Zumba fitness frenzy shows Latino influence on U.S. culture

I wrote this story for one of my classes in which the students in the class are contributers to the online news organization, La Prensa

Zumba has been hitting the fitness community by storm and is starting to raise questions of whether this is just a new fitness trend, or whether the spike in interest in the Latin-music inspired cardio class is a depiction on the greater Latino influence on the cultural landscape of the United States.

“I definitely think it is something positive for the [Latino]/Latin American community, and I feel through attending a Zumba fitness class they will feel more welcoming, more accepting to Latin American culture,” said Gabby Corbera, a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Zumba instructor at the university’s Recreation Center. “It’s really important because in 2050 they [Latinos] are going to be the majority.”

Zumba was first created by accident by choreographer and fitness instructor, Alberto “Beto” Perez, in Cali, Colombia. In 1986, Perez forgot his aerobics tapes for a class he was teaching in Cali so he used the tapes he had in his bag that were recordings of traditional Caribbean salsa and merengue music, and improvised a routine. Using this “supposedly” non-traditional music for an aerobics class ended up being a hit and in 2001, after moving to the United States, Perez partnered with Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion to create a demo video. Now Zumba classes can be found in over 110,000 gyms and in 250 countries.

Corbera, who was born in Venezuela to Peruvian parents, said that the widespread practice of Zumba classes worldwide shows just how important Latin American/Caribbean culture is not only in the United States but also across the globe.

“I really love that people can get a sense of it, a taste of it just by going to one hour of Zumba fitness class,” she said. “It’s not limited to a Latin American narrative, it incorporates a lot of different beats from Asia and other parts of the world.”

Corbera was the first Zumba instruct at UMass’ Recreational Center and said that she began taking Zumba classes when she was in high school. Corbera said she is most attracted to the music in Zumba classes and the energy that all of the attendees have in the class. While Zumba is influenced by traditional Latin American/Caribbean dances, it is not limited to them. Some dances included are cumbia, salsa, merengue, mambo, flamenco, chachacha, reggaeton, soca, samba, belly dancing, bhangra, hip-hop and tango.

“I try to bring in an international perspective to the class by trying to incorporate international beats and international rhythms; that is what the program was founded on,” she said.

“What I’ve noticed in my classes, because of the music I play, because it’s not just hip hop, because it’s not just American pop music it attracts different types of groups here on campus. In terms of demographics I’d have to say it’s very diverse- Latinas, Asians, African-Americans – just anyone and it’s because of the music I feel,” she continued.

Zumba’s pervasive cross-cultural popularity ranked it ninth on CNN Health’s top fitness trends for 2012. Besides it’s cultural impact, Zumba helps fitness goers burn 600 to 1,000 calories in a single one-hour session.

“Part of what I love about Zumba is it allows me to embrace my ethnic identity and that’s really important for me,” Corbera said.

As Zumba and other Latino-influenced cardio classes continue to find their place in gyms across the country, Corbera encourages people of all cultures to “Come, work out and get a little cultured.”