Jazzercise brings to mind spandex. Not modern spandex, but ’80s spandex, the kind that came in bright colors and was cut high in the legs, exposing women’s hip bones. Sweat socks accompanied the outfit, and women thus attired gathered en masse to do aerobics. Jane Fonda comes to mind, and the Fondas of that period also jazzercised, wearing the era’s traditional spandex.
Jazzercise, which blends aerobics, yoga, pilates and kickboxing into a dance routine, was created 35 years ago by Judy Sheppard Missett, and it accompanied the aerobics craze of the ’80s.
My memories of that period are dim, but as a product of the ’80s, the impression of the women of that generation who jazzercised has been branded into my mind. At some point it became possible that I too would become the mother who started to jazzercise. But with the end of the ’80s came the end of what I knew of it. In came spinning, yoga and weightlifting. The fitness world had moved on, or so I thought. Apparently, jazzercise never went away. It continued on, overshadowed by the new fads that had captured America’s exercise-thirsty country. I only recently found out that it had survived, and I was shocked. An older friend told me she jazzercised. How had it survived? Faced with the onslaught of what I thought were cooler ways to work out I couldn’t imagine it holding its own. I suppose I underestimated its draw, probably because I’d seen it but never done it.
"We never really went away," says Rich Mundy, a Jazzercise instructor. I met him when I too donned spandex like the women before me, albeit at a younger age than I thought I would. I wanted to find out just what it was that had kept Jazzercise going past the end of the ’80s.
I set my water bottle and weights I had chosen near the wall and, following the lead of the other women there, set my mat in the middle of the studio. In front of me was a large platform, where Mundy would lead the class.
Women ages 30 and above settled themselves in the studio, along with the one male at that lesson. And then it began.
Mundy, who bore a resemblance to Will from "Will and Grace," entered the room, stepped up to the platform, and began the movements that had been choreographed to the music. All we had to do was follow. I had expected to feel awkward and uncoordinated. I had prepared myself for it. I lack dancing ability, and Jazzercise meant dance routine. The 60-minute class began with a warm up and moved on to an aerobic segment. After a few moments of figuring out how to follow the pattern of steps, jumps and leg kicks, I settled into something sort of like a groove. We did an aerobic cool-down segment to reduce our heart rates and then we got our weights and began a muscle-toning segment, finishing with stretches to bring our heart rates back to normal.
It passed by quickly, and although a little worn out, I didn’t feel brutally beaten.
This form of exercise that I had associated with the older women of the 80’s generation, that I had thought had ceased to exist, that I had placed in the realm of "lame ways to work out," was actually not so lame. The moves were carefully choreographed to the music, the studio was casually cool, the women were friendly and Mundy was the perfect instructor, fit, energetic and motivating. The older people were on to something here. Gone were the 80’s spandex and sweat socks. The music had moved with the times, and so had Jazzercise. It survived by working.
The brochure I picked up from the center read, "It’s all about fun," and you know what? It was.