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Jazzercise: Good For The Body, Mind And Soul
This 1988 photo shows Dennis Wyatt, front left, before a Jazzercise demo at the Placer County Fair in Roseville.

Some might have called him a muscle head.

But for 50 or so women, myself, and two other guys he was an obnoxious braggart wearing a Gold’s Gym singlet.

It was 1988. I was in a Jazzercise class in Roseville.

Donna Shaw was the instructor. And since it was Wednesday, it was the 90-minute class that included a 20-minute warm up and a 20-minute cool down.

The early 20s-something guy had every reason to wear a gym singlet. But as I was soon to discover, his being “cut” did not mean he was necessarily in shape or even healthy.

His girlfriend had talked him into attending Donna’s class that typically had 60 to 70 people on a weeknight. It was all women except for two guys with their wives and me. That included Reynaldo Maldonado who I knew from high school where he played basketball and during his stint on a semi-pro soccer team.

The only guys in the class — save for the gym rat that day — were in the front row. They were our spots. I have no idea why they picked the front, but I did so for two reasons. First I sweat profusely when exercising. That means even if I find a way to keep my glasses from slipping off my face, they’d be so streaked with sweat I wouldn’t be able to see.

And without my glasses I channel Mr. Magoo. Add to that the fact I’m a natural leftie that was forced to be right-handed meaning I have to pay real close attention to an exercise class instructor for my mind to process the moves.

The other reason I was in the front was because I was self-conscious. I know that sounds counter intuitive.

Donna a year earlier had talked me into trying her class after doing a story on it for The Press-Tribune. I slipped into the back of the room so no one could see me during the class.

Not only did I feel like what I was — a klutz — but I couldn’t figure out a thing Donna did during the entire 55-minute class.

She asked me afterwards how I liked it. I told her I was unable to make heads or tails of the moves and was more self-conscious than I’d ever been in my life. She talked me into giving it one more try but the next time I needed to be in the front row so I wouldn’t be judging myself based on six or so rows of people ahead of me who knew exactly what they were doing or at least more than I did.

Long story short, I ended up being a steady student for the next five years until I moved to Manteca. It got to the point I’d often take her classes six days a week including on Saturdays when I’d bicycle 30 miles round trip from Lincoln to Jazzercise at the Maidu Park Community Center.

Jazzercise became the way I built my endurance up for cycling.

So what about the Gold’s Gym guy?

For about five minutes or so before the class started he was literally talking as loud as he could about how “this is going to be so easy” and garbage like that.

His bravado was failing to impress any of the women who were all wearing leotards or tights. And, for the record, the guys were wearing classic gym shorts. Even when Donna talked Reynaldo and me into being part of a demonstration at the Placer County Fair and other events we declined to wear matching tights and stuck to black shorts.

That wasn’t the case with another Jazzercise demo team where there were four guys with about 16 women who wore black tights. At one point they dropped to the ground during a routine and started doing one-handed push-ups and then clapping their hands at the top of the movement. Did I mention the other group looked like they were all under 25 and could have been extras on Bay Watch and that we later found out three of the four guys were ex-Marines? We were more like a Bad News Bears of Jazzercise. We were respectable enough and ranged in age from 21 to 68.


The man with the Neapolitan leg tan

And to be honest, I should have worn tights given at the demonstrations — and even in classes — someone would almost always laugh at my Neapolitan leg tan. It was the result of cycling a lot, wearing corduroy shorts a lot and doing Jazzercise classes in gym shorts.

The lower legs to above my knees had the darkest tan, a three inch swath had a somewhat lighter tan in the form of an almost perfect ring, and the “vanilla” part was above that ring to the bottom of my gym shorts.

Sorry, back to the Gold’s Gym braggart.

We were about halfway through the 20 minute warm up when Donna between sets, leaned over the edge of the stage and asked us to check on the Gold’s Gym dude who apparently made a beeline for the men’s restroom a few minutes earlier.

