Lifestyle & Culture

All That Jazzercise (Contest Over)

June 19, 2014

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Instructor Ashley McConnell, right, exercises with her mother, Carol, owner of a Jazzercise fitness center in Riverside, Calif., and her 87-year-old grandmother, Edie, a retired registered nurse. McConnell will be leading a ballet-focused workout Saturday, June 28, at the Jazzercise Live national convention in Washington.

Instructor Ashley McConnell, right, exercises with her mother, Carol, owner of a Jazzercise fitness center in Riverside, Calif., and her 87-year-old grandmother, Edie, a retired registered nurse. McConnell will be leading a ballet-focused workout Saturday, June 28, at the Jazzercise Live national convention in Washington.

My Little Bird is giving away two free tickets ($199 value) to Jazzercise’s annual national convention June 27-28 in D.C.  Sign up for our e-mail newsletter and/or comment on your favorite workout to be entered to win. 

MY MOM AND DAD were big-time jitterbuggers back in the 1940s. So you think I can dance? Nope, not until I hit my 40s, anyway.

I’d always envied those who could shake their hips and shimmy their shoulders with rhythm and grace. I got a taste of how fancy footsteps could feel through a flirtation with dance aerobics, and soon those classes took precedence over strength work at the local gym. When I had to change my fitness routine, John Riggins’s famous line kept ringing in my head: “C’mon, loosen up, baby.”

Then something called Jazzercise beckoned.

I knew it by its reputation as a long-standing fitness program popularized in the 1970s that had grown into a national franchise. Today, the business founded by the still-sleek and ramrod-straight Judi Sheppard Missett, now 70, has a worldwide network of 7,800 instructors teaching more than 32,000 classes weekly. Many of those instructors and students will descend on Washington June 27-28 for Jazzercise’s annual national convention, which features live taping of new class choreography, specialty group classes and a shopping expo. More than 1,600 fitness enthusiasts from 14 countries have registered.

At my inaugural class in 1999, a few neighbors and fellow moms welcomed me as I tried to find an inconspicuous spot in the large open room at Mount Vernon Jazzercise Center in Alexandria. Like almost every Jazzercise class I’ve attended since (and I’ve worked out at more than a dozen centers in five states), participants run the gamut in age, weight and body shape. Some are in knee braces; some move like ringers from CityDance. At Mount Vernon, more than a few regulars are men. No dress code exists, and there wasn’t a leg-warmer or any Spandex tights in sight.

Every class begins with a warm-up song (in current rotation is Pharrell’s “Brand New,” with Justin Timberlake), an easy routine in which you work your way through each body part, and end with stretches. Instructors cue students on each song’s choreographed steps, and demonstrate both high- and low-intensity variations of the steps. Looking around the room, it’s clear that everyone is going at their own pace, following their own inner guru. The instructor’s enthusiasm is contagious, and she encourages you to reach higher and squat lower, but don’t forget to breathe.

What happened next is what sold me on Jazzercise. Sometimes students joined instructor Mindy LaBruno on the stage, and for one particular chest-popping number, a short, full-figured, gray-haired woman hopped up and danced as if no one were watching. A big smile plastered her face. I was hooked.

The standard Jazzercise class is about 40 minutes of aerobic dance, followed by 20 minutes of core work, usually starting with weight-lifting and leg lifts, and finishing with crunches and floor work. In addition to the dance moves (a how-to of the basic steps is at http://www.jazzercise.com/about/learn-the-moves), each set of routines will mix it up with kickboxing, Pilates planks and yoga poses. My current center challenges your core and balance with those giant exercise balls; most sites provide weights and resistance tubes. Depending on the center, a variety of classes are offered, from a full hour of strength-focused body-sculpting to a cardio-centric circuit class; some offer lite versions. Every 10 weeks Jazzercise introduces a new set of choreography set to the latest music to keep workouts fresh and fun.

If that’s not enough, there are add-ons such as a rigorous Ballet Body series a few years back (I noted an immediate improvement in balance after that one) and a recent 90-minute power workout designed to get you swimsuit ready. LaBruno, who is certified as a personal trainer, teaches Personal Touch in which she tortur–I mean challenges–small groups with kettle bells, bosu balls and other devices. Arlington Jazzercise Center last year held a standing-room-only class with Tim Roberts, a national Jazzercise choreographer (“Street Jazz” DVD) and University of Maryland dance team coach, learning new stutter steps and laughing at failed attempts at Roberts’s signature snakelike body roll. Roberts’s Metro Mix hour at the Live event will be a flash mob of his fans.

“With Jazzercise you can burn up to 600 calories in one 60-minute cardio and strength fitness class,” says Renee McDonald, an instructor with Arlington Jazzercise Center. “Customers come for the fun, but they stay because of the total body workout, plus a sense of community and support.”

The larger centers also give you a variety of instructors. Some are no-nonsense drill sergeants, others have a ballet dancer’s grace; all are excellent motivators and safety-conscious. My favorite ones freely share their love for the music, whether it’s occasionally singing (or shouting) along, or adding some dance pop. And in the case of Renee, you get the added benefit of stand-up comedy.

Only Renee could use the Crazy Eyes TV character as a hip-hop motivational device: “No moving like it’s ‘Downton Abbey’ out there … knees up! … All right, now you’re looking like the ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Christmas pageant!”

