. Beto’s dream of growing up in Cali was to go to Miami. Zumba started when my cousins, my mother, and everyone I knew were attending Beto’s class here in Aventura – it wasn’t even called Zumba then, he called it “Rhumba-Cise”. At that moment the idea occurred to something: what if we take this out into the world, put it on a VHS tape – that was in 2001 – and teach Zumba on VHS at home. What we realized was that the community and the class were the real Zumba experience. So we started training instructors who came from all over the country and went to Miami and trained in Zumba. But Miami is still the root and culture of Zumba. Zumba is Miami.
Question: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Zumba?
A. We had some pretty dark moments in the beginning. In February 2020, as we have an operation in China, we got some real reports of the events and instructors called and said this was serious. So we prepared for it by saying, “If you want to become an instructor, you can train online,” and we made a livestream version of our course. Then in March, when the lockdowns started, we told the instructors that we were going to create something so that you could teach the people at home from home. And we challenged our tech team – we had 50+ developers – and in 60 days we said we needed a solution that would allow instructors to teach digitally, digitally receive payments, and manage students in 60 days.
It was amazing and amazing to see our instructors and the community migrate to online. You can see what people were saying about the class – it was a very powerful moment to act as a virtual brand. But now we’re trying to get them back into class, and after the virtual moment, we started seeing classes outdoors. So we had teachers teaching in parking lots and parks – and they still are. Now we’re finally going back to the practice rooms and it’s an emotional thing to see the classes come back. To be physically back in Zumba class sometimes you see everyone cry to be back – it’s very powerful.
Question: What will the next 20 years of Zumba look like?
A. We are constantly improving our technology to make our instructors more successful. We believe that people don’t need another screen in their life. We want them to meet in person, and we don’t want humanity to lose that. Mental health is also an important topic in supporting Zumba. We want to create more moments to help people with mental health problems.
We also created a new brand, STRONG Nation. It’s a high-intensity workout program – but we made a program that counts music as part of your workout. So we create these routines and then we create music that completely fits the routines. We want to have an epic feel that really feels like an ass. So you will see more STRONG nation in the years to come.
We also created the Zumba music lab. It’s a production house where we create our own music. We work with some of the best writers and producers in the world, and now record labels come up and say they want to release our songs.
Q: What’s the best way to convince someone to try Zumba?
A. Go with them. Say, ‘I’ll do it with you. I take you to the gym and if you don’t laugh all the time and never do it again ‘- you know, it’s hard not to smile when you’re in a Zumba class. And a good instructor will notice people who are shy – they might go there and not be sure what they’re getting into. And the instructor will make them feel warm and special. And when that happens, they get addicted and their lives start to change.
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