Almost 20 years years ago, a Colombian man walked in to his aerobics class to discover his regular cassette tape (well it was the 90s) was not in his bag. With a class of paying customers waiting he had no choice but to retrieve the cassette of traditional latin rhythms that he loved from his car, draw on his knowledge of those dances from his experience as a choreographer and improvised the whole class. This man’s name was Alberto ‘Beto’ Perez, and today he is the face of a global dance fitness phenomenon that we know and love – Zumba Fitness. Today Zumba is a recognised fitness program in 180 countries, with classes in over 200,000 locations and a huge 15 million people attending those classes. So why, after 13 years as a registered company, is this company and this program still so popular? I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s my opinion.
Let me start with my own discovery of Zumba, for which all thanks actually goes to my mum. It must have been Autumn 2009 when I came home from the college at which I was in the second year of my degree, for my mum to call me over to the TV. She hurriedly flicked through the digital box to play me a clip of one of those teleshopping program’s about a dance thing she thought I would like. We must have watched through the ad at least 6 times in succession, both of us were captured by the music and in awe of party going on before us. Admittedly the campaign was mostly full of fit, young people who were clearly skilled dancers, but with 13 years experience of various dance styles and 5 years teaching under my belt, I recognised the combined simplicity of the steps and the diversity of the styles creating a fun filled class. We probably watched that advert from our recordings (as well as hunting through the teleshopping schedules looking for it playing) another 50 times over the following months, but took no further actions.
In January, I was faced with a similar scenario – I came home to find mum, this time, planted in front of the computer staring down a brightly coloured website with some familiar looking dancers scattered across it. She had apparently been sat debating purchasing the DVD set for the Zumba Fitness workout. There was quite a lot of discussion between us that night, but eventually she did indeed purchase the set, complete with extra DVDs, music CDs and a pair of toning sticks with the promise that we (yes, both of us) would actually use the set and not just sit and watch the DVDs as we both wanted to shed a little weight. Even at this stage we had talked about me training to teach, once I was surge my fitness level as up to it! I guess I have to admit, there was more often watching from the settee than up and dancing in front of the TV once the set arrived, but even still I couldn’t get enough of it. Luckily, I was finally encouraged to take the plunge and book a training date after talking with one of my degree tutors, who had also had the DVD set for some time and wanted to do the training. So we booked on and, on August 22nd 2010, we rocked up at a leisure centre in Birmingham to become instructors. It took me a good couple of months of teaching before I would have admitted my fitness level was up to scratch, but that day and this program changed my life.
I took my first class on Friday 1st October 2010 at the little church hall where I had been teaching line dancing and Latin in line on and off for the last 5 years, and 15 people appeared through the doors to join me for my first party. I continued to pick up classes I was offered around Teesside, all the while studying hard in my last year of my degree, and by the time my courses ended in May 2011, I was teaching some 200 people in 15 classes every week, and had also trained in Zumba Toning, the additional Zumba Basic 2 course and had the children’s version of the program, Zumbatomic (now called Zumba Kids and Zumba Kids Jr) booked for the following month. I think it was probably fair to say I was pretty much in love with the job I did, and during the very difficult time of my Nana’s passing due to aggressive cancer in her ovaries and uterus, these classes and my customers pretty much kept me going.
So why am I still teaching 14 Zumba classes a week, licensed to teach 6 different Zumba program’s (and have another program license booked to train for) after 4 years? Well yes, from a business point of view there is still a demand and still a customer base, but it’s so much more than that. For me, and for a good number of my customers, it’s the fun factor, the sheer lack of seriousness and the freedom to join in or take a rest. You can feel the passion for the Zumba brand in everything – it comes through from the music chosen by the instructor, the joy is there in the energy of the choreography and the delivery of the routines by the instructor and it infects the participants in the class. Whether I’m instructing or taking a class with somebody else, there is a smile on my face because I love what I’m doing and, no matter what the background of the instructor or of the participants in the class, everybody is joining in and they are all smiling too. It doesn’t matter if we are all turning a different way, using different arms, or even doing different ‘interpretations’ of the footwork, we are all dancing away, working hard and having a total blast. Show me another program that can survive in the tough world of fitness for 13 years and still get 15 million people every week in to classes and loving every second of it.