Q&A With Zumba Fitness Co-Founder and CEO Alberto Perlman

Do you Zumba? The Billboard Latin Music Conference does.
Alberto Perlman, the CEO of Zumba Fitness, will join co-founder and CCO Beto Perez to tell the story of Zumba and its success at Miami’s JW Marriot Marquis on Wednesday, April 24, during the 2013 Billboard Latin Music Conference. Zumba classes will be offered to attendees during the conference. And Perez, the choreographer who originated the Zumba technique, will perform a routine for the panel audience.
 
With fourteen million followers in 186 countries, the euphoric Latin dance exercise classes have taken reggaeton, merengue and salsa around the world and made Zumba Fitness a phenomenal promotional platform for music that has helped push songs by Don Omar and other artists up the Billboard’s Latin charts.
 
“We’re creating a new market for Latin music and we feel very proud that we’ve been able to do that,” said Perlman. The chief executive of the accelerating fitness brand stopped moving long enough to talk to Billboard.biz.
 
Billboard.biz: The story goes that Beto Perez started his Latin exercise classes, originally called Rumba, in Colombia, and that it all started really by accident. What happened?
Perlman: One day when he had forgotten his regular music to teach an aerobics class, all he had were his salsa tapes. And he did what he would do in nightclubs, where they would hire him to dance and turn everybody on to salsa; he’d be in the middle of 30 women on the dance floor. He turned it into a fitness routine. He saw everyone smiling and happy, and at the same time everyone was sweating. He said 'why aren’t people doing hits instead of boring aerobics?'
 
Billboard.biz: How did you get involved with Zumba?
Perlman: I graduated college in 1998. From 1998 to 2000 I was doing dot coms, but in 2001 I realized my endeavors in the dot com business were probably not going to work out. I’m 23-years-old, I’m having dinner at my parents’ house [in Miami]. My mom says, ‘You have no idea how fun my Rumba class is. Maybe you should meet with Beto and start a gym.’ I said at this point, I’ll meet with anyone. Beto shows up to Starbucks in a 1983 Pontiac with a broken window. I thought, 'what am I going to talk to this aerobics instructor about?' Then I went to see his class. There were 100 people there.
 
Billboard.biz: How did Zumba grow from those classes taught by Beto Perez to a company valued at $550 million?
Perlman: First we changed the name to Zumba because we couldn’t copyright “rumba”. It means “party” in Colombia. The initial idea was to sell videos.  First VHS tapes, and then in 2002 we started with DVDs, selling them on TV. People starting calling their gym saying they want to become an instructor. They came from all over America for our first instructor training, mostly from middle America. These people who had never heard of reggaeton before were now dancing reggaeton in Dayton, Ohio.  We would license music, put it in DVDs and give it to our instructors. They were basically promoting the music in their classes. By 2012, we had 14 million people taking Zumba all over the world listening to the music.
 
Billboard.biz: You’ve since partnered with stars like Pitbull and Don Omar. How did that come about?
Perlman: Pitbull showed up in our office and said ‘I want to learn about what you’re doing.' He said, ‘I want to break records with you, I want to work with you guys singing at your instructor convention.'
Don Omar actually created a song called “Zumba”, it was No. 1 on the Latin Bilboard chart. Daddy Yankee's song “Limbo” became No. 1 as well. Both are Zumba songs.
 
Billboard.biz: What kind of deals are you doing with artists?
Perlman: Every deal is different, we like to partner in different ways.
Some want us to promote the song, some want to participate in our events. We do fitness concerts, with people following routines while the artists are singing. We’ve done about twenty so far, and now we’re looking at doing a full-fledged tour.
 
Billboard.biz: How can songs become popular through Zumba?
Perlman: We give the instructors music every month, and we encourage them to use that music. If they like another song they can incorporate it, but if we say this is the song of the month,
90% will put it on in their class. We put in on our Facebook page, which has almost six million likes.
 
Billboard.biz: How do you see Zumba’s role in the Latin music industry?
Perlman: We want to be a resource for the music industry and elevate Latin music around the world. We’re happy to be a part of the Latin music industry, and now we can say we are. In 2006 no one would take our calls. Now, in Denmark, one out of every 2,000 people is a Zumba instructor. People in Denmark didn’t know who Don Omar was, and now they do.  There are one million people in the UK who take Zumba classes, and they’re listening to our music.
 
Billboard.biz: Why is Zumba so popular?
Perlman: There are many elements that turned it from a class into a philosophy. The same way that yoga gives you physical benefits but the real benefit is the emotional benefit, then there’s a community benefit...[Zumba is about] feeling free, feeling joy.  The objective is happiness and fitness is a result
 
Billboard.biz: You’ve described yourself is someone who doesn’t dance. Do you do Zumba now?
Perlman: I’m still uncoordinated, but the great thing about Zumba is that I don’t care. People feel liberated by Zumba. You’re in the moment, you’re happy, it’s your hour.
 
The 2013 Billboard Latin Music Conference is presented by State Farm in association with Pepsi. The Conference will take place April 22 to 25 at the JW Marriott Marquis in Miami, Florida. Registration information can be found at www.BillboardLatinConference.com

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