My decreased level of fitness was one contributing factor to my hiking injuries. After being unable to walk for a week, I vowed to remember what I already know, what I have already learned time and time again—I have to work out every day and need at least four cardio classes a week. The signs were all there (and ignored)—weight gain, lack of energy, increased anxiety and depression, decreased self-confidence, physical pain in every joint and increased chronic pain. Instead of carrying only the 40 or so pounds on my back, I was also carrying an extra 20 on my body and my level of fitness was lacking overall.
If I had not been away from the YMCA classes that I have taught five or more classes a week for the last 8 plus years, the start of my PCT hike might have been a different story. And the biggest key that was missing was dance aerobics. Teaching the Group Groove MOSSA program (now Groove Together at the YMCA) and my own freestyle (old school) Cardio Pump (an interval step, dance, and strength/sculpting class) not only improves cardiovascular health, it also keeps me toned and strong and agile and has a number of mind/body benefits. It makes me happy.
Sharing my love of dance aerobics, and my talents of teaching and choreographing, is part of what I love about dance aerobics. Dancing in my living room, cueing myself in my head and sometimes out loud, is not the same. Finding El Cajon’s Jazzercise studio was exactly what I needed. And, actually, I didn’t really find Jazzercise, I knew it was there. I had driven by on previous visits, surprised to see Jazzercise still alive and, as I recently discovered, it is not alone alive; it is thriving.
My love of dance aerobics most certainly began by emulating my mother working out to her Jane Fonda Records. And taking Jazzercise classes as a teenager certainly cemented this love. After 20 years of teaching many versions of this classic aerobics format, I only knew that Jazzercise still existed because one of my regulars, Betty, took Jazzercise classes when she would escape the Maine winters in Arizona and because a new participant, Karen, remarked after one of my Cardio Pump classes: “You should teach Jazzercise!” At the time, I scoffed (to myself); I would never teach another program (like Group Groove) where I am handed choreography that I am expected to memorize.
After taking five Jazzercise classes in seven days from four different instructors, I know I already basically teach my own version of Jazzercise and more; but in a different version of my fitness life I might have become a fitness instructor through this program. (But not now; their process does not mesh with my experience.) I could easily see what Betty and Karen loved about Jazzercise.
For Betty, who preferred my Cardio Pump class to all others, Jazzercise was a full body workout, with tracks devoted to strength routines for the upper and lower body as well as an abs track. In one class I took, there was even a good old-fashioned side leg-lift track (an exercise Betty would always do as she waited for class to start). More so, the dance sequences are very reminiscent of classic dance aerobics and are rather simple and easy to follow, especially compared to the Y’s Groove program, which is a very intense cardio workout with many challenging movements and sequences and more complicated choreography. My Cardio Pump class has simpler choreography and weight intervals, which is why Karen made an immediate connection to Jazzercise. The Fusion class I took was a lot like my Cardio Pump class, just without the step.
I imagine the things Betty liked about Jazzercise are also some of the things Karen likes about Jazzercise, particularly the one-hour full-body cardio and strength workout all wrapped up in one class. (Compared to Groove, which is all dance with a stretch track at the end. However, Groove also delivers the strength elements without weights; people just don’t realize these benefits as readily.) I also enjoyed this element of Jazzercise; every time I felt like I had a full, well-rounded workout.
While the choreography was, perhaps, a bit lackluster in places—which may only be because I am used to more changes and nuances—the music was fun and the instructors were engaged with their participants. There was a good balance of moves and different styles of moves and music. For instance, there were some tracks with punches and kicks and some with Latin dance moves, all with the foundation of classic aerobics moves. The combos were simple and repetitive, but did not get boring. The repetition was most likely also responsible for the good form and technique I noticed in most of the participants.
Part of the fun of trying a new fitness program is trying to figure out how the program itself works. (Yes, I am a fitness nerd!) I made my observations and then asked a few pointed questions. Instructors have a lot of freedom in compiling their routines from the music and choreography provided to them five times a year. It was clear that instructors were putting together the songs and routines that were their favorites, which (I think) always makes for a better class. All of the instructors I had were friendly and solid though the experience of two instructors—Susan and Christy—definitely shined through the layers of instruction embedded in the cues for the choreography.
At one point in class, Susan asked us how many of us believe in self-care. After a few whoops in the crowd, she reminded us that we were practicing self-care by being in class that day. She reminded me that while I think about my fitness teaching as a responsibility and as a necessary workout, it is also a part of my self-care routine. I preach self-care, but I failed to recognize that this aspect of my daily life (until my sabbatical!) is also a part of my self-care. Group fitness is so much more than just a workout.
In addition to the Jazzercise program itself, what I loved about Jazzercise in El Cajon was the studio atmosphere and the instructors. I took my first Jazzercise class in El Cajon more than 20 years ago. Classes were always packed and there was always a friendly atmosphere. That hasn’t changed. Almost every instructor, including those teaching before or after the class I was there to take, noticed me as a new face and introduced themselves, asked my name, welcomed me, and asked if I had any questions. This is impressive. This is why Jazzercise still exists in El Cajon. This is why their classes are packed.
From the welcoming instructors, to the conversations I overheard all around me, it is clear that Jazzercise is not just a program or a class or a studio. In El Cajon, and other places I suspect, Jazzercise is a community. I am honored to have been a part of that community (and hope I might be again in the future), and taking these classes not only helped me to get back into my body after my injuries and reminded me of my passion for dance aerobics. It also reminded me of the importance of self-care in all its incarnations.