The world moves with Beto

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 16 November 2019

We caught up with Alberto Perez, founder of Zumba dance workout, who was in the city to conduct a MasterClass and basic training

Incredibly lithe, toned bodies with happy faces greeted us at a city hotel on Friday. The men and women were there to attend the B1 or basic training programme of Zumba, conducted by the creator himself, Alberto Perez. 

Popularly called Beto, the man was pumped up with energy and enthusiasm as we settled down to chat with him about Zumba, the fun dance exercise combination that he came up with by accident in Cali, Colombia, his hometown.

As the story goes, Beto, an aerobics instructor, forgot his exercise music tape and then had to rely on his personal music comprising Latin music — salsa, meringue, reggaeton and bachata – and his class got hooked. He was just 16 then. 

Later, Beto moved to Miami, USA and then by a happenstance, met the mother of his would-be business partner – Alberto Perlman. “Alberto’s mum was my student and she said, ‘My son has a business offer’. I said, ‘Sure, why not!’. Our third partner — Albert Aghion — is the operations guy. Funnily, all three of us are named Alberto,” he says and adds, “Both are younger to me by seven years or so. All of us hail from Colombia. We have been working together for 19 years and our goal is the same. We want people to be happy, to have fun while exercising.” 

The credit for the billion dollar enterprise that Zumba is today, goes to these three men. Incidentally, the name Zumba is a cooked-up name. Earlier, it was called Rumba. 

“Rumba means rhythm, but back home in Colombia, it’s understood as ‘party’. Alberto and I were chatting over coffee and tossing about names and he said ‘Zumba’. I liked it and the sound it makes,” says Beto, rolling his tongue to make the sound ‘Zee’. 

So Zumba it was. And by 2003, it took off in USA. Currently, it has presence in more than 180 countries, and 15 million people are part of the movement. 

When asked about the reason for its success, Beto says, “The music is peppy, fun. You don’t need to be dancers to be able to learn Zumba. Anyone can learn, but yes, practice is necessary. Once people started joining my class in Miami, we had the option to approach gyms or corporates with this dance-exercise form. But we decided to make it an instructor-based model. We have a website, you can search for Zumba class in your city, country. We train instructors. For a certain fee, we let them have all the choreography pieces, music. They are eligible for new training styles and they are a part of Zumba Instructor Network – ZIN. We also have something called Zumba Education Specialist (ZES). The instructors are our business partners.” 

“In India, we have 16 Master Trainers. The market is growing. In terms of popularity and reach, USA remains number one, followed by Germany. The names and the numbers keep changing. Colombia, my country, has finally caught up with the Zumba wave. It takes time for your own soil to recognise its talent,” he adds.

Beto keeps travelling throughout the world. He was in Noida, India, last year and he had visited Mumbai, earlier. Besides conducting Master Class, the 50-year-old is attuned to new sounds. “I was in Australia sometime back and I recorded some tunes of the aboriginals. I am going to mix the sounds with electronic music and check out what the final result is like. I have incorporated Bhangra tunes with Regge. I think fusion music is the way to go. I have 10 music producers in my company and we keep trying to discover new tunes. Yes, Zumba comprises Latin music, 50 per cent of it. But I am trying to combine Latino music with other genres. There are so many forms,” he says. When he was in India in 2018, he used Badshah’s rap in his playlist and “People were amazed. Not many people knew that your country had a rapper like Badshah.”

One of the first ones to combine dance with exercise, we ask Beto, what’s next for him? “Well, Strong by Zumba is our newest baby. We launched it two years ago and it has a presence in 55 countries already. This is a high intensity workout and every squat, lunge and move is perfectly synced with music,” he explains. 

For his own fitness, Beto vouches for his personal trainer. “She is my motivator. And makes me do my stretches, cardio. I also watch over my diet and then I also conduct my Zumba classes whenever I am in Miami,” he adds.

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