But is Zumba really ‘hispanic culture?’ After all, it is a commercial fitness program. It was concocted by an individual and is internationally marketed under one brand. To teach it, you can pay $250 for an official one-day Zumba seminar and certification. You can’t do this anywhere else. You can take Zumba lessons for years and remain unable to tango. Zumba is itself an arbitrarily invented word.
Zumba is not a form of dance that evolved from decades of intermingling Afro-Caribbean cultures. It’s Alberto Perez’s individual innovation. It is thus easily concluded that Zumba is not “genuine” Hispanic culture.
Thankfully, it doesn’t claim to be! Zumba teachers don’t claim to teach you cumbia, mambo, or chachacha. They teach you cumbia, mambo, and chachacha inspired moves. Moves tailored to fitness. They’re teaching you something new, and so they’re using a new word for it: Zumba. This while still playing genuine tracks from the Hispanosphere.
I had a few years of formal training in salsa, merengue, tango, chachacha, flamenco, and sevillana. I sought these out, however, as forms of dance. I wasn’t looking for a formal fitness program, which Zumba provides to those who are. Zumba doesn't claim to be the traditional, beautiful dances it emulates. Zumba is something different.
Zumba may not be directly from an age of colonization. However, its lineage is reflective of the Hispanic-American experience. Hispanic-Americans are influenced by more than their inherited culture. They live their daily lives in an anglo-word that has only recently begun embracing outside influences. That is why Zumba is not traditional Hispanic culture. It's the product of the Hispanic experience in the United States.
This is unlike the appropriation of yoga in the United States. As yoga emerged in the Western hemisphere, it also evolved. Whereas Hispanic-American culture spawned an independent fitness movement, yoga itself was touted as a weight-loss solution and its Hindu spirituality was cast aside. Instead of encouraging further inquiry into Hindu spirituality and philosophy, Western yoga delivers a digested, whitewashed version of a beautiful Eastern tradition. Most Western “yoga” practitioners are unaware that they are only appreciating a fraction of a religious practice meant to include meditation, withdrawals, and observances. Instead, they’re contributing to a successful scheme that sells the foreign as “exotic.”
And that is no accident.