Zumba Origins: The History of How Beto Created A Dance Revolution

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

If you have been to the gym lately, you have probably seen a Zumba class in action or even participated in one. Zumba is a Latin-based exercise dance style that seems to have taken the international fitness world by storm. We know that Zumba is fun, burns fat like nobody’s business, and is practiced actively by over 15 million people, but where does it come from and what made it so popular?

A Brief History of Zumba:

Zumba was created “by accident” by a 28-year-old Colombian aerobics instructor, Alberto “Beto” Perez, in 1998. It is said that when Perez forgot his aerobics music tapes for a class, he improvised by using his salsa and merengue tapes from his car and proceeded to teach a first-ever dance aerobics class. Thus, Zumba was born – even though it was only named several years later. 

In search of the American Dream, Perez later moved to the US, where he first started teaching Zumba in Miami in 1999. In 2002, he released his first infomercial, and in 2006 he established the official Zumba Fitness LLC, leading to the worldwide phenomenon that Zumba is today.

The story of Perez is somewhat a “rags to riches” one. It is said that he was born to a single mother, and by the age of 14, he was working 3 jobs just to support himself and his mother. It is safe to say that for Perez and his family, life was a struggle in Colombia. It was Perez’s dream to make it someday as a dancer, but lack of money left him working merely as an aerobics instructor. While being an aerobics instructor provided value and paid the minimal bills, it wasn’t really the “big time” in the dancing world that Perez craved. 

During his time as an instructor, Perez entered a Colombian Lambada contest and won. Thereafter, he was accepted into one of Colombia’s finest dancing schools to study dance, while he worked as an aerobics instructor to earn a living and try to save. I find the background story of Alberto Perez quite intriguing. Want to learn more about Alberto “Beto” Perez’s story and how he got Zumba to where it is today? Read on.

What on Earth is Zumba?

Before we can dig much more into where Zumba comes from, let’s take a look at what it actually is. If you look online, you will find that there are various definitions of Zumba, but all of them say the same thing. 

Zumba is a high-energy form of fitness with a combination of dance and aerobics fitness moves that help to shed weight, elevate mood, and provide a highly positive and supportive fitness/exercise environment. The classes are typically practiced with Latin dance music, but in recent times that is changing. Most of the dance moves that are taught in Zumba include some elements of Merengue, Salsa, Mambo, Flamenco, Cumbia, Rumba, and Hip Hop. 

All classes are high-energy and excitable. You won’t attend a low-key, gentle, or quiet Zumba class

Why Was Zumba Created?

One might wonder why, if Zumba was an accidental aerobic dance class, it has developed into an actual, official, fitness system. I have certainly wondered this a few times. 

As it turns out, Perez was using his passion to be innovative in a tricky situation when he forgot his aerobics music tapes behind that day in 1998. He had an insatiable passion for Latin music, dance rhythm, and high-energy fitness. Once he had hosted that first “accidental” class, he felt as if he had hit on something great. And of course, he had. This was proven by Shakira’s interest in him as a choreographer. It didn’t stop there, though. 

Beto wanted to create fitness classes that are an exceptional amount of fun but are also extremely effective too. His aim was to create fitness classes with a party-like vibe and positive influence. And he wanted these classes to be available to everyone, regardless of their age and current fitness level. Mission accomplished, I think! There are not many types of exercise classes that are anything like Zumba – and that was reason enough to push its development and make it an actual “thing”.

The History of Zumba – An American Dream!

A Multimillion-Dollar Mistake (or Opportunity!)

Zumba was not a carefully constructed fitness system, created with science in mind. It was created by accident – at least that’s what the creator says. Alberto Perez, who was 28 at the time and working as an aerobics instructor, headed off to work, like he did every day in Colombia, to teach a regular aerobics class. This particular day, he did something different (made a mistake some would say) that changed the course of his life forever. 

What did he do? It was nothing bad. He simply forgot his aerobics class music tapes at home, and because he had no time to return home to collect them, he made an executive decision to be innovative and use his salsa and merengue tapes that he had with him, instead. 

Instead of following the same choreography and rep-counting of his typical aerobics classes, he decided to improvise by presenting a type of aerobics class that mixed in high-energy dance moves – perhaps the kind of dance moves he would have used when listening to his favorite Salsa and Merengue music. He found that his students absolutely loved the new workout and were having fun. In fact, they wanted more – and so the idea of Zumba was born.

You might be wondering how one class could inspire a worldwide fitness phenomenon. His first accidental class of Zumba (although he had not named the exercise class as yet) did not go unnoticed. So many people absolutely loved the class that word got out. 

Alberto “Beto” Perez Takes Zumba to Miami

Alberto Perez had never been particularly rich or financially comfortable in his life. Just like many others, he had it in his mind to find a way to live the great American Dream, and with his new form of exercise class, there was an opportunity for him. 

In 1999, Perez moved to Miami in search of a new life with bigger and better opportunities. His first act of business was to start teaching his aerobic dance class in his new neighborhood. The first fitness center he approached was the Williams Island Fitness Center, where he got the director, Brenda Anderson, to agree to promote his aerobic dance routine. It went well, but Perez wanted more.

He then reached out to Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion, for financial and technical assistance with boosting his aerobic dance classes to greater success. In 2002 , they formed a trio that set out to make their new dance class better known – and it really worked. The name Zumba comes from the Spanish word “Zumbar”, which means “to buzz”. It demonstrates (or sounds like) the fun, high-energy, fitness class that it is linked to.

2002 – 2006: The First Infomercial and the Establishment of Zumba Fitness LLC

It was in 2002, with Aghion and Perlman, that Perez released his very first televised infomercial on Zumba. Once the infomercial was out there, many workshops resulted – all of which were based on Zumba routines. The workshops were taught by means of DVDs, which the trio sold, and soon the international following was booming.

In 2006, Perez decided to form an official organization called Zumba Fitness LLC. The organization was to ensure that anyone wishing to teach Zumba was officially trained and presented with a license to do so. The company also distributed Zumba workshops and training DVDs. Since 2006, Zumba Fitness LLC has grown to employ more than 200 people. 

The result of the infomercial and the formation of Zumba Fitness LLC is that over 15 million people all over the world actively practice Zumba on a regular basis today. The Zumba Fitness clothing range was also created in 2007 as a result. The range includes Zumba Fitness clothing called “Zumba Wear” for men, women, and children – for all styles of Zumba.

That is the definition of success! And, of course, business was (and still is) booming!

Let’s Zumba!

Now you know the intimate details of Zumba’s past, you can have peace of mind that you are investing time and energy in a work out system that is trusted by many. If you want to put the efforts of Perez to good use and transform your life and your body, take up Zumba. You will not regret it!

JC Franco

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.