In the mid-90s, Alberto “Beto” Perez was on his way to teach an aerobics class in Cali, Colombia when he realized he’d forgotten his traditional aerobics music. With no time to turn back, he improvised the class with a mix of salsa and merengue tapes from his backpack. The change of music inspired him to try something new: to focus on being moved by the rhythm instead of counting reps. His energy electrified the room — and his students loved the class. That day, Zumba Fitness was born.
Perez brought Zumba to Miami in 2001, partnering with entrepreneurs Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion with the goal of expanding the dance-fitness party concept around the world. Eleven years later, Zumba is a major international business. From 2011 to 2012, the number of certified instructors doubled. Classes are taught in 126,000 gyms worldwide, reaching 12 million people per week. Beyond its variety of classes geared toward people of different ages and fitness levels, the company sells CDs, DVDs, athletic wear and accessories emblazoned with its logo, video games for Wii and Xbox, and a quarterly magazine.
Though most Zumba music is Latin, its enthusiasts are often not your typical cumbia, bachata or reggaeton listeners. The upbeat and free-spirited nature of the classes allows people to feel the music and lose themselves in it – and new fans, wanting to replicate those feelings, are born. Setting themselves apart from aerobics-style classes that tend toward repetition, instructors keep their routines fresh by paying into the Zumba Instructor Network, which provides regular installments of new music and choreography. The music is a combination of original songs composed for Zumba Fitness, licensed recordings, and covers of hits that the company rerecords.
Owing to students’ visceral experience of the music and the company’s massive global reach, Zumba is becoming a new platform for Latin artists to reach new audiences.
Pitbull is one of the most prominent entertainers to be affiliated with Zumba. In addition to licensing songs like “Shut It Down” and “I Know You Want Me” for playlists, he wrote and recorded the original song “Pause” specifically for the program. This song has an official video produced by Zumba Fitness, featuring choreography that is taught in classes around the world.
Paulina Rubio, Wyclef Jean, and Don Omar have all struck recent deals with Zumba. Don Omar, whose hit “Danza Kuduro” is featured on Zumba playlists and who recorded original song “Zumba,” was recently quoted by Billboard on the reasoning behind the collaboration: “I see it like, I’m gonna have 12 million hits weekly if I post a song with this new project. I think it is a great moment for me and for all the artists out there to start to look into these kinds of platforms to promote their music, because it is the business of the future.”
Opportunities to interact with these songs extend well beyond the gym. Zumba hosts “fitness concerts” that attract audiences as large as 2,500, in which artists (who have included Pitbull, Don Omar, Wyclef Jean, Paulina Rubio, and Daddy Yankee) perform live as fans follow routines lead by onstage instructors. The internet is also teeming with content by Zumba lovers, such as blogs where instructors post playlists and fitness tips, and YouTube videos where people share choreography to their favorite songs.
As some of the traditional music distribution routes fade due to changing technology, Zumba offers possibilities for touching listeners in new ways – and for reaching people who might not have connected with Latin music under other circumstances. Zumba enthusiasts associate the songs they hear in class with fun, a sense of community and camaraderie, and a feeling that they’re doing something good for their health. By capitalizing on the intersection of entertainment and fitness, Zumba Fitness has found a way to mint Latin music fans.
Sources: www.zumba.com; Billboard Magazine, “Body Rock: Is Zumba the Next Music Platform?,” June 30, 2012; Billboard.biz, “Don Omar Talks about New Album, Zumba Partnership at Billboard Latin Conference,” April 25, 2012