[Herald Interview] ‘Koreans are like the Latin people of Asia’
Fitness guru says people can celebrate life through Zumba
Published : Dec 9, 2019 - 09:56
Updated : Dec 9, 2019 - 10:43
A fitness instructor who challenged the notion that workouts are supposed to be painful and boring, now runs a successful global fitness brand that focuses on making people healthy and happy.

Colombia-born Beto Perez, 49, created Zumba, the calorie-burning fitness dance, by “accident.” One day, he forgot to bring music to an aerobics class and had to improvise with a Latin American dance music cassette in his car. That was the beginning of Zumba.

Later, he moved to Miami, Florida, and launched Zumba Fitness with his business partner Alberto Perlman in 2001. Zumba Fitness is a total fitness brand that manages a network of instructors, distributes instruction videos and runs its own clothing line. To this day, all Zumba instructors must be licensed by the company. 

Beto Perez, co-founder of Zumba Fitness, speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald held at Kintex in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province on Nov.24. (Kim So-mee / The Korea Herald)

“In fitness, everything is ‘work out hard.’ But we tried to do something fun. Now we are the biggest company in the fitness world, spread over 185 cities, 2,000 locations and 15 million people around the world do Zumba every week,” Perez told The Korea Herald during a recent interview held in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.

The Zumba master was visiting Korea for the Seoul edition of ZIN Academy, a networking event for Zumba instructors, held at Kintex in Ilsan on Nov. 24, where 400 licensed Zumba instructors from around Korea gathered.

“Most fitness programs are for losing weight. But with Zumba, we created this for happiness. When you are happy, something positive happens in your body. Your skin and attitude change, and you smile,” he said.

Perez claims Zumba is everything about being happy. He was right. The networking event was packed with cheers and laughs. Even dancing complicated choreographies, the class exuded joy.

“When people are depressed, they come to the class. I heard something like, the psychologists they don’t like Zumba because people prefer to go to Zumba, than go to them,” Perez said. 

Zumba instructors in Korea gathered at Kintex in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, practice choreographies with Beto Perez on Nov.24. (Zumba Fintess)

“Zumba is a cardiovascular exercise, working a lot of muscles. But the best part is that people are toning the body, glutes, ab, legs and arms but they don’t know it. People think Zumba is partying. People don’t think it is exercise. Zumba is not like that. That is why it is so popular.”

Zumba Fitness has been in the industry for nearly 20 years. The business slowly expanded from choreography instruction, to music and to a clothing line. Perez, however, asserts, teaching, to this day, is the most important part for him.

“I teach only two times a week because I travel so much. But I need to teach. If I don’t teach, I am depressed,” he said. “Maybe in February or March, I will open my own gym. The name is City Zero. I want to teach more classes.”

And Perez sees Korea as an important market.

“I think Koreans are like the Latin people from Asia. You are happy, you love to party, you have music, the K-pop,” he said. “We feel a good connection with people in Korea. At this moment, Korea is a priority for Zumba.”

The Zumba guru hinted there will be collaboration of Zumba Fitness with a K-pop artist soon.

Zumba tracks are diverse in genre. At the networking event in Seoul, Latin Urban, African Beat Culture and Puerto Rico Flow sessions were featured, introducing diverse fusions of Zumba.

“The music industry changes too fast. To survive, Zumba must be three steps ahead. That is why Zumba is different every day with new music, steps and fashion,” Perez said.

“Zumba is a universal language. It is body language, about feelings and happiness. It does not matter who you are. People always want to celebrate life.”

Video shot and edited by Kim So-mee 

By Im Eun-byel (