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Dancing to Success

Zumba founders Alberto Aghion, Alberto Perez, and Alberto Perlman created a company out of a dance phenomenon.
Alberto ("Beto") Perez, in red, leads a Zumba video shoot. Onstage with him is Alberto Perlman.

Alberto Aghion, Alberto Perez, and Alberto Perlman
Zumba, Miami

Thirteen women, mostly in their 20s, are shaking their hips and pumping their arms on a Monday evening in a Brooklyn, New York, loft. They are sweating and smiling. Pop music is pumping. This is Zumba.

"Ditch the workout; join the party," is the slogan of Zumba, an exercise regimen that looks like what might happen if Miley Cyrus led a line dance to a Shakira song. It's going on in classes at yoga studios, dance clubs, and your local gym. It's in instructional DVDs and a video game, and it is a hit on YouTube. Its logo is tattooed on at least 12 bodies.

The method, originally called Rumbacize, was devised in Colombia by Alberto ("Beto") Perez, 40. Once he immigrated to Miami, Perez was approached by Alberto Perlman, 34, and Alberto Aghion, 35 -- yes, that makes three Colombian Albertos in Miami -- with a proposal to turn Perez's mini phenomenon into a company. Perez was skeptical and asked Perlman, an entrepreneur, "Do you have money?" He responded, "No, do you?" Another no. They laughed, and shook on founding Zumba. "I'm not a guy for money," Perez says. "I'm a guy for feeling." More than a decade and several infomercials later, their venture has grown explosively into a full-blown fitness craze that's getting more than 10 million Americans to dance and get fit each week.

If that's not enough reason to love the Albertos, consider their huge contributions to a breast-cancer charity. And their efforts to adapt Zumba to older exercisers. And the thousands of Americans who discovered Zumba during the recession and have become entrepreneurs as instructors who also sell Zumba apparel. Take Gina Grant, who went from being a stay-at-home mother looking to lose weight to a Zumba superstar who trains other instructors and is featured in Zumba's new video game. It was Perez's charisma that enchanted her. "He has this magic about him," Grant says. "He can take a room of 2,000 bored people and make them ready to party in 30 seconds."

IMAGE: Russ Quackenbush
Last updated: Dec 1, 2010

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.

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