Thursday, July 10, 2008

Samba Lines at the Gym

“With a name like Zumba, the exercise class defined by its Latin rhythms and party atmosphere was not exactly an easy sell at first. But five years after arriving in gyms and dance studios, Zumba Fitness keeps expanding, most recently into schools, senior centers and unconquered territory like New York City, and some foreign markets. The man who started it all, Alberto Perez, 37, said he still does not fully grasp the empire he has created. Mr. Perez, a former aerobics trainer from Colombia, said he stumbled upon his fitness concept by accident. In 1986, as he was about to teach a class in Cali, Colombia, he realized he had forgotten his aerobics music tapes. He grabbed his own music from his car — salsa and merengue from El Gran Combo, Las Chicas del Can and other popular bands — and improvised the class. The enthusiasm for Zumba is now in evidence in cities like Los Angeles, where more than 100 instructors offer classes. Most students are women, but the cross-section of ages, from 20 to 60 in one class, speaks of Zumba’s wide appeal, despite its challenging pace. The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association says dance classes have steadily expanded among its 5,700 member clubs. A census by the organization found that 1,017 of its clubs had dance programming this year, compared with 749 in 2002 and 603 in 2001. Rosemary Lavery, a spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, said Latino membership among health clubs has been on the rise, now accounting for 19 percent, compared with 15 percent in 2005, but she couldn’t say how much Zumba had to do with the trend.”

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