Fifteen years in, I’ve toned up, slimmed down and dropped from a size 16 to a 12–and stayed there. My stamina’s improved and, in the process, I’ve made some great friends. I’ve even taken it on the road; the dance is consistent throughout the country. The nice folks at Louisville East Fitness Center in my old Kentucky hometown admit me for free (many centers will honor an exchange if you’re a regular), and on vacation in Hilton Head, the women were quick with sunburn remedies when I showed up for my second class with a beet-red face.

Most of all, I loosened up, baby. When Shakira starts up, the backbone slips and the hips sway. I’m lost in the music and the beat, and the sweat? Well, as Robert Randolph sings on one of my favorite tunes, “When the music gets down in your soul … it don’t matter.”

 –-Kay Coyte

MyLittleBird readers can check out the Jazzercize Live conference online at www.jazzercise.com/livestream. It starts at approximately 5:30 pm Friday June 27, with a “welcome” “DC Dance Party.” The live taping of new routines, with founder Judi Sheppard Missett, starts at 9 am Saturday June 28 and runs through 4 pm that day.



22 thoughts on “All That Jazzercise (Contest Over)

  1. yonie says:

    Love Jazzercise & love the article!!!

  2. Jeanne says:

    Fantastic article! I am a regular at Jazzercise and really love it. It is always changing and provides a challenge at all levels of fitness. Great music, great people, great workout!

  3. Susan Rose says:

    I have been taking Jazzercise classes for many years and, Kay, your description of the 2014 workout is perfect. What used to be a moderately strenuous hour of dance routines is now an intense combination of aerobics and strength training.
    All of the instructors are amazing, but, so true about Renee’s ever-hilarious stand-up motivation!

  4. Annie Tran says:

    I love dance exercise, it makes it more fun and time flies by so quick. I would love to try Jazzercise!! Great article!

  5. Anya says:

    Jazzercise was good for me and my baby as we danced together during my pregnancy, woot, woot!!! Jazzercise Rocks!!!!

  6. Elise Carbonaro says:

    A life long dancer, I started Jazzercise two years ago this month after buying a Groupon deal! My favorite workout is Fusion – I’ve never worked harder in a Jazzercise class!

    p.s. My Bethesda Jazzercise instructor and friends let me know about the ticket giveaway – fingers crossed!

  7. Kelli says:

    I recently just went back to Jazzercise and I love it! I realized how much I missed it. The best part for me is that it feels like a family and it includes cardio, strength and stretching.

  8. Tara inhofe says:

    Love Jazzercise! Love my students! Awesome times with awesome ladies! Fun all over workout that all ages and all fitness levels can enjoy!

  9. ChrisB says:

    I joined Jazzercise just last year and love it! I’ve lost a few pounds, went down a size and feel so much more toned. I’ve talked several of my friends into joining, too! My Jazzercise center is in a small town in Nebraska and we have the best instructors! They make exercising so fun! Coincidentaly, I’m going to be in D.C. this next week visiting family, sure wish I could attend Jazzercise Live:).

  10. Jessica Cole says:

    Love Jazzercise!!! I’m in the best shape of my life since I started 5 years ago! Very fun and super effective.

  11. Mimi F says:

    great article! I’ve jazzercised all over the country…currently in SoCal but when I’m in DC I go to the Arlington Center. Renee is for sure a hoot! She and the other instructors there are all great…

  12. Marissa says:

    I love Jazzercise. I have been doing it for almost a year now and have even become a class manager so that I am “accountable” for being to class every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and occasional Tuesday, for fun!

  13. Kay C says:

    A quick link for finding a class near you: http://www.jazzercise.com/findaclass/

  14. Lisa Vanasse says:

    Love Jazzercise!!! I went to the event when it was in Baltimore and had a blast (so bummed I am missing it this year). For all that are going this year, have fun!!!!!

  15. Jan Walker says:

    Informational and inspirational, love this article on one of my favorite things in the whole wide world…Jazzercise! Thanks Kay and thank you Jazzercise!

  16. Teresa Wagstaff says:

    Love this! Thank you for such a supportive and positive article on Jazzercise! Glad to hear you have found a passion for it, and I hope it leads to others finding us too! I am a Jazzercise Instructor of 12 years, and own two class locations in the West Houston and Katy, TX area. Jazzercise is a wonderful program that fits every”body” and it’s a workout that you will enjoy, so you will stick with it! Go to http://www.jazzercise.com and find a class near you today!

  17. Sara says:

    Great article! I just became an instructor and love dancing with all the students!

  18. Jan says:

    Jazzercise is a fantastic program and does welcome and accommodate for all levels of fitness. I love it!

  19. Carol says:

    Love dancing for workouts
    Makes it more fun!

  20. Cindy Siler says:

    Love Jazzercise!

  21. Betsy Dean says:

    Great Article! As a Jazzercise Instructor of 5 years, I believe Kay did a great job at describing what Jazzercise is all about…Fun, Fitness, and Friends! Come check out local classes wherever you may live, and you’ll find a current workout that challenges you and leaves you sweaty and smiling.

    1. Kay C says:

      Thanks, Betsy. I’d hoped to capture that Jazzercise is both consistent across the country, but each center, and even instructor, has its own personality. And there’s no judgment if you’re only at a low-impact level. We all gotta start somewhere!

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