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In Zumba exercise classes, it's all about feeling the music.

Latin rhythms pulse from Pittsburgh's Club One aerobics studio, where Maria McCalister leads a Zumba class packed with the glistening bodies of nearly 50 people seeking to swivel, pivot, and shake their way to fitness.

McCalister coaches her students to feel the music, be it salsa, meringue, or flamenco. "I don't talk much," she says. "I let the music move them and inspire them."

Zumba, an aerobic dance class set to South American beats, is hot in health clubs and exercise studios from Miami to Los Angeles and everywhere in between.

"Latin music just tends to make you feel happy and good," says McCalister, 53. "I can have the bluest day, be depressed, hormones ranging, whatever, and get in front of that class, turn on the music and I recharge my life, my soul."

Adds McCalister: "When I put on Traigo Una Pena, a cha cha, my class just screams. They're somewhere else; they're not in Pittsburgh when they take a Zumba class."

That's exactly what creators were aiming for when they released Zumba (Spanish slang for buzz like a bee or move fast) to the world.

"We say ditch the workout; join the party," says Zumba co-founder and CEO, Alberto Perlman of Hollywood, Fla.

The Growth of Zumba

Zumba was born from an accident. Colombia-born Alberto "Beto" Perez was teaching an aerobics class in his native Cali in 1986 and discovered he had forgotten his usual music. So he dug through his bag of tapes and grabbed a mix of salsa and meringue music he personally liked to dance to.

"I just said, 'Class today is different,'" says Perez, 37, who was also a dance instructor. "Everybody loved it."

Zumba's success grew steadily after Perez moved first to Bogota, Colombia and later to Miami. In 1999, Perlman and entrepreneur Alberto Aghion approached Perez about taking Zumba to the mass market. The three began selling DVDs via infomercial in 2002 and were very successful, but enthusiasts demanded more.

"The crazy thing was we were getting all these people from all around the country who bought these videos and wanted to teach it," says Perlman.

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