Ditch the Workout...Join the Party!

What is a Zumba fitness class like? It's a very exciting dance party atmosphere full of Latin and international music. You'll forget you're working out with the sexy but simple moves to dance music like Cha Cha, Salsa, reggaeton, rumba and more. Best of all, you don't need any previous dance experience!

It's fun and effective, using interval training combining fast and slow rhythms for an effective aerobic workout while at the same time targetting your legs, abs, glutes and arms.

The workout is basically watch and follow. The moves are repeated often enough for you to catch on and they're not complicated. The routines are repeated week after week with additions every now and then to spice things up even more!

According to the Zumba website, "Zumba combines high energy and motivating music with unique moves and combinations that allow the Zumba participants to dance away their worries. It is based on the principle that a workout should be 'FUN AND EASY TO DO' in order for Zumba participants to stick to the Zumba fitness program to achieve long-term health benefits. Zumba is not only great for the body, but it is also great for the mind. It is a 'feel happy' workout."

Zumba is very infectious and is definitely the latest, most exciting fitness sensation! What a fun way to workout to lose weight or just become a healthier new you - you'll love the results. Be sure to bring your family and friends to be a part of the Zumba Fitness party! Check out the Zumba website here for more info: http://www.zumba.com/. Happy Zumba-ing :-)

Zumba with Heather: http://www.energiezumba.com

Step daddy

Step daddy
When Beto moves, women follow. He's fast. He's sweaty. And he is Zumba.
Published May 30, 2003

MIAMI - It's still 20 minutes before the next exercise class is due to begin at Body & Soul, one of Miami's top fitness clubs in Coral Gables.

But a line of dozens of eager-looking women in body-hugging gym gear has already formed outside. Through an open door they watch the end of a "Tae-Bo" class, a martial arts routine that once was all the rage. The look on their faces says it all: "Haven't you heard? Tae-Bo is no longer cool. Beto is coming tonight."

"Beto" is Alberto Perez, a 32-year-old fitness phenomenon from Colombia, whose new Latin-dance aerobics workout, known as "Zumba," is the latest craze at Miami gyms.

The former street performer who grew up in a poor barrio in the Colombian city of Cali is poised to become the next fitness superstar after his exercise video launched last year sold $20-million worth of copies in its first seven months.

"He's a total rags-to-riches American dream story," said Alberto Perlman, a fellow Colombian and president of Zumba Productions, which sells the videos. "I think there's still much of the road he hasn't traveled, but he's well on the way."

Beto's recipe for success is a simple combination of popular Latin pop music with his own original dance steps, with names like the "Beto Shuffle" and the "Machete." For added attraction there's Beto's smooth, olive-brown, sweat-glistening torso, and his cheeky Michael Keatonlike features.

The high-energy result has gymgoers raving about how Zumba is the magic formula that makes exercise fun. Beto puts it down to the mesmerizing mix of music and dance, lifting the body to the physical point where pleasure-giving hormones, known as endorphins, are released.

In Colombian slang, "zumba" means "fast-moving." It also serves as a fusion of the word "samba," the lively Brazilian dance form, with "rumba," meaning party.

The 60-minute dance program features a host of Latin rhythms, from Colombian cumbia and vallenato, to merengue, salsa, samba, calypso and the latest belly-dancing fad.

Virtually unknown when he arrived in Miami three years ago, Beto now presides at 12 fitness clubs, varying from the cavernous Olympia Fitness Center in Aventura, which can pack in 120 bodies, the hip Crunch Fitness gym on South Beach, to small private condo clubs, an elderly Jewish community center and a class of young children.

It took him a while to break into the business. When he first did the rounds he was shown the door at most places, including Body & Soul.

Now his classes are the highlight of the week. Women waiting for the 7:30 p.m. class extol the virtues of Zumba.

"I wasn't a gym bunny but now I am," said Sonia Sheron, 20, an early arrival who takes six to eight Zumba classes a week at several gyms.

Sheron, who is part Dominican, part Scot, said she never used to enjoy Latin music until her mother dragged her to one of Beto's classes. "Now it's all I listen to all the time on the radio. Beto made Latin music cool."

Mortgage company employee Angela Stafford, 30, from Mississippi is trying to lose weight. She lost 65 pounds on a diet but then hit a brick wall. She bought Beto's Zumba tape and another 10 pounds came off exercising at home. Then she found out Beto was holding a class at Body & Soul, right around the corner from her office.

"There's no comparison between the tape and the class," she said. "Beto's so much better live."

When Beto arrives there's a dash for a spot on the gym floor. The $10 class is packed with about 90 people, all women save for one man, and a 6-year-old boy dancing along in his pajamas next to his mother.

