Say "Jazzercise," and some might think of the '80s and early '90s: leg warmers, spiky bangs held back by headbands and women "getting physical...

Share story

Say “Jazzercise,” and some might think of the ’80s and early ’90s: leg warmers, spiky bangs held back by headbands and women “getting physical.”

But lots of other people know better.

Jazzercise is both older than you might think — Judi Sheppard Missett created it in 1969 in California — and younger, in a way.

It has evolved over the years into a workout that incorporates kickboxing, yoga and Pilates, as well as weights. As a result, there are more Jazzercise students now than ever.

Oh, the other thing about Jazzercise? For many people, it’s a veritable obsession.

Laura Hogan, of Lakewood, Ohio, has been an instructor for 13 years, having taken classes for nine years before that. Her passion for Jazzercise is palpable, not just when she’s teaching the class, but also when she talks about it.

“This is what happens,” says Hogan. “People try it, then they get hooked. Pretty soon they get a sense of euphoria when they’re doing it.”

And if the euphoria fades a bit with time, by then people have found friendships among fellow Jazzercisers that keep them coming back.

Pump up the program

That phenomenon seems to be happening around the world. Officials at Jazzercise Inc. in Carlsbad, Calif., say they just finished the best year in the company’s 38-year history, with revenues exceeding $85 million. There are about 7,200 instructors teaching 32,000 classes each week in all 50 states and 31 other countries.

In Hogan’s class, you can’t help but watch Virginia Conright dance. It’s not just because she’s front and center, which helps the people behind her with their steps.

This 59-year-old is as buff and toned as someone who’s 29. She dances each step with precision, her biceps, triceps and calf muscles popping with exertion.

Her husband, Bruce, 64, dances too. The Ohio couple have been staunch Jazzercisers since January 1991, when both started taking classes at NASA, where they worked. Each of them attends about eight or nine classes a week, usually together.

“I really appreciate the flexibility and strength I get from this,” says Bruce. “Plus, it exposes me to music that’s not on my radio.”

Bruce has Type 1 diabetes, and the workouts help keep his blood sugar in check.

Universal appeal

They also like the way they can go to any class and know what they’re doing.

“It’s great, because you can walk into a class in California, and you know the steps,” says Virginia.

All instructors receive new music and choreographed routines every 10 weeks. So students can go to classes in Cleveland or San Diego, and they won’t miss a step.

Recent classes have featured songs you can’t help but dance to: J.Lo (“Do It Well”), Christina Aguilera (“Candyman”), Rihanna (“Shut Up and Drive,”) and the Cheetah Girls (“The Party’s Just Begun.”)

Once in a while, an oldie-but-goodie Jazzercise dance will get thrown in. Say, Billy Idol’s “Mony, Mony” or a Pat Benatar tune (no headband necessary). Norah Jones’ “Not Too Late” and “Thinking About You” are great for floor work and weights or for cooling down.

“I think it’s kind of addictive,” says Nancy Stoessner, 36, who continued with Jazzercise up till four days before she gave birth and was at her pre-baby weight within a couple of months. “When you don’t come for a few days, you really, really miss it, and when you come back, after any class, you leave with a better attitude.”

Getting the moves

And the dance steps? They can be picked up in a couple of sessions. (The Web site explains them in detail. A list of classes in your area is available there, too.) But the choreography is interesting enough for someone like Jocelyn Piskach, who was a dance major in college for a time.

Relevé, plié, chassé; step-ball-change, shimmy — the lingo is dance, but everyone gets it after a while.

Plus, there’s Hogan onstage, wearing a Madonnalike-headset, leading the way.

“Are you feeling it?” she asks. “Say it!” Then, “Squeeze your shoulder blades!” Or “Push it out!”

Instructors, who must be certified by Jazzercise, have gone through a training curriculum that covers anatomy and physiology, dance technique and injury prevention. They also have to try out by performing several Jazzercise routines. Then there’s an annual follow-up, during which their classes and teaching are monitored.