Inspiring instructors are the lifeblood of Zumba Fitness.
They make up the company's core product, and some of its customer base. They are its marketing, its salesforce, and its product. Zumba instructors now teach 14 million people weekly across 150 countries.
While working on the 2012 Company of the Year story, Inc.'s reporters met dozens of inspiring Zumba instructors--may of whom are entrepreneurs in their own right. Here are the stories of six instructors who have launched their own careers (or who are well on their way!) based around Zumba.
Karina Bodnieks says she was very active as a young child, but was diagnosed with ITP, a bleeding disorder, when she was eight years old.
"So my mom took me to a Zumba class that year and I've been involved in the fitness program ever since," she says. "There's nothing like the feeling you get from Zumba. It's so inspiring."
Bodnieks has been teaching basic Zumba and Zumbatomic in Miami for about a year. Sometimes local gyms invite her to host special events or be a guest instructor.
She is 16 years old today.
For Tarajee Ansari, 26, Zumba is all in the family.
"My mother was introduced to Zumba in 2008 and brought it home with her," she says.
Prior to that, she was a stay-at-home mom feeling restless and sluggish. "Zumba can change a person's whole attitude about life," she says. "Before Zumba, I was a house mom, watching TV and eating all day. It gave me a reason to be active."
Eight weeks after Heather Velasquez had to go through a major surgery, she learned Zumba, which she said helped her build her strength back up.
Now, Zumba is her full-time job in Espanola, New Mexico. Velasquez, now 38, teaches in a gym, a hospital, and a casino.
Miguel Mendoza fell in love with dance as a child and became a Zumba instructor at the age of 18. Today, at age 26, Mendoza maintains a busy schedule of teaching 12 classes a week, throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. But he's not stopping there.
"Once I’m settled down and have saved enough money, I plan to open a dance-and-fitness studio," Mendoza says.
Sofia Upton has a background in contemporary dance, having trained at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. She says: "I love the Latin music and rhythms, and feel that my dance skill and my love for Latin culture blend well."
In addition to running her own dance studio, called Jackie'O, in Brighton, England, Upton teaches 10 Zumba classes a week, and hosts Zumba-themed parties.
"The Zumba craze that is currently taking over the U.K. attracts all cultures and age groups, which makes for lively and vibrant classes," Upton says.
Maria Jimena Paez, 28, has been doing Zumba for four years. Learning to teach classes--which is a process involving a lot of non-verbal cues and tons of energy--didn't come naturally for her. She started teaching Zumba to small groups of friends in Miami, and today teaches two classes a week of 10 or 20 people in an individual's home.
She works in public relations, but says "maybe in the future I will teach Zumba to more people."