Critical World
Thinking Globalization Through Popular Culture

Hispanic-Americans’ Hips Reclaim Zumba

by Lesley N. Braun

Zumba, a brand of dancercise characterized by energetic hip-thrusting, is now beginning to catch on among Hispanic-Americans—which is ironic, since it was invented in the 1990s by Alberto Perez, a fitness instructor in Colombia. Zumba quickly spread throughout the United States, particularly among white audiences, who were receptive to its novelty and exoticism.

With its tag line “Party yourself into shape,” Zumba has exploded in popularity in North America and across the world in a few short years. Now it is taught by over 100,000 instructors in more than a hundred countries worldwide. In particular, all over California, you can find middle-aged white women in designer spandex grinding their hips in gyms to the latest Reggaeton and Cumbia tracks. Zumba locations are mushrooming all over Los Angeles and can now be found in neighborhoods where studios sometimes share spaces with local bodegas selling cigarettes and beer.

In many Hispanic communities, personal fitness is not widespread, but this is changing. With an increase in obesity, diabetes, stress, and depression, Hispanics are recognizing the importance of exercise. With classes costing only $3, studios like Metro Studio in Highland Park are promoting accessible fitness to Hispanic-Americans. Iris, one of Metro Studio’s instructors, says, “Exercise is culturally foreign to many Latinos, but with a routine that incorporates our own music and many of the dance steps we grew up with, it can change lives.”


Iris, Zumba instructor at a Los Angeles Studio

Since many lyrics used in Zumba classes are in Spanish and performed by Latin artists, the music and choreography touch the Hispanic community on an intimate level. Zumba is accessible because it requires no special technique or equipment and is unintimidating to anyone new to exercise but not so new to dance.


See videos below for examples of Zumba all over the world


Zumba Azteca

Zumba Azteca is a short video by Lesley Braun, featuring Iris, a Zumba instructor from Mexico. She describes herself as an embodiment of an Aztec warrior princess. Articulating each beat with hip thrusts to Tribal, a Mexican musical genre, she keeps her gaze fixed on her reflection in the mirror. Iris encourages her students (most of whom are middle-aged Latina women) to shout during her one-hour classes. This, she says, not only promotes breathing, but can also also bring about a kind of catharsis.

Music played during Zumba classes varies extensively depending on the instructor’s tastes. For example, Reggaeton, Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue, Bachata, Samba, Afro-fusion, Hip-Hop are  few musical genres deployed in Zumba choreographies.


Lesley N. Braun is a Montreal is Ph.D. candidate at Université de Montréal in the department of Anthropology. Her research focuses on the ways in which dance in its embodied and symbolic forms participates in the constitution of an urban experience. Most recently, she explored the dance of popular concert dancers in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo where she lived for a year. Braun is recipient of the Joseph-Armand Bombardier award, granted by the Canadian Humanities and Social Science Research Council.