Jazzercise 2.0: Retro workout gets a makeover, makes a major comeback

Missett's original workout album (via carrieshare.com)

"Find your pelvis, ladies. I've know you've got one and it's okay to move it for heaven's sake!"

This was the kind of instruction founder Judi Sheppard Missett would provide via Beta Max for thousands of women in the early '80s. And you wonder why Jazzercise was so popular?

Misset, Jazzercise's CEO and Founder, dreamed up the aerobic formula--incredibly simple dance moves to original versions of popular music--from the basement of a Chicago dance studio back in 1969. By the mid '80s, you couldn't hear the "Theme Song from Arthur" without imagining Missett doing a plié in blue stirrup tights. Well, some people couldn't.

But somewhere around the turn of the century, Jazzercise the workout became Jazzercise the punch line, one of a sack of comic relics from bygone eras of fitness along with Jell-O salads and Thighmasters.

But you know what aerobics instructors say: Own it, Ladies.

In the past few years, Jazzercise has made a comeback, capitalizing on the name recognition while rebranding their image for a modern audience. There was the updated workout DVDs, the new partnership with "Dancing with the Stars'" Cheryl Burke, the cheeky homage from Gwyneth Paltrow on " Glee," and even the release of a Jazzercise mobile app for the millennials. On December 30, A&E's competition show "Be the Boss" will devote an entire episode to two Jazzercise instructors competing for a studio.

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The exposure has already paid off. By 2011, the company earned annual revenue of $97 million. Today there are 32,000 classes throughout the country, and a new generation of fans, 15 million strong. According to Missett, the exercise regimen never went away, but the past few years have seen a particular renewed interest.

"Since Jazzercise is a dance based program, we partially contribute increased interest to dance itself making a comeback due to popular dance-related primetime shows," Missett tells Yahoo! Shine. "One of the reasons we've been around so long is because we do not subscribe to every trend and gimmick that comes around but rather we strive to improve on the basic program while staying true to who we are."

A new Jazzercise workout led by Missett's daughter. (via Jazzercise.com)

At the core of the Jazzercise workout is the music, which certified instructors can license for class purposes.

The songs have changed (think Pitbull's fist-pumping "Let's Get This Party Started" and Psy's "Gangham Style" rather than Christopher Cross). The gist, however, is the same: dance like nobody's watching because nobody is. Jazzercise studios are usually held in a mirror-less studio, as per Missett's mandate.

"If there are mirrors, you tend to compare yourself to the instructor or other people in the class instead of being in the moment and enjoying yourself," Missett's daughter Shanna Missett Nelson explained in an interview with SpryLiving.com.

Nelson is now president of the company--and sometime DVD instructor--overseeing over 7,000 franchises around the world. (This year, Entrepreneur Magazine ranked Jazzercise as #27 on their list of 500 Best franchises.)

Missett, who looks amazing at 69, stills choreographs most of the new dances, expanding her mellow disco moves to incorporate, resistance training, Pilates, Yoga, Latin dancing, kickboxing and even Burlesque.

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The new Jazzercise is punchier, faster, and more integrative as a workout. In an hour class you can burn anywhere form 400-600 calories depending on your skill level. Classes are taught around the country, from Cleveland to Baltimore, and from Santa Cruz to Austin. The three new DVDs (and counting) features triple the amount of dancers, and there are no elephants playfully folding their trunks in the background (yes, that really happened.)

In contrast Missett's old school workouts --lots of moderate bouncing in place to the beat-- reflect a time when time workouts were to be enjoyed rather than maximized.

In vintage clips from her '80s videos, now scattered throughout YouTube, Missett's instruction sounds more like a line from a Grace Jones song, than an actual command.

"Don't you know how to get lose by now? I should think you would," Missett says as she tilts her feathered hair to the side. Back then; she had a George Hamilton grade tan, and a yellow gold medallion two shades lighter that bounced to the beat a few inches from her aqua striped-leotard. Extra arched at the thighs.

Today it's black leggings and a burgundy tank top for Missett's daughter and her back-up dancers during a recent QVC appearance.

Paltrow gets her Jazz hands on in an episode of

What hasn't changed is the smile, once so big you'd think Missett was checking an invisible mirror for poppy seeds. That wasn't unique for instructors back in the 80's--they played encouraging best friends, rather than boot camp drill sergeants of modern gyms.

Today's Jazzercise classes, which range from $2 a pop to $60 monthly depending on the instructor, incorporate that same positive principle.

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"It's more than just an exercise program," Maryland-based Jazzercise-certified instructor Sandy O'Donnell recently told the Baltimore Sun. "It's a support group, too."

To be fair, O'Donnell's support group didn't come cheap. Franchise start-up costs for instructors and fees can range from almost $3,000 to $76,000 depending on your investment in studio space. There's also the three-day workshop, including a written exam and a performance-based test measuring your knowledge of Jazzercises's patented moves.

The pay-off is in loyal built-in fan-base, and better yet, the chance to pick the next song.

I'll just leave this suggestion for the DJ here:




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