Jazzercize. It evokes visions of the ’70s and ’80s, right? Leg warmers and those goofy thong leotards. Big hair. Too-thin older women engaging in outdated aerobic activity. Jane Fonda? These were my assumptions.
But then the Y closed down and I had to find a new place to do aerobics. A male friend recommended that I give jazzercise a try. I agreed, thinking at least it would be fun to workout together. I was hooked immediately. My friend only stayed with jazzercise for another year or so but I’ve been going for nearly ten.
What do I like about this maligned exercise? Well, I like the diversity and challenge of the workouts. A 60-minute routine includes about 40 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of weight work with abs and stretching. When I first attended I was one of those 30-something women who believed that the cardio part of the workout was all that counted. It was really about burning calories, relieving stress, and getting my heart rate up, right? I had better uses for my time then stretching and weight work. Then I turned 40 and it all changed. I began to read about how important it was for women to build muscle tone and stretch. And my arms were beginning to get saggy. So I started doing the stretching, abs, and weights. I could see the difference almost immediately. It felt terrific to move up to bigger weights and really challenge myself.
No class is ever the same. Each teacher chooses a different set of music to keep us motivated. Long before we heard about “muscle confusion” in the media, jazzercise integrated an ever-changing approach to workouts. One teacher might prefer songs that feature more high impact moves while another likes the songs with plenty of boxing action. We might see a workout with more challenging ab routines one day and plenty of arm work the next.
The jazzer-goddesses give us new songs every few months with fun new routines. I would never have heard of most popular artists were it not for jazzercise. Adele? Sure! Lady Antebellum? Of course! Even a little country with Blake Shelton and a little jazz with Wynton Marsalis.
I love the friends I’ve made at jazzercise. My fellow students are teachers, nurses, homemakers, students, business-owners, receptionists, salespeople, engineers, and lawyers. I usually attend the 5:30am class and this is a very tight group. In our willingness to rise before the sun, especially during those bitterly cold central Illinois mornings when we involuntarily inhale upon confronting the sub-zero temperatures, we have developed a special bond. We know how hard it is to listen to the alarm and push are achy sleep-deprived bodies out of a warm bed, away from our loved ones, and off into the cold. We are familiar with the resistance of our tired muscles as we force them to awaken. But we do it anyway because we know that it always makes us feel good and strong and energized for the day. We know that others will be there, too, groggy and sometimes grumpy. We have learned about each other’s families, jobs, struggles, and illnesses. We offer each other advice and we sometimes meet for coffee. At least once a year we don “real” clothes and gather at one of our instructor’s homes to laugh, drink, eat, and recognize that we are indeed friends.
I am inspired by the feeling of being in a room surrounded by other women who are all moving their bodies rhythmically – gaining strength and confidence together. It feels empowering. But I also recognize that some of us cannot help but compare ourselves to others – desiring her toned arms or her firm booty. I know that some of us are obsessed and are attempting to reach unreasonable goals that are encouraged by magazines and TV shows featuring super-thin women. I know this.
But the positive outweighs the negative. Jazzercise improves our self esteem. We do not have any mirrors in our studio. Instructors rarely discuss weight. Instead we focus on good health — strengthening our hearts and muscles – and good friendships — we genuinely care about each other. One of my jazzer-sisters has been struggling with cancer for several years. She is continuing treatment and will be for another year at least. She is strong and relentless and full of hope. When she misses a class we all worry. Another of my jazzer-sisters leaves class a few minutes early every day so she can go to her church for her morning prayers. She often prays for our safe travels or good health. She is the angel of our class. I could go on.
I often hear my friends talk about the latest fad in exercise. Yoga is very popular, as is zumba. But we’ve been doing the downward dog and those lively Latin moves for ages. As these trendy exercises rise and fall jazzercise remains here. And so do my jazzer-buddies.