Beto Perez, the emperor of the Zumba empire

Beto Perez, the emperor of the Zumba empire

Colombian Beto Pérez likes cinematographic references. The millionaire creator of the emporium around Zumba, the fitness routine that has crossed borders, is often equated with Forrest Gump, the endearing character played by Tom Hanks who at some point in that famous and eponymous film awakens a cult around him when it is released to run nonstop on American roads. "I was like a Forrest Gump that one day I started dancing, and people began to follow me," he says.

The fable of how the program that mixes exercise and dance was born, and today it is practiced in more than 180 countries, has a lot by chance. Alberto Pérez (Cali, 1970) was a humble gym instructor in the mid-eighties. “One day, I came to teach a class and realized that I had left my usual aerobics music at home. I looked in my bag, took out some salsa and meringue cassettes, put them on the sound system and taught the first Zumba class ”, says Beto himself on the company's official website about the seed of what years later became became the world's fitness sensation . Thus, by improvising, he discovered the original alchemy of combining exercise routines with Latin rhythms ranging from reggaeton to salsa, the musical religion of his hometown in western Colombia, nicknamed the branch of heaven despite its surroundings of crime and drug trafficking. After the turn of the century, after having made a career as a choreographer that has even led him to work with Shakira, Pérez sold all his possessions and moved to Miami in search of the American dream. "The program was not created to lose weight, but to have fun and be happy," he has assured several times about Zumba, which has become a philosophy of life. His childhood was not easy. The son of a single mother, he never knew his father and grew up in poverty. His love for dancing was awakened at the age of seven, when his mother took him to see the musical Brillantina o Grease , with John Travolta –another film reference–. She emigrated to the United States when he was 15 years old, and he only saw her again at 25. "In those ten years I did the university of life," he said. He danced for money, won a lambada contest, the then very popular Brazilian rhythm, and with that money he bought his first apartment. He had already moved to Bogotá, but the Colombian capital was too small for him.

Emigrating took him at least four attempts. In Florida he landed without speaking English and has said that he came to sleep in parks, but from there he built that emporium that now attracts 15 million fans who practice any of its multiple modalities, some of the highest intensity, including celebrities such as Victoria Beckham or Jennifer Lopez. The varied playlist can include Carlos Vives or Ricky Martin. The innovative formula initially attracted partners Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion, and the unlikely Colombian-American trio of the same name founded the company in 2001 after convincing an Ohio gym chain to invest for the purpose of recording. a DVD.

At the beginning it was called Rumba, and when they debated a new name it became Zumba, with Z, because Pérez liked El Zorro when he was a child –a third audiovisual reference that he usually remembers. The business model has not been limited to classes for a long time, and includes a global program of certified instructors. It also markets a brand of clothing and accessories, video games and live events, in addition to having established itself as a musical platform that has signed artists such as Daddy Yankee or Don Omar.

Pérez's life was even brought to the small screen in 2018, with the series No one takes it away from me , from Canal RCN. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the company was worth $ 500 million, according to The New York Times . Faced with the confinement measures, they adapted to virtual formats to enjoy the rise of fitness and increase their fortunes, while practitioners of the Zumba method burn up to 600 calories in one session.

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