Reynaldo and I found the guy on the bathroom floor on his side breathing heavily next to his puke.

The point of this is not to gross you out but to drive home a point about mistakes people make about what constitutes exercise and fitness and erroneous assumptions too many men make about women.

To illustrate further, a year later I got an invite from the Mesa Verde High football coach in Citrus Heights to cover a summer conditioning program during the time I was sports editor at The Press-Tribune in Roseville. The fiancée of one of the assistant coaches that was also the Mavericks’ new wrestling coach for the upcoming season happened to be the Jazzercise instructor of the demo team with the four ex-Marines and the Bay Watch extras.

The coaches were springing a surprise on the players who as teen boys mostly assumed aerobic conditioning wasn’t an essential component to their athletic prowess.

When they were told they were going to go through 20 minutes of Jazzercise — roughly a third of a regular class — the snickering and remarks like “this will be so easy” was reminiscent of the Gold’s Gym guy yet not quite as obnoxious.

Twenty minutes later every player acted as if the wind had been knocked out of them. Several were gasping for breath as the music faded.

They ended up asking to have the assistant coach’s fiancée to return to do more classes so they could get in shape.

Jazzercise also became a twice a week conditioning program for the Mesa Verde wrestling team.

These two incidents drove home some rather key points to keep in mind.

*First, and foremost, do not misjudge the stamina and fitness of women.

*There is truth to the saying, “all show and no go.”

*Fitness is not defined by muscle or age.

*How big of numbers you can rack up bench pressing can be indicative of strength but numbers that count just as much for health, if not more, are resting heart rate, blood pressure, and those pesky numbers regarding cholesterol and et al.


No, I was not channeling Richard Simmons ...

I need to make it clear for those snickering as they read this. I was not indulging in my inner Richard Simmons even though it was the 1980s.

Yes, Simmons was obese as a child. Yes, Simmons peaked at 268 pounds on his 5-foot-7 frame and I went as high as 320 pounds at 5-foot-11. And yes, Simmons — just like me — was less than enthusiastic about health clubs and fitness studios at the time that catered almost exclusively to the already fit and healthy.

You can even draw a parallel to Simmons’ sweating with the oldies to Jazzercise.

And quite frankly, I don’t care if you do as I’m no Richard Simmons and he’s no Dennis Wyatt.

Snicker all you want because the people over the years who have semi-taunted me when I was doing Jazzercise, step classes, and later Zumba weren’t exactly pictures of health then and not even now.

This has nothing to do with karma or me being smug.

It has everything to do about investing in the best — and least expensive — health insurance policy which is exercising as defined either by keeping moving and active such as doing things manually such as washing dishes as opposed to using dishwashers, walking when possible to get around, or tasks such as cutting your own lawn — to working your body via exercise.

And for the record, I can’t dance even though in the last 30 years I’ve easily hit 4,000 plus classes that fall under the dancercise moniker.

If you want verification I can’t dance but can move around like a madman, there are a number of Manteca-Ripon class instructors who have survived having me as a student.

That includes retired Manteca city clerk Joann Tilton who can attest to the fact I can kick.

She’ll be happy to know I’m a little bit less dangerous these days with the kicks.

It’s not the fact I’m 65.

It’s thanks to an unplanned rapid 10-foot descent while rock scrambling a peak off the Pacific Crest Trail near Sonora Pass a year ago.

Even though at times I feel more like Dr. Smith “Oh, The Pain, The Pain Of It All” of Lost in Space fame than Richard Simmons, the more I keep moving the better things feel.

And who knows, maybe my repertoire of dance moves one day may go beyond my step class perfection of a Warner Brother’s Tasmanian Devil known as “Taz” doing the Twist to the Chubby Checker version.

For the record there are Jazzercise classes in Tracy and Stockton if you want to try the original dance party workout that is still the world’s leading dance fitness program after 50 plus-years.

It might just get you hooked on stepping up your fitness game as it did me 35 years ago.