Beto is no-nonsense when he arrives, warming up for a few minutes before breaking into a popular hit, A Dios le Pido, by Colombian singer Juanes.

Then Beto begins to demonstrate why he's better in real life than on video. Up comes his gym top over his head, revealing his finely chiseled torso.

"How many of you here are single ladies?" Beto shouts, echoing the words of a seductive song. Everyone shoots up their hands. Beto repeats with a grin, "I said solteras! (single women)." All the hands go up again.

In another song he playfully slaps the buttocks of one woman, and then spins around and invites her to do the same to him, all in rhythm to the music.

Unlike other aerobics instructors who stand in front of the class shouting out instructions, Beto lets his arms and legs do the talking. He also likes to get in amongst the class, dancing one-on-one with those struggling to follow his steps. He often picks out the oldest, most overweight or uncoordinated in the class to encourage them.

"I'm good at managing the masses," he says afterward. "I do the opposite of what people expect. I dance with the most introverted, most timid and least confident."

Although Beto is very clear-sighted about his future, it's been a long road to get this far.

"I was born with my talent to dance, but for a long time no one recognized it," is the way he sums up his early years.

He was raised as the only son of a single woman in a working-class barrio in Cali where his mother was a restaurant worker. He never knew his father.

At age 6 he saw the film Grease, and began to dance. Soon he was dancing on street corners for spare change.

Before long he was doing special events. "There wasn't a fiesta in my barrio that I wasn't invited," he said. But when Beto tried to make a professional living from dance, his street style was met with scorn. The best gyms and dance schools were all uptown, in the well-heeled northern part of the city. He would gaze longingly in the window at the Maria Sanford dance academy where the city's upper class sent their daughters. He was shooed away like some peeping tom, and the curtains drawn.

At 15 his mother left for the United States, crossing the Mexican border as a mojado, or wetback. He told her not to worry, he'd manage on his own.

He took odd jobs as a messenger boy and then at an ice cream parlor.

At age 17 he thought his day had come. After entering a dance competition he was selected to represent Colombia at a Latin dance event in Miami. He spent his savings on costumes. But he never got to compete. His U.S. visa was denied.

"That was very traumatic for me," he said.

But the owner of the gym where Beto had prepared his dance routines took pity on him. He was invited to teach a children's summer dance class. He began with 10 children but it quickly grew to 30.

One evening a local gym owner telephoned him. One of her regular instructors was injured. Could he substitute? Beto said he had never done aerobics. He was a dance teacher. But he needed the money, so he accepted.

The next day he went to a local book store and bought a copy of Jane Fonda's Workout Book - and "Zumba" was born.

It was awkward at first. Beto struggled to imitate the positions in the Jane Fonda exercise photos, adding his own modern Colombian steps.

The class liked it. Beto never let on that he was an amateur.

Soon Beto was so much in demand he was traveling frequently to Bogota to do TV ads. In 1992 he moved permanently to Bogota where he was hired by one of the top gyms.

By now he was fully accepted within the country's fashion elite. He was hired by Sony Music to work with some of its singers on their dance moves, artistic expression and stage presence. He also helped with choreography on the 1996 breakthrough album, Pies Descalzos by top Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira.

But Beto says his dream was always to come to Miami to be with his mother. Ironically, his mother returned to Colombia in 1995 where they were reunited after 10 years apart.

Four years later, Beto was ready to make his move. Colombia's long-running drug-fueled conflict had reached a new peak of violence, prompting an exodus of Colombians headed for Miami. Among them were many of the country's wealthy Jewish elite who were some of Beto's best clients in Bogota.

He struggled at first in Miami. He spent his first two nights sleeping in a park outside the downtown Intercontinental Hotel. Speaking no English he was turned away at several of the gyms where he is now a top attraction.

But then his luck began to change. Friends got him an introduction at the upscale Williams Island gym in north Miami-Dade. Soon he was being signed up at gyms all over Miami.

The lack of English didn't bother Peter Cicale, owner of the Olympia gym in Aventura. "It's all body language," said Cicale. "He speaks through his body." Now Beto does two weekly classes at Olympia with a regular attendance of about 160 people per class.

Perlman hopes Zumba will take off nationwide. Beto spent Memorial Day weekend at a Miami Beach hotel training an army of 150 Zumba instructors from all over the country. He recently signed a deal with Kellogg's to promote its health products to Hispanics.

For now Beto is content driving around Miami from gym to gym on his new Honda motorbike. He doesn't need endorphins to feel good about himself.

"I knew the moment I stepped off the plane I was going to gobble up this country."

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