Pop your head into one of Magalhaes’s and Lins’s Chakaboom Fitness classes, for instance, and you’ll probably see upwards of 150 people. At their first class, Jan. 1, they expected 30 students, but 70 showed up. It’s kept growing ever since. “We knew it was going to happen, but not this fast,” says Magalhaes, who’s been in the fitness industry for more than 20 years.
StudioX has a similar story. When Martin Luna opened the business in Germantown last year, he had a space that could hold 35 people. So when twice that many regularly started coming, he improvised. Half of the people stayed inside, and the other half danced in the parking lot, while Luna and another instructor rotated between the two groups.
Six months ago, he partnered with Julie Hoang to open a larger space in Gaithersburg. But even with room for 100, they’ve already outgrown those digs. In a few weeks, they’ll head to yet another address, a former pet store, so they can boost class capacity to about 150 — and bring kicks and punches safely back into the choreography.
The only reason Adelicia Villagaray, who has a cult following in Baltimore, isn’t worried about having to change locations soon is that she’s offering her Zumba classes at an indoor soccer arena and a separate skating rink. So even with crowds in the 200s, there’s breathing room. “Once we hit 480 people, I’ll have to start thinking about what to do,” she says. I don’t think she’s kidding.
The Zumba Fitness company isn’t sure how common these regularly scheduled mega-classes are, but it encourages instructors to organize Zumbathon charity events that often draw crowds in the hundreds. No weights, mats or other accessories are required, so as long as there’s more room, you can add people, which is why Zumba is one of the few fitness formats that can feasibly be taught in such big numbers.
That leads to an economy of scale that the studios can pass on to clients. Instead of paying an initiation fee and a hefty monthly charge, as you would at a gym, each class with any of these instructors is only about $5. (It’s usually less if you buy a package.)
The crush of people boasts a certain appeal as well, particularly for a form of exercise that markets itself as a party. The women making their way into the Franconia Fire Station and paying their cover charge on a recent Thursday night almost look as if they’re lined up at a night club, only with very different attire. Lins takes to the stage and asks through his mike, “Hello, how are you? How’s everybody doing?” A roar comes back from the crowd.