Before there was SoulCycle or Crossfit or Barry's Bootcamp, there was Jazzercise. Instead of leotards and ‘80s jams, think of Jazzercise as the original boutique fitness class.
That’s how Shanna Nelson, the president of Jazzercise (and the daughter of Jazzercise founder Judi Shepherd Missett) sees the company’s history. “Everything that you see today, from instructors wearing microphones to instructors getting certified, Jazzercise did first. We've been around for a long, long time. It's a liability and an asset for us,” she tells The Lookbook.
So Jazzercise is changing with the times: a rebrand in 2015 added a snazzier logo and new names to its 12 classes that include elements of everything from strength training to HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Jazzercise is rooted in dance — instructors call out “plie” and “chasse” during cardio — but even the standard Dance Mixx class includes a full-body workout with barbell exercises and crunches.
The company's also going after a new, very young demographic. This year, it launched a program called GirlForce, offering completely free classes to young women ages 16 to 21 throughout 2017. This Saturday is Jazzercise's “Day of GirlForce” nationwide event, offering a free special workout set to a playlist with Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, and Meghan Trainor. It will even have branded SnapChat filters; that's how far Jazzercise will go to bring in teens. The Lookbook chatted with Jazzercise President Shanna about why Jazzercise has endured for 48 years and its current challenge to hook a new generation.
What are people most surprised about when they try a class?
They're most surprised how challenging a workout it is. They're also surprised that our music is hip and current. For some reason, I guess because we've been around for a long time, they think that we only want to listen to old songs.
I think because we're associated with the '80s and they may have a perception that older people do Jazzercise — older people do do Jazzercise but younger people do do Jazzercise too. All of our music is everything that you're hearing on the radio. It's intense and it's difficult. It's a challenging workout! Sometimes it's hard for younger generations to believe that that you can really love your workout and have it be fun and have it be effective. For some reason, effective workouts are only associated with something that is maybe hard and not fun. But you really can have fun and have an effective workout.
Which class is your favorite?
My favorite is Flip Fusion. It's a combination of strength training and cardio. We focus first on upper body and lower body and then we do a whole abdominal section. Right in between each strength training section, you do a really intense cardio burst. It's hard, but good hard.
What would you say to people who think Jazzercise is more for their mom than for them?
I would say, try us. Don't judge a book by its cover. Instead of looking at Jazzercise, [thinking] "Gosh it's been around a long time, it must be old," be like, "Why is it around still? That's interesting. That must mean that there's something good to it."
How did GirlForce come about?
Jazzercise has always had a history of giving back to the community. That's just part of our philosophy as a business that it's important that we give back, and we really instill that with our franchisees worldwide.
[We were] thinking about how tough it is to be a young woman these days, now that social media is where it is and the images that the girls are seeing. It's probably not helping them to feel better about themselves. We wanted to create a safe environment where girls and young women would be welcomed, where they could come and work out and start to feel good about themselves and possibly educate them about how working out makes you feel so much better.
A lot of young women can't afford any kind of workout these days and maybe they're not a sports person so we wanted to provide them with a place to go so that they could work out and fall in love with working out so they would end up being healthier. And a place where it's safe also, where no matter what you look like, you're going to be ok.
How's the program gone so far?
It's worked so well. I just got done teaching right before I called you and I probably had eight girls in our classes who I could tell were GirlForce girls and they just love it. It's so great to expose them to being healthier and that it can be fun. I think a lot of people, whether you're 16 or 60, still aren't understanding that exercise can be fun and you can stay fit and you just need an hour to do it.
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