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Zumba is creating a new fan base for Latin stars

Monday - 8/19/2013, 7:28pm  ET

FILE - This Aug. 9, 2012 file photo released by Starpix shows Zumba creator Beto Perez performing at the 2012 Zumbathon Fitness Concert on the first day of the 2012 Zumba Instructor Convention in Orlando, Fla. Zumba Fitness instructors worldwide are not only using the Latin-heavy song lineup in their classes but creating new fans for artists such as Pitbull, Daddy Yankee and Don Omar, all of whom have recorded songs for Zumba. (AP Photo/Starpix, Marion Curtis)

GAIL GEDAN SPENCER
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Zumba Fitness instructors worldwide are not only using a Latin-heavy song lineup in their classes, they're also creating new fans for artists such as Pitbull, Daddy Yankee and Don Omar.

Omar's "Zumba" has remained high on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart for nearly a year, peaking at No. 2. In Greece, Daddy Yankee's "Limbo," currently in the Top 10 on the Hot Latin Songs chart, is featured in a promotional video that has Greek Zumba instructors dancing to a Puerto Rican reggaeton beat in a beach setting.

"Daddy Yankee texted me five days ago and said, 'I wanted you to know that 'Limbo' is as much your hit as it is my hit,'" said Zumba Fitness co-founder and CEO Alberto Perlman. "It was perfect for Zumba. When he showed it to us, he said, 'I said Zumba nine times in the song and it's because you guys have inspired me.'"

Zumba, a dance-based fitness program created by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto "Beto" Perez in 2001, was born and is still based in South Florida. It has expanded worldwide, creating new fans of dance styles such as Perez's native cumbia and new fans of Latin music.

Some 14 million people in 185 countries are now dancing and singing to the songs, smiling and sweating in Zumba classes and clamoring to buy the music.

"Being from Michigan, I wasn't exposed to any of that music, and now it's easy to find and we hear it so often," said Jill Cooper of Ann Arbor, a longtime fitness professional. She was one of 8,000 Zumba instructors from around the world who attended the annual Zumba Instructor Convention in Orlando, Fla.

Walking through the convention space, you hear an international smorgasbord of music. Polynesian music blares from one room while the sexy samba of "Mas que Nada" pulsates next door, all punctuated by a "Yeah!"

And Pitbull, always Pitbull.

"My mom loves Pitbull, and she loves Pitbull because of Zumba class," Perlman said. "She would never, ever have heard Pitbull on the radio because she doesn't listen to those stations, but because of Zumba class, she's listening to him and I'm like, 'Mom, stop singing Pitbull songs.'"

Perez said the music is treated differently in Zumba than in traditional aerobics classes.

"In the aerobics world, it's very cheap music. It's 'boom-shh-boom-shh-boom-shh,'" Perez said, imitating the beat of workout music. "The music is in the background. We need to put the music in front because it's a party. How do you enjoy the party if the music's no good?"

Bill Roedy, former chairman and CEO of MTV International, is a consultant for Zumba. He said it's that party atmosphere that makes people curious about the music.

"Zumba has these captive audiences at 160,000 locations around the world, 14 million users every single week, so you get in this room and you're dancing and you're getting healthier and you're listening to this music -- you can't change the radio dial," Roedy said "It's a captive audience, and you're building these endorphins so you feel even better about the music."

Brazilian superstar Claudia Leitte, one of the celebrity coaches on the Brazilian version of "The Voice," will be a featured performer at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. She recently was named Zumba Fitness' global ambassador.

"We've been talking about Claudia for a very long time and we had a dream of meeting Claudia and trying to get her involved in Zumba because we'd go on YouTube and type in 'Claudia Leitte' and see her with concerts of 800,000 people," Perlman said. "You take the biggest star in the U.S., multiply that by 10, and that's Claudia in Brazil."

Leitte, already a fan of the Zumba Fitness workouts, sees the partnership as a love affair of sorts. "It's about passion. I can see the love in everything that Zumba is doing."

Leitte was showcased in the Zumba convention's opening-night concert that also spotlighted Jamaican dancehall performer Sean Paul, Nickelodeon actress-singer Victoria Justice and three singers labeled Zumba Fitness Emerging Artists -- Haitian singer J. Perry, Colombian singer Mara and American singer Dahrio Wonder.

Perlman said choreography is designed to a particular song. "We have to concentrate on the verse, the chorus, the bells, the drums -- anything in the song we can use. And that makes people have to think about the song while they're taking the Zumba class. And that's why after the class, they always go up to the instructor and say, 'What was that song that you played?' and they start singing it. And the instructor says, 'Oh, that's Claudia, that's Victoria, that's Sean Paul.' And that drives a lot of sales on iTunes, views on YouTube, social media mentions."

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