Zumba: Cult or Most Engaging Product Ever

For some reason this is hard to admit. I’ve started going to some Zumba classes.  I heard the hype, but really didn’t think too much about it.  And frankly, going to the gym and seeing a room full of participants in neon parachute-y pants, bracelets with bells on them and zippered hoodies didn’t seem quite my speed.

Then I went to a class.  And I really liked it.  And there were literally about 110 people in the class.  And I was scratching my head about it.

There was some sort of fine line between cult and engagement powerhouse that really was intriguing.  So much so I wanted to write about it.  And coincidentally, as I started writing the piece, saw that Zumba was penned the “Company of the Year” by Inc. Magazine.

So why should HR study Zumba to create corporate engagement strategies?  What does Zumba do right?  As a class attendee here is what I gleaned:

  •  Zumba capitalized on great timing.  Zumba came along when gym/aerobics classes reached the peak of BORING.  Typical aerobics classes had branding bite in the 80’s with the Jane Fonda workout.  And then the excitement stopped.  People continued to go because it was the only thing offered.

DOESN’T THAT SOUND LIKE HR?  Employees endure “police-y” HR practices because in many companies it is the only type of HR offered.  If you want to start creating and engagement culture, the timing is right, right-now.

  •  Zumba keeps things simple.  It is a class that anyone can take.  And since anyone can take it, it is engaging as hell.  It is not overly difficult and discriminates against no one:  no age level, fitness level, or ethnic group.

If you are going to create an engagement culture at work, keep your program simple, accessible and accomm

odating.   Communications can start simple. A simple “welcome” call to new hires from a member of your HR team is about as simple as it gets.  And don’t tell me your company is too big to do that.  That’s bull.

  • Zumba transports people to new worlds.  Work with me on this.  Zumba concept:  create simple dance steps to good, international music including Latin, Spanish, African, etc.  Since the steps are simplified, more brain-power is available to take in the music; music that allows you to imagine you are in different cultures.  This does make the experience much more transformative than just doing sashay’s, lunges or box-steps.

A good engagement culture at work will do the same thing by making all employees work-experiences transformative.  HR’s job is to clear away the noise so employees have more brain-power to focus on impactful work.  Sometimes simplifying does mean creating a process as well… process is not all bad if it clears away noise.

  • Zumba creates on environment of experimentation.  Simply put, they make you feel comfortable shaking your hips like a belly-dancer.  For the love of God, I don't know how but they do.  They get people to try new things.  What a boon for an HR pro to get team to feel so supported they aren't afraid to try new things.
  •  Zumba leaders have full buy-in.  I mean to the point of being a tad annoying.  But many great leaders believe no communication is truly heard until it gets annoying. Not a bad thing.
  • Zumba works.  People are getting fit and Zumba is making gobs of money.  They have mastered cultivating a repeat customer.  In HR terms that is a win-win in any organization.

I do not think I will ever buy Zumba clothes or holler “wooo” in the class.  But I am engaged.  And I'll go back.  Formula worked.


FOT Background Check

Dawn Burke
Dawn Burke is an HR Leader, speaker and writer, specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture.  Her HR career has spanned the last 20 years, most recently serving as VP of People for Birmingham, Alabama's award-winning technology company, Daxko. That’s right – the very DAXKO that our very own KD is an alum of, because there are only so many people in the big B’ham who are worthy of a VP of People title. A true Generalist, she’s done a little bit of everything, but recruiting and training is where she gets her mojo. She’s based in the good ol' blogging capitol of the south, Birmingham, Alabama, where you can frequently find her listening to the Beatles and REM, watching Breaking Bad reruns (and Snapped and Dateline), enjoying serious amounts of coffee (and cheese, but not together!), dreaming of where she will travel next, and wondering how in the world this theatre grad ever got into football or HR…Check out her blog at dawnhburke.com or talk to Dawn via emailLinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter


  1. Josh Tolan says:

    Interesting post! HR can truly take a few lessons from Zumba when it comes to branding. Zumba has managed to brand itself as a workout that is inclusive, exciting, and fun. HR should work as hard to make it easier and more enjoyable for great candidates to apply for open positions. This might be as simple as engaging more personally with candidates or embracing exciting new technology like video interviews. Whatever the tactic, it’s clear HR can learn a thing or two from the Zumba phenomenon.

  2. Agnes says:

    I like the post and the similarities between Zumba and HR policies. Let me add few comments. I attended zumba classes for a year and a half. I started because one of my colleagues pushed me to try it. The more classes I attended the more engaged I became. The reason? First, as I learnt the choreographies, I started to feel more confident. Second, I had an awesome instructor, which was decisive in our personal zumba experience. Noone could replace her enthusiasm after she left. I think HR pros could learn from her.

  3. Dawn Burke says:

    Thanks for the comments…

    It is a good point that the one awesome instructor made the most difference. Collective management is fine, but it is the personal engagement that usually is the most impactful.

Comments are now closed for this article.

Contact Us | Hire FOT to Speak | About FOT