Zumba Is A Hit, But Is It Latin? The high-energy dance classes are all the rage, but some critics are taking issue with the fitness craze being labeled as Latin dance. Authentic or not, with 12 million people dancing off the pounds, Zumba business is booming.

Zumba Is A Hit, But Is It Latin?

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If you're the kind of person who goes to the gym you may have seen classes there for Zumba. It's not just a fitness craze. It's also an international business. You can buy Zumba CDs, a Zumba video game and Zumba clothes. For a lot of students, it's their first taste of Latin music and dance steps.

But Yowei Shaw reports that some Latin dancers are trying to make more of a distinction between their art and what happens in a Zumba class.


YOWEI SHAW, BYLINE: Lines of women in spandex flail around as the ground vibrates with the pulse of the music.


SHAW: There's body rolling, fist pumping, shimmying and yes, even some full-on booty shaking. Damarus Diaz was lip-syncing the whole time. After class, she told me that she's Puerto Rican.

DAMARUS DIAZ: I love that all these different cultures are embracing the Latin culture now because of Zumba. You'll see people mouthing the words to a song and afterwards they'll come to me and they're like, Damarus, what does that mean? And I'll laugh. And I'll say but you were singing the song.

SHAW: The story of Zumba begins with an accident that seems too good to be true. Back in the '90s in Colombia, Alberto Perez was teaching an aerobics class and he forgot his regular music. So he reached into his backpack and pulled out tapes of salsa and merengue.


SHAW: Fast forward to today, and Zumba has certified over a quarter-million instructors. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Zumba Fitness cannot verify this number of instructors. Zumba has certified instructors in more than 125 countries.]

Each class uses salsa, cumbia, bachata and other Latin and international rhythms. For some students, it's their introduction to Latin music.

Marianne Martino-Giosa straddles both the Zumba and Latin dance worlds.

MARIANNE MARTINO-GIOSA: Do they cross? Yes. Do we see clients that go from one class to the other? Absolutely.

SHAW: Giosa is a semi-professional salsa dancer and teaches 19 Zumba classes a week in the Philadelphia area. She's got the six-pack to prove it. She says there are clear differences between the two. Like in Zumba, you start a salsa step on both the left and right foot. But in salsa...

MARTINO-GIOSA: It's a no-no to take that step on the right or break to the right in a salsa class. It's just not proper technique. With it being an exercise program in Zumba, obviously we have to exercise both legs.

SHAW: But Giosa says there's still disagreement over whether Zumba is really Latin dance.


MARTINO-GIOSA: The salseros will tell you that Zumba is not Latin dancing. But anybody who takes Zumba does feel that it's part of Latin dancing, because technically we are Latin dancing.

JOSE MALDONADO: They are vaguely misinformed.

SHAW: Jose Maldonado teaches Latin dance at La Luna, the same studio where Giosa leads Zumba classes.

MALDONADO: One of my students said, I took Zumba. I think I know how to salsa dance. I said, fine, strut your stuff. Let's see what you have. They couldn't salsa.

SHAW: Perhaps, what happened in yoga might be happening with Zumba and Latin dance.


SHAW: Joan White has taught the classical style of Iyengar yoga for almost 40 years. For her, yoga is a spiritual practice. White says it's not just physical fitness.

JOAN WHITE: I find it extremely sad. It's like here is this wonderful tradition that comes from India. And now it's being completely overrun by people who have no idea what yoga is.

SHAW: Authentic or not, Zumba has been good business for Latin dance. At La Luna, Zumba brings in as many if not more students a month as the rest of the studio's dance classes.


SHAW: World-ranked salsa dancer Darlin Garcia hopes to cash in on Zumba's popularity, as well. His studio, Art in Motion, recently began offering Zumba classes, even though he still makes fun of it.

DARLIN GARCIA: You're taking a salsa step and in the middle of it, you jump into like a jumping jack thing. I mean when you're mixing the two, that's just funny, you know.


SHAW: Zumba may be losing some of its Latin-inspired flavor. The company has recently expanded to include more international rhythms from West Coast swing and belly dance to bhangra and Bollywood. For NPR News, I'm Yowei Shaw.

For NPR News, I'm Yowei Shaw.

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