Perez says most men feel strange at first because Zumba is essentially aerobics class, and 95% women. Things, however, eventually change. “You’re at the gym with 50 women and you’re the only man inside? You will be the king!” he says, laughing. “All the women love you because you have the personality to go in this class, and you make a lot of friends, and you will see how the concept changes. Because it’s a typical macho, no? ‘Oh no, I don’t do this. I don’t shake my booty.’ But, all the women love when the men move in the class.” They’re apparently already convinced of this in Mexico and China, where numbers of male participants are significantly higher.
The Zumba difference, Perez says, is perspective— shifting the focus away from sixpack abs and prestige training. “We try to teach instructors about the ego. The ego needs to go down.” Zumba, he explains, was never meant to be a tool for exercise addicts. Rather, it’s for the masses who drag themselves, rep by boring rep, through their gym routines. “Nobody in the fitness industry thinks about these people,” he says. “Always they think about the performance or the good bodies or the competition. I want to create something else.”
What Perez has created is a legitimate empire that keeps him travelling constantly. When he’s home in Miami, however—Zumba’s headquarters—he goes to the office every day and still teaches, three days a week, in the same dance studio he’s used for years. He also spends much of his time working out with personal trainer J Regal—under whose tutelage he’s bulked up considerably. Perez trains every day, beginning with 25 minutes of abs, then alternating focus on the various parts of his upper body (Zumba classes take care of his legs). He consumes a disciplined diet of lean meat, seafood, and vegetables, and loves chicken soup—so much so that some Zumba instructors will greet him at the airport with it.
Class is over, which means Perez’s staff is charged with funneling the camera-wielding, endorphin-spiked crowd into an orderly photo-op line. Perez has a smile for everyone. “I don’t want to try to lose my mind, like an idol or something like that,” he says. The idea is to preserve Zumba’s original spirit and integrity, even as the brand expands into new collections, videos, and tours. His latest obsession is music. Zumba has more than 300 original songs, with Perez heavily involved in their production. Wyclef and Pitbull have lent tracks and music videos— in which Perez appears—and both have performed alongside him at arena-sized Zumba classes.
Perez relishes all the facets of his booming business, often switching from marketing to teaching to producing in the course of a day. “Every day is different,” he says, “and I love it, because I feel like a warrior, like a gladiator. Every day I have a new challenge.”