Jazzercise president Shanna Missett Nelson, leads a class called Dance Mixx on Friday at the Jazzercise studios in Oceanside, California. — Eduardo Contreras
On a Friday morning, Iggy Azalea’s “Trouble” blasts through a room filled with mostly women and a few men who are shaking their hips – and everything else – to the music.
This is not your mother’s Jazzercise, and it’s certainly not stuck in the 1980s. Instead of leotards, dancers are wearing Lululemon, and there’s not a legwarmer or sweatband to be seen. But there is plenty of sweat. And where there used to be simple, low-impact movements like hip swivels, now there’s a blend of kickboxing, Pilates and hip-hop moves.
The 46-year-old fitness franchise headquartered in Carlsbad this year introduced a bold new logo, color scheme and advertising campaign to shake off its dated reputation and show people a modern, harder-edged Jazzercise that delivers results.
It is also rolling out a new menu of calorie-crushing classes as part of its “You Think You Know Us But You Don’t” rebrand.
The goal is to abolish misguided and outdated stereotypes about Jazzercise, said Sandra Creamer, vice president of strategy at CBX, the New York agency that crafted the rebrand.
The new look, which also features cropped images of women’s toned bodies while working out, is designed to show women that Jazzercise isn’t all jazz, but it’s also exercise that will help them slim down and tone up their muscles. At the same time, Jazzercise wants to show the world it has the stuff to compete with newer fitness concepts such as Zumba, kickboxing and Bokwa.
Jazzercise was one of the first organized fitness concepts in the United States when professional dancer and choreographer Judi Sheppard Missett started teaching her dance-based workout classes in 1969. It started as a performance dance class, but Missett quickly realized her students were more interested in something less disciplined that would allow them to get fit while having fun.
So she turned them away from the mirror and started calling out simple steps while leading from the front of the room. That first class had 15 students, she said. The second class had 30, because everybody brought a friend. By the third meeting, the group of 60 had outgrown the room.
“That was kind of my ‘ah-ha!’ moment,” Missett said.
She didn’t set out to turn her aerobic dance lessons into a business, but her classes kept growing and by the mid-80s, Jazzercise had helped spearhead a revolution that turned fitness into an organized industry boasting evangelical personalities like Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda.
Jazzercise was one of the first companies to market fitness as fun, and became one of the first fitness programs to train and franchise its instructors. It also pioneered on-site childcare for its members, making it easier for them to squeeze exercise into their busy lives.
“People were teaching group fitness classes for many years before that, but in the ’80s is when we saw it really take off, and Jazzercise was a very big part of that,” said Jessica Matthews, senior adviser for Health and Fitness Education at the American Council on Exercise based in San Diego. “That’s when you started to have this identified profession.”
ACE, established in 1985, was the first to offer any sort of credential in the fitness industry, Matthews said, and its first credential was for aerobic dance instructors like those who taught Jazzercise.
Jazzercise has since expanded into an estimated $100 million fitness empire boasting 8,300 franchisees teaching more than 32,000 classes per week in 32 countries around the world. It is now ranked No. 7 on Entrepreneur magazine’s list of Fastest-Growing Franchises and No. 13 on its list of America’s Top Global Franchises.
Although Jazzercise is practically a household name, Missett said that is a double-edged sword, because the name recognition often comes with an old-fashioned understanding of what Jazzercise is all about. So many people who think they know her company, she said, don’t in fact know anything about the bass-thumping, heart-pumping classes it offers in 2015. Instead, they associate it with their mothers or grandmothers in the 1980s.
“Here’s the thing: If we had stayed an ’80s program, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Missett, now 70 and still teaching classes.
She thrives on change, she explained, and works hard to keep a constant stream of new songs and choreography flowing to her instructors and franchisees. That helps keep both instructors and customers from getting bored.
The company, too, has evolved with their changing needs. For example, said Missett’s daughter and company president Shanna Missett Nelson, Jazzercise has developed a variety of business models for its franchisees, whether they’re just teaching as a hobby or want to turn Jazzercise into their livelihood.
Matthews often jokes that fitness is like fashion, she said, with trends that die out and make a comeback, but Jazzercise seems to be an exception.
“It’s not a surprise to me that Jazzercise and dance-based fitness formats continue to thrive after all these years, because quite honestly, most people don’t equate dancing with exercise,” she said.
That means they go to have fun, and the workout is a side benefit.
A new image
But that fun-first image is exactly what Jazzercise is trying to distance itself from, said Creamer from CBX.
Although the fun of a dance party keeps the average Jazzercise customer coming to class for an impressive seven years, that’s not what will get new people in the door for the first time, she explained. The fact that a customer can burn as many as 600 calories in one 60-minute session will.
People are well aware of how entertaining Jazzercise can be, which is one reason some don’t take it seriously. That perception, coupled with a growing attraction to more intense fitness concepts like boxing and CrossFit, has slowed Jazzercise’s growth in recent years.
This new, harder-core image will help Jazzercise compete with that trend and appeal to a younger generation who want to fit exercise into their schedules, but won’t bother unless they believe it’s going to challenge them and deliver results.
The more aggressive, authoritative image, projected by phrases such as “Our classes are way too hot for legwarmers” and “Our only throwback is our right hook,” is what will get people to try Jazzercise for the first time, Creamer said.
The fact that it’s enjoyable is what will keep them coming back – a challenge for most workout programs, but something Jazzercise excels at.
“If you’re going to exercise, it’s not about intensity, but continuity,” Creamer said. “They have a winning formula for that, and they just want to share that with more people.”
Jazzercise unleashed its rebrand on Jan. 1, and Leah Castle, owner of the College Area franchise, said it led to a strong month for her business. Oddly, though, her new new customers weren’t in the new target demographic of women in their 30s. Instead, they were mostly women in their late 40s.
Still, she said, the new image was an important step for the company and its franchisees.
“I think it was needed, and I really think Jazzercise is on the right track,” Castle said.
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