At the Iconic Tour in Los Angeles, Alberto "Beto" Perez, one of Zumba's three co-founders, recalls how a mistake at age 16 led him to creating the Latin American dance-inspired aerobic workout that's taken the world by storm since its 2001 launch.
An estimated 15 million people practice Zumba in 180 countries each week and the company is worth millions. Meanwhile, the company also has an apparel line that's reportedly sold 3.5 million units a year.
Perez says that he fell in love with dancing when he first saw the film "Grease" as a 7-year-old. Growing up in Colombia, he would often imitate the dance style of Michael Jackson and groove along to Latin American music.
When he was 15, his mother jokingly told him that she wanted to go to the United States. Perez urged her to go but she was hesitant about leaving him in Colombia by himself. The two eventually reached a compromise: She would go move to the U.S. if Perez studied and supported himself.
The Zumba co-founder soon found a job dancing at a club. The owners of the club enjoyed his dancing so they gave him a business card and asked him to teach classes through an agency. Shortly after, he moved to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, where he began teaching aerobics classes.
One day, he arrived to his aerobics class and realized that he forgot the music that he normally used for the class. Luckily, Perez says, he would often record music from the radio onto a cassette tape.
"The only music that I had in my hands was a tape with differents kinds of music from the radio station," he says.
Perez took a deep breath, turned to his class and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, the class today is different. I prepared this class for a long time and I think that you are ready."
Though the students were very receptive, Perez, then 16, says he was extremely nervous. Still, he popped the cassette tape into the player and began to improvise.
"People started to smile. People [were] happy. People sweating," says Perez. The class was only about 20 minutes but by the end of it Perez says he knew that teaching fitness to dance music was his calling.
"I remember I said, 'Wow. I want to do this for the rest of my life. It's amazing,'" recalls Perez.
More from iCONIC: