By Janet Pocorobba
“Who’s got the best tushies in Barre?” yells Diane Hood, the petite, blonde, 54-year-old instructor and owner of the Barre Jazzercise Fitness Center, to her class of enthusiastic students.
“We do!” the students roar.
Jazzercise, a dance fitness activity created by former Chicago dance instructor Judy Sheppard Missett, turns 50 this year. The hybrid workout reached craze-levels of popularity in the 1970s and 80s and continues to attract a wide range of students of all genders, shapes, and sizes, from teenagers to octogenarians.
“I was the person who sat on the couch and watched a workout DVD,” said instructor Amy LaFrance, 31. “Now it’s a passion. A passion that gets you a bangin’ body.”
On January 1, LaFrance will take over from Hood as owner of the Barre Jazzercise studio. Classes feature 40 minutes of cardio followed by 20 minutes of strength training and combine moves from aerobics, kickboxing, Pilates, yoga, and, of course, jazz dance, including the step-ball-change, grapevine, and spread-finger “jazz hands,” often seen in ’70s GIFs, along with Spandex and leg warmers. Routines change every 10 weeks.
Jazzercisists can border on obsessive in their dedication to the workout, with one member claiming she Jazzercised right through pregnancy. “I stopped five days before delivery.”
“Jazzercise is my medicine,” said one member at the studio, quoting blood sugar and cholesterol numbers.
“It heals the body and soul,” said another.
“I once had to teach right after I found out that my teacher was diagnosed with cancer,” Hood says. “That was the hardest class I ever taught. But I did it.”
Missett was inspired to create the discipline while teaching dance classes in Chicago back in 1969. Students kept dropping out, Missett recalled, prompting her to ask, “What am I doing wrong?”
“We don’t want to become professional dancers,” they said. “We just want to look like we are.”
Today, the group fitness method boasts 8,500 studios in 25 countries.
Missett, now 75, still teaches three classes a week at her home studio in San Diego. Missett’s daughter runs the company, and her granddaughters keep her updated with dance moves and music.
Research has shown that exercising with others is effective, building camaraderie and self-esteem.
“People here form strong friendships,” said Hood of the tightly knit community. “The instructor’s goal is to make everyone feel successful. There are no mirrors. This is a judgment-free zone.”
Instructor Annette Pickel Boisvert concurred.
“I try to come five times a week,” Boisvert said. “No other workout I’ve ever done—and I’ve tried them all—has felt more like fun than work.”