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Zumba creating new fan base for Latin stars

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Posted: Friday, August 23, 2013 4:30 am

ORLANDO, Fla. — Zumba Fitness instructors worldwide are not only using a Latin-heavy song lineup in their classes, they’re also creating new fans for artists such as Pitbull, Daddy Yankee and Don Omar.

Omar’s “Zumba” has remained high on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart for nearly a year, peaking at No. 2. In Greece, Daddy Yankee’s “Limbo,” currently in the Top 10 on the Hot Latin Songs chart, is featured in a promotional video that has Greek Zumba instructors dancing to a Puerto Rican reggaeton beat in a beach setting.

“Daddy Yankee texted me five days ago and said, ‘I wanted you to know that ‘Limbo’ is as much your hit as it is my hit,’” said Zumba Fitness co-founder and CEO Alberto Perlman. “It was perfect for Zumba. When he showed it to us, he said, ‘I said Zumba nine times in the song and it’s because you guys have inspired me.’”

Born in South Florida

Zumba, a dance-based fitness program created by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez in 2001, was born and is still based in South Florida. It expanded worldwide, creating new fans of dance styles such as Perez’s native cumbia and fans of Latin music.

Some 14 million people in 185 countries are now dancing and singing to the songs, smiling and sweating in Zumba classes and clamoring to buy the music.

“Being from Michigan, I wasn’t exposed to any of that music, and now it’s easy to find and we hear it so often,” said Jill Cooper of Ann Arbor, a longtime fitness professional. She was one of 8,000 Zumba instructors from around the world who attended the annual Zumba Instructor Convention in Orlando, Fla.

Walking through the convention space, you hear an international smorgasbord of music. Polynesian music blares from one room while the sexy samba of “Mas que Nada” pulsates next door, all punctuated by a “Yeah!”

And Pitbull, always Pitbull.

“My mom loves Pitbull, and she loves Pitbull because of Zumba class,” Perlman said. “She would never, ever have heard Pitbull on the radio... but because of Zumba class, she’s listening to him and I’m like, ‘Mom, stop singing Pitbull songs.’”

Perez said the music is treated differently in Zumba than in traditional aerobics classes.

“In the aerobics world, it’s very cheap music. It’s ‘boom-shh-boom-shh-boom-shh,’” Perez said, imitating the beat of workout music. “The music is in the background. We need to put the music in front because it’s a party. How do you enjoy the party if the music’s no good?”

Party atmosphere

Bill Roedy, former chairman and CEO of MTV International, is a consultant for Zumba. He said it’s that party atmosphere that makes people curious about the music.

“Zumba has these captive audiences at 160,000 locations around the world, 14 million users every single week, so you get in this room and you’re dancing and you’re getting healthier and you’re listening to this music — you can’t change the radio dial,” Roedy said. “It’s a captive audience, and you’re building these endorphins so you feel even better about the music.”

Brazilian superstar Claudia Leitte, one of the coaches on the Brazilian version of “The Voice,” will be a performer at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. She recently was named Zumba Fitness’ global ambassador.

“We’ve been talking about Claudia for a very long time and we had a dream of meeting Claudia and trying to get her involved in Zumba,” Perlman said. “You take the biggest star in the U.S., multiply that by 10, and that’s Claudia in Brazil.”

Leitte, already a fan of the Zumba Fitness workouts, sees the partnership as a love affair of sorts. “It’s about passion. I can see the love in everything that Zumba is doing.”

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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