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Zumba creator brings the party to Pittsburgh
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
By Jack Kelly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette
Alberto "Beto" Perez, founder of the dance-based exercise program, leads a recent class for Zumba teachers at the RMU Island Sports Center on Neville Island. The way to get people to exercise is to make them think they're not, thinks Alberto "Beto" Perez. Mr. Perez, 37, is the creator of Zumba, an aerobic exercise routine based on Latin dances, which has become what may be the greatest fitness phenomenon ever.

"People hate exercise," Mr. Perez told the Post-Gazette. "But people love to party. Zumba is a party."

Mr. Perez was in Pittsburgh recently to conduct workshops to sharpen the skills of existing Zumba instructors, and to certify more. More than 360 people from throughout the eastern United States attended the three-day event at Robert Morris University's Island Sports Center on Neville Island, the largest Zumba workshop ever conducted. Two years ago, Zumba was virtually unknown in Pittsburgh. Today, thousands of people in the area take classes.

"I teach Latin dancing at a corporate center for Westinghouse," said Aubrey Worek, 28, of Monroeville. "Zumba is our most popular class. It's a fitness phenomenon. In the fitness industry you have to keep constant with trends."

"You say you're teaching Zumba, your classes are full," said Mary Walters, 58, of Murrysville, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who teaches fitness classes at area senior centers.

Joanie Aljancic, 61, teaches physical education at elementary schools in Louisville, Ohio. She's incorporated Zumba into her phys ed classes.

"I love it," Ms. Aljancic said. "I don't even know I'm exercising until the hour is over."

"It doesn't feel like you're working out," agreed Nick Walker, 25, of Fairfax, Va. "It feels like you went to a club or a party."

Mark Gomez, 20, a student at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, teaches Zumba part time.

"Before I hated exercise," Mr. Gomez said. "It wasn't fun."

More than 90 percent of the people who attended the workshop were female. Mr. Gomez says he uses that ratio to recruit guys for his Zumba classes.

"I tell the guys there are going to be lots of girls there," he said.

Mr. Perez was a choreographer in his native Colombia who taught exercise classes part time. One day he discovered he'd forgotten his aerobics tapes. So he went to his car and retrieved the salsa and merengue tapes he loved to listen to, and Zumba (a Colombian slang word meaning to move fast and have fun) was born.

Zumba was a big hit in Mr. Perez's home town of Cali, and later in Bogota. But it took persistence for him to make it big in the United States.

He has lived in Miami since 1999. At first the living wasn't easy.

"I was famous in Colombia," he said. "When I came to America I had to start again from nothing. I didn't have papers. I didn't speak English. When I came here I slept for two nights in the park."

But Mr. Perez sensed opportunity. He said he was surprised to find how little emphasis there was on Latin dance in Miami. There were classes in Latin dance, but they were all 10, 20 years out of date, "like Lawrence Welk," he said.

Zumba became a big hit in Miami, and then throughout the United States. Last year Mr. Perez introduced Zumba to Japan, China, Britain, Italy and Spain. As of February, there were more than 12,000 certified Zumba instructors in 35 countries, with an estimated 2 million people worldwide taking Zumba classes.

"I tell the guys there are going to be lots of girls there," he said.

Mr. Perez was a choreographer in his native Colombia who taught exercise classes part time. One day he discovered he'd forgotten his aerobics tapes. So he went to his car and retrieved the salsa and merengue tapes he loved to listen to, and Zumba (a Colombian slang word meaning to move fast and have fun) was born.

Zumba was a big hit in Mr. Perez's home town of Cali, and later in Bogota. But it took persistence for him to make it big in the United States.

He has lived in Miami since 1999. At first the living wasn't easy.

"I was famous in Colombia," he said. "When I came to America I had to start again from nothing. I didn't have papers. I didn't speak English. When I came here I slept for two nights in the park."

But Mr. Perez sensed opportunity. He said he was surprised to find how little emphasis there was on Latin dance in Miami. There were classes in Latin dance, but they were all 10, 20 years out of date, "like Lawrence Welk," he said.

Zumba became a big hit in Miami, and then throughout the United States. Last year Mr. Perez introduced Zumba to Japan, China, Britain, Italy and Spain. As of February, there were more than 12,000 certified Zumba instructors in 35 countries, with an estimated 2 million people worldwide taking Zumba classes.

The Pittsburgh workshop was a prelude to and a test for what will be the first international Zumba convention, to be held in Orlando in October, Mr. Perez said.

Music is 70 percent of Zumba, he said, and he works constantly to make certain Zumba music is topical. Though Latin music is the core, Mr. Perez said he also works classic rock 'n' roll, and even polka, into his routines.

"Some people think Zumba is a fad," he said. "Music is always changing. What gets old is the instructors."

Mr. Perez and his two partners are also working to modify Zumba routines to appeal to other audiences. A Zumba Gold routine is being developed for seniors, another for children. Also in the works is a Zumba toning routine that uses a toning stick that sounds like a maraca (a percussion instrument native to Puerto Rico used in Latin music).

"I try to be in revolution all the time," Mr. Perez said.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

 
     
     
 

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