The effort it took for Zumba to break the mold of traditional fitness, open new doors and reach populations that needed fitness most is often taken for granted. Originally presented as ‘exercise in disguise,’ the brilliance of combining uplifting culturally based music and rhythms with simple to follow moves, taught through nonverbal cues inspired even the most ardent couch potatoes to action. And because of its non verbal method of instructing, the usual language barriers were eliminated, allowing it to cross country and continental lines with ease. Zumba has become a staple in 180 countries with 15 million weekly participants. Part of its appeal is fueled and grounded in the close knit community of instructors spanning the globe, energizing local communities with not only fun fitness but with philanthropic efforts that have yeilded over 5 million dollars to date in causes ranging from breast cancer research to ending world hunger.
When I started instructing 12+ years ago, some conservative industry voices remained critical of this thing called Zumba “masquerading” as fitness. “They’re letting overweight people instruct!” “A 75 year old is teaching at my gym!” “They’re giving licenses to people in wheelchairs!”
Yep, the creators of Zumba didn’t just alter the status quo. They drop-kicked it! And thank goodness. No fitness modality in history has gotten more people off the couch and into healthier, happier lives than Zumba.
The status quo, resistant to change, leans on cynicism, impatience and doubt to cling to its own and to the past. Yet who could have foreseen the profound impact of walking into a class and seeing instructors that looked just like their participants! Or how inspiring an instructor could be simply by having overcome their own fears and limitations, now replaced by passion, ability and gratitude.
Had the voices of impatience and doubt prevailed, there might never have been a dazzling instructor named Yulissa Arescurnaga, enlightening the world with the shining abilities of people with Down syndrome. Or a thriving Jonathan Siebert, instructing classes and teaching the masses about the “wonders” of those with Apert syndrome. (pictured at bottom center with Zumba’s creator Beto Perez and top r.)
Had the voices of impatience and doubt prevailed there might never have been instructors the likes of our miraculous Corina Dee (Gutierrez) or the powerfully inspiring JoAnne Fluke, each redefining the term able-bodied despite not having the use of legs. (Pictured at top l. with Zumba’s creator Beto Perez and bottom r.)
Had the voices of doubt prevailed there might not have been a Michael Bertrand or Megan Wolf, shining a light on ALL that people on the Autism Spectrum are capable of achieving, and with so much love, joy and dedication. (Pictured at bottom l. and top center)
And for those of us instructors with less than perfect body fat ratios or over a certain age or having no formal fitness backgrounds… in other words, most of us, where would we be if the voices of impatience, doubt and cynicism had prevailed?
The groundbreaking success of Zumba is rooted in passion, generosity, patience, love and the belief that if given the tools and the chance, there’s just no limit to how high the human spirit can soar. As one of the many “unlikely” fitness instructors, I am grateful for Zumba’s inclusive approach. And in my experience, the best way to show my gratitude is to simply pass it on. 🔹️