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A look inside a Zumba conference

Thursday 16 Aug 2012 11:14 a.m.

By Ali Ikram

In a relatively short time Zumba has become the world's largest branded fitness programme.

Zumba is a cross between Latin dance, hip-hop and aerobics.

The company flew me all the way to Florida last week to their biggest convention of the year, to get a taste of what it’s all about.

From humble beginnings in a Miami garage 11 years ago now, according to Zumba Fitness, more than 12 million people around the work take its classes every week.

“It’s given me a positive attitude, I used to have depression years ago and I don’t have any depression anymore,” says one Zumba fan at the convention.  

Legend has it Zumba was born when Colombia aerobics instructor Beto Perez forgot his workout music and had to resort to salsa tapes he had lying around the car.

At the conference, Mr Perez told the crowd that weight-loss is not the central idea behind Zumba.

“Losing weight is the consequence but this is not the idea in the beginning.”

Fooling people into working out has made Mr Perez and his business partner, Beto Perlman, very rich men. The company is valued by some at half-a-billion dollars and they rub shoulders with the giants of sport and entertainment.

Retired NBA star Shaquille O'Neal was at the conference and boasted of his great rhythm during Zumba classes.

“I have the best rhythm in the world, have you ever seen me dance? Look it up on YouTube, I’m probably the best big dancer in the world.”

Rapper Lil Jon appeared to be more about the clothing.

“It’s just like being around LMFAO, you know, I know them very well. Same thing, bright coloured clothes.”

The reason Zumba has spread around the world like a fluorescent epidemic is its ingenious body model.

“An instructor pays a fee - $30 a month - to be our partner. And its nothing compared to what they’re going to make in one month, with five classes a week they’re going to be making $1200,” says Mr Perlman.

It’s only been in New Zealand for three years but already 1600 classes are held weekly.

“Zumba is a message of a lot of things to me,” says Napier instructor Dianna King. “It’s a message of hope – hope for people who struggle to lose weight, people who are really down and out and really sad and lonely inside. I that think to me it’s a message of hope.”

Though no one ever calls it exercise. Zumba people call it an emotion or a force for change in the world, or as the CEO calls its “spreading freeing, electrifying joy”.

“It’s a philosophy,” says Mr Perlman, “like people are not following somebody's words. Like a cult there is usually a cult leader and he is saying follow these words, but what these people are saying is I’ve found myself through Zumba. I’ve found my inner soul.”

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