Culture: The Zumba Uprising
For certain members of the tony Sports Club/LA, a fitness instructor is the new cause célèbre.
ON SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 7, Super Bowl Sunday, a half-dozen women gathered at Café 47 in the Back Bay to take care of important business. As the football game blared from a nearby television, the group huddled around a laptop creating a PowerPoint presentation.
The document they produced was only 14 pages, but it was designed for maximum impact, loaded as it was with jargon (“added value”), buzzwords (“luxury redefined for the recession”), charts, analyses, and a blizzard of figures.
In fact, the presentation contained the type of information you might typically find in a marketing proposal or business plan, which made sense: One of the women is an attorney, and two are restaurateurs.
But the women were not planning to pitch investors on a new venture or woo a new client. They had assembled that day to make a case for something they care about deeply, something more essential to their daily existence than commerce: their fitness routine.
THE NEED FOR THE MEETING had become apparent three days before, when the group learned that Alexa Malzone, a 33-year-old instructor at the Sports Club/LA, the city’s most exclusive workout facility, was going to be leaving the gym.
Normally, the comings and goings of SCLA personnel elicit little, if any, reaction among the club’s members. But Malzone was different. For the past year and a half, she has taught an ultra-popular dance-workout class called Zumba, and her students were, to say the least, not happy to learn she was leaving. After Malzone broke the news during her regular Thursday-morning class, a group of distraught loyalists loitered outside the club’s fitness studio, discussing the move within earshot of the managers’ offices.
Malzone had, technically, resigned from SCLA, but her regulars had a hunch the decision wasn’t entirely her own. “I, along with 20 other members, figured out very quickly that there was something behind it — she had tears in her eyes,” says Melissa Gibeley Korcak, who claims she hasn’t missed a single one of Malzone’s Zumba classes in the past 18 months.
SCLA is not known as a breeding ground for grassy-knoll types, but now the place was buzzing with speculation: Was management pushing her out? Why weren’t they fighting to keep their best instructor? Some in the crowd were crying, others were simply complaining, albeit loudly. Several managers soon emerged from their offices to investigate, but that only seemed to make the situation worse. Eventually, a group of 40 or so people ended up shouting over one another — and at the club’s general manager, Kristin Miller McEachern. “People went a little crazy,” recalls Korcak, a former Boston magazine employee. Among a certain crowd, it was soon referred to as “The Riot at Sports Club/LA.”
Outside the hothouse atmosphere of the club, however, there was a simple question: What. The. Hell? Zumba is, after all, an exercise class. An amalgamation of samba, salsa, and dirty-dance moves, the workout has been quick to attract attention, mostly because it offers something rare among exercise regimens: It happens to be a lot of fun. But it is no longer a novelty, as gyms throughout the city (including those far less exclusive than SCLA) now offer classes.