If you are among the millions around the globe in love with Zumba Fitness, you probably know that it was Alberto “Beto” Perez who came up with the idea to marry fiery Latin and other international dance rhythms with cardio exercise. If you are a true Zumba aficionado, you may also know that there are two other partners, Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion, who joined with Perez to create Zumba Fitness, LLC, which is the company that launched the global fitness phenomenon in 2001. But there is an untold story behind Zumba Fitness and it is this: if it were not for Perlman’s mother, Raquel Perlman, these three “Albertos” would have never met, and Zumba would never have been born.
This story, though, actually begins about a decade earlier, in Colombia. Growing up in Colombia, Beto was so in love with dancing that, even as a little boy, he taught it to the kids in his neighborhood. He became an aerobic exercise instructor and blended the two into a concept he called “Rumbacize.” He was teaching it at a fitness class in Bogotá, where, one day, Raquel Perlman came to class.
“I had to start exercising for health reasons, and I certainly wanted to ‘look’ like I exercised, but I dreaded the regular toning and exercise classes. So when I started Beto’s classes in Colombia, I became addicted,” Raquel recalls. “I was getting fit and having fun at the same time. I was actually smiling through a whole hour of exercise. Unbelievable.” In fact, Beto can still recall overhearing her exclaim to the other women, “This is the best class in the world!”
Eventually, Raquel moved to the U.S. with her husband to see their three sons through college and then into their careers. She was stunned when, one day, she walked into her Miami fitness gym and found Perez there. “I couldn’t believe it. I exclaimed, ‘Oh Beto, you’re here!’ I was very happy to see him,” she recalls.
Several months passed. One night, knowing that Alberto was looking for a new business opportunity, Raquel approached her son. “I was a young Internet entrepreneur and, after the dot-com bubble burst, I had to close the company I had founded,” Alberto Perlman recalls. “My mother would always rave about a popular fitness class she was taking with Beto that involved a dance routine set to Latin and other international music, and she suggested I meet with Beto to discuss starting a business.”
Although Raquel recalls her son playfully rolling his eyes, he agreed. “My mom has always been very intuitive about things in my life. She has guided me in the right direction, time and time again. She has a strong sixth sense and always has the right answers for me, so I trust and value her opinion,” says Perlman.
And sure enough, Raquel’s idea turned out to be an inspiration. “Upon meeting Beto and observing the program and the passion behind it, I was convinced that we needed to start a business,” Perlman recalls. His longtime friend Aghion joined them as company president. They branded the program Zumba Fitness. Now, just a decade later, there are more than 12 million ardent Zumba fans around the world, in 125 countries and 110,000 locations, and Zumba Fitness has also raised millions of dollars for charities.
To be a success, any enterprise needs talent and passion, which Beto has in abundance. But you also need to have entrepreneurial skills, and Perlman was born with that, his mother knew. In fact, just as Perez showed his talent for dance, Perlman displayed his business acumen when he was barely older than a toddler, she recalls.
“When he was four, my father-in-law gave Alberto a Casio watch. It was a digital watch, and no one had them at that time. My son took it to school one day and, when he came home, I asked him, ‘But where’s your watch?’ He responded, ‘Mom, I lent it to a kid and he will bring it back on Monday but with 1,000 pesos.’” By the age of seven, Alberto was selling candy to his classmates. By high school, he was renting parking spaces to the seniors.
But Zumba isn’t just a business. Like Beto Perez, Alberto Perlman also has a big heart. Zumba Fitness is also known for the Zumbathon events that the company sponsors to raise millions of dollars for such causes as breast cancer, ALS and heart disease.
“As a family, we’ve always taught our children that you have to give back. There is no way out of it. And, if that is what you are taught your whole life, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a pleasure.” One year, Mrs. Perlman went to the annual Zumba Instructor convention in Orlando. “There was a huge party at the end of the convention and Alberto and the other Alberto (Aghion) dressed up in costume and stood at the entrance. With them they had a big basket to collect money for cancer. They were doing it themselves, and my son’s face just glowed.”
For Perlman, though, such giving comes naturally because, he says, he learned it from his mother. “My mom taught me to focus on my strengths and to make time for people you care about. Every Wednesday, she visits her 93-year-old uncle and reads to him. That’s the kind of person she is, and that is the kind of person I strive to be.”