What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I’ve been moving, hopping and shaking for the past 30 minutes, and my face is dripping with sweat. I’m already on my second bottle of water, but there’s no time for thirst when there is dancing to be done. There’s one more song to go and I’m ready for whatever is thrown at me.
When I hear Christina Aguilera’s voice singing the beginning of “Show Me How You Burlesque,” I know it’s in the bag, because I happen to be unstoppable when it comes to this routine. My performance today has already shown that my stellar moves are undeniable, and like the song says, “You can’t keep a good girl down.” Not this girl! As I lean my shoulders back and give a good shimmy, I know that I am, without a doubt, the most amazing dancer that has ever been.
It’s a good thing there are no mirrors in my Jazzercise class to show me if I’m wrong.
In a time when everyone seems to be doing things ironically to avoid embarrassment, I’m happy to say that I completely and genuinely love going to Jazzercise classes as my chosen form of exercise.
I didn’t decide to start going because I thought it would be funny. I didn’t have a desire to wear 1980s-style work out garb and dance as a way to avoid feeling vulnerable when doing something so completely ordinary as working out. No, I started going to Jazzercise for the same reason most people try a new type of exercise: I had gained weight and heard it was a really good workout.
I learned the hard way my freshman year of college that a very high-calorie diet comprised of mostly fast food paired with little to no exercise is the perfect recipe to gain the freshman 15. Who knew, right? I had been an athlete in high school and I wasn’t used to having to decide on my own when to work out or what to do when I did. What I thought was going to be awesome about college (No one telling me what and when to eat! No waking up for swim practice at 6am!) turned out to really take a toll on the ol’ physique.
I tried to monitor what I was eating a little better, but I am embarrassingly picky (whole other story), and just like eating the food I enjoy. Focusing on exercise was a better bet. I made some progress by running and using weight machines at the gym. Unfortunately for me, I am lazy and unmotivated at the gym. I don’t know about reps or muscle groups or any of that stuff, and I didn’t want to ask anyone how to use half the machines in the first place because I am awkward.
I also wasn’t super into working out at my huge college rec center with all these fit people who got the memo about staying in shape in college before I did. Or maybe they learned about it at some part of orientation that I skipped. Anyway, a good playlist was the only thing that kept me motivated to at least do cardio. The right assortment of songs could keep me from realizing how slow the minutes pass by when you’re running in place and put my focus on trying to discretely sing under my breath and dance on the treadmill.
Don’t you see? All I really want to do is DANCE!
When I came home the following summer, my mom started going to Jazzercise and was enjoying it, and thought that it would be a good fit for me. I was a little apprehensive. Would I be the youngest person there? Would all of the songs and moves be super old and corny? Was it an actual, legitimate work out for a college hottie like myself?
My mom assured me the workout was legit and told me to give it a chance. And she was right! I was pleasantly surprised by what I encountered. The class was comprised of (mostly) women, both older and younger than me, and everyone was very friendly and welcoming. I was put at ease by the fact that there were all types of people there because I felt like no one was going to be judging me. It was also the first time I had ever worked out and felt completely exhausted and like I had actually had fun.
A Jazzercise class is comprised of two portions. The first portion of the class is the dance-based cardio. It’s what really puts the Jazz in Jazzercise. I can do a mean grapevine and step touch (thanks, middle school show choir!), so I was sold on that part right away.
Even if you’re not the amazing dancer that I am (in my mind), it’s not hard to catch on. You’ve got your shimmies and hip shakes, but there’s more skipping, lunging, and kickboxing based moves than anything else. And if you aren’t up to jumping or skipping you don’t have to do it.
The instructor demonstrates what they call “low and high intensity” options for people to figure out what’s best for them. The most important part of the cardio is just to keep moving and to not take yourself too seriously so you can have fun. There are no mirrors in Jazzercise classes so it’s really easy to build up your confidence.
The second portion of the class is strength training, and it also takes place to music but is decidedly less jazzy. This is the part of the class that was really important for me since I’m a lazy person who wants to have muscle without having to really study how it happens.
We use hand weights to work out our arms and as resistance when doing other exercises, either standing up or on yoga mats, to target our abs, core, inner and outer thighs, and glutes. It’s a full body workout that you get in an hour without having to make any decision except to come to class. That works very well for me, because I’m not good at making decisions.
For full disclosure, there was one small detail of my first Jazzercise experience that I found off-putting (and you may too) but I have come to almost appreciate. I was getting the steps to “Footloose,” thinking “Seriously, could this class get any better? ‘Footloose’ is my JAM!”
Suddenly, the instructor interrupted my flow by shouting, “Now who’s ready to cut loose?!” Her question was answered with a resounding chorus of Jazzercisers hollering back “Whoooo!” with all of their might. I was startled because I came to Jazzercise to let my moves to the talking, and didn’t realize I was going to have to say anything.
I don’t take myself too seriously, but could I make myself shout in unison with a group of sweating, jumping, and jiving women? I quickly realized no one is keeping track of who is whooing back so I could take my time getting to that level of verbal class participation. I also learned that the real purpose of encouraging chorus-like responses is to make sure people are breathing. I could monitor my own breathing and allow the other ladies to have their group participation, no problem.
Plus, I try to at least smile at the instructor so she knows I’m listening and responding in some manner. I have mad respect for these people who not only do the same work out that is making gallons of sweat pour from my body, but do it while talking to us conversationally and keeping track of all the moves.
Depending on the Jazzercise center, a teacher switches up the songs for the class every week if not every day. Not only does that make them awesome, it also keeps the classes from getting boring and your muscles from getting used to doing the same exact thing all the time.
Once I got the hang of the class, I slowly started making my way up from the back row to the front so I could really show the world what I’ve got. When making that journey, though, it’s important to make sure you’re not standing in someone else’s favorite spot. No one is going to ask you to move, but you’ll definitely get some side eyes if you cross the wrong lady.
I stopped going to Jazzercise for a while because of a move and scheduling conflicts, but I got back in the game a few months ago and am going for it full throttle. I have noticed recently that my arm and leg muscles have become more toned and that I like the way my clothes are fitting me better.
Obviously, my stamina during 80’s/90’s dance night at my local bar is through the roof.