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group exercise: zumba


in the groove


Maryrose Fison talks to the founder of Zumba, the highly popular, Latin


dance-based group exercise concept W


alk into any gym this summer and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a timetable that doesn’t


offer Zumba classes. The Latin- American dance-based programme has galvanised gym-goers across the globe and transformed couch potatoes into overnight converts in recent months. Today, more than seven million followers take the classes and the media has been awash with news of the workout’s health benefits. So what is it that makes Zumba so appealing? We speak to Alberto “Beto” Perez, celebrity dance choreographer and inventor of Zumba, to find out.


a passion for dance These days it’s rare to secure an interview with Perez. He’s a busy man. When he isn’t teaching four Zumba classes a week in Zumba’s Miami headquarters, he’s travelling the world introducing the class to countries as far afield as South Korea and Indonesia. Yet in spite of his gruelling schedule, he exudes energy and warmth. Perez’s inspiration to dance


stems, he says, from a childhood removed from material wealth and immersed in a culture of celebration. “I’m from Cali [in Colombia],” he explains in a heavily- accented voice. “Cali is the capital of the salsa world – it’s a hot city full of very


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happy people. People don’t have money, but they celebrate everything.” He describes a youth spent hanging


out with friends, going to parties and soaking up the myriad cultural infl uences that surrounded him. But it


WORLD WORLD


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was a trip to the cinema on a sweltering summer’s day in 1978 that he credits with putting him on his chosen path. “When I was eight years old, I went


with my friends to see the movie Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and I loved the rock and roll. It opened my mind and I discovered that I loved to dance.” In the years that followed, Perez


acquired something of a reputation as a formidable performer. Known affectionately by locals as “the Latin John Travolta”, he routinely stunned those around him with his dance repertoire. By the age of 16, he had won a place at the prestigious Maria Sanford Dance Academy and began teaching aerobics classes to help subsidise his tuition fees. It was while teaching one of these classes that unexpected circumstances produced the burst of creativity that gave birth to Zumba. “One day I forgot my music and the only


thing I had in my bag were cassettes of Latin-American music,” he explains. “I didn’t have the option of going home, because I needed the work and the class was waiting for me, so I went in and improvised for an hour without any of the students knowing – and they loved it!” Soon after graduating from the academy, he moved to Bogota – “the New York of Colombia” – where he made a name for himself choreographing routines for A-list pop stars such as Shakira and working for Sony


Music. With his Zumba classes also proving a hit he was, as he puts it, “in two worlds – the fi tness world and the choreography world”, transitioning between multiple jobs with an adaptability that would become a defi ning feature of his success in years to come.


catching a break In 1999, still only 29 years old and driven by an “obsession to go to the United States”, he packed his bags and boarded a plane for Miami. But far from being the effortless journey to recognition he had hoped


Alberto “Beto” Perez is a celebrity dance


choreographer and the founder of Zumba


july 2010 © cybertrek 2010


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