Billboard Latin Music Conference: On the 'Magic' of the Zumba Fitness Craze, Its Connection to Superstars Like Don Omar

Beto Perez, co-Founder & CCO, Zumba Fitness (center) gives a demonstration live on stage at the 2013 Bilboard Latin Music Conference (Arnold Turner)

Zumba is to the 21st Century what the Macarena was to the '90s -- except it brings even more and more people to Latin music. And it does it through emotion. That's what Zumba Fitness' founders told participants Tuesday at the 24th Annual Latin Billboard Conference and Awards in Miami.

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The exercise trend first gained notice in Latin music a couple of years ago, with Don Omar’s "Danza Kuduro." Beto Perez, creator and co-founder of Zumba Fitness, remembered that Don Omar contacted them after his mother fell in love with the fitness craze. “He said, ‘My mother in Puerto Rico has not left the house for months, and one day she called me and said 'I’m going to a Zumba class.’' And he flew down to Puerto Rico to see what the Zumba class was, and he came to the office to thank me.”

And, even though “she had more pictures of me on the refrigerator than of him,” they decided to work together.

Since then, the up-tempo beat has been featured on a couple of other songs and then, last year, it went viral with Don Omar’s "Zumba: and Daddy Yankee’s "Limbo," which is played in nearly every Zumba class on the planet. As well, it has opened audiences up to other types of Latin music.

“Now, because of Latin Zumba, they are listening to Latin music,” said Alberto Perlman, co-founder and CEO of Zumba Fitness. “We launched it to all our instructors, and every single instructor is playing 'Limbo' now. People ask them, ‘What is that third song?’ and they tell them it is Daddy Yankee and [that] they can get it on iTunes. We’ve become a promotion for Latin music, but there’s a difference between us and radio. Number one, you are actively participating in the song,” Perlman said. We also go to places where Latin music doesn’t go. Usually it is only in Latino dance clubs. We’re able to take music inside the fitness centers and in the dance clubs where they play English music and in cities where there are no Latin music stations.”

And to countries like the Czech Republic, Finland, Poland.

 “And they play this kind of music -- Daddy Yankee, salsa, merengue, cumbia -- and these people are singing, and they don’t even know what it means,” said Beto Perez, co-founder and COO, who is really just a fitness instructor who got the craze going from Miami.

From left: Judy Cantor-Navas, managing editor, BillboardEnEspanol.com; Beto Perez, co-Founder & CCO, Zumba Fitness; Alberto Perlman, co-Founder & CEO, Zumba Fitness (Arnold Turner)

“Sometimes that makes me cry,” Perez said. “They don’t know what they are saying but I feel that Zumba made a good choice to spread Latin Music around the world." The co-founders want new artists to feature in the program, and told participants of the conference to get in touch with them because they can help get their songs out there. “Instructors are always calling and asking for Beto’s playlist.”

Currently, Zumba Fitness is trying to get into the Asian market. “Right now, we really want to get into Korea and we’re talking to artists. Not PSY, but other artists,” Perlman said, referring to the South Korean rapper whose "Gangnam Style" went viral.

“Zumba [could] help another artist become the next PSY.”

Their success has been borne of simplicity, both men said.

“This is simple, effective and fun,” Perlman said. “Making it simple is really hard... I don’t know how to put my finger on exactly what the secret of Zumba is. What I know is that the class is amazing. The first time I saw a Zumba class ten years ago, it was incredible. And it is still incredible. People were laughing, having fun. It is fitness without the sacrifice. People connect with the emotion, the joy. A lot of fitness fads go out of style. The thigh master came out and was great until they came up with the next best thing for the thighs,” Perlman said. “With Zumba it is about emotion."

Their target demographic has always been women. “We are 90 percent women -- and some very smart guys,” Perez joked. But they are seeing more men come into classes and they are seeing people enjoy Zumba across many generations.

“Our sweet spot is 33 to 35 year old females, and its more of a psychological demographic than a [true] demographic. It is someone who wants to let go and have fun,” Perlman said.  “It’s not like we see a huge spike, though, in the 30s. We have fans from 12 to 88 years old, there are three generations in one class.” And that means that abuelitas are listening to Daddy Yankee with their grandchildren – and singing along.

“When you have a daughter and her mother and her grandmother in the same room at once, it’s magic," said Perez. And that was the idea from the get-go, he added. “We didn’t create this program for people to lose weight. We wanted people to have fun.”