The holidays are over, the weather is starting to get just the slightest bit warmer, and it’s getting darker later in the evening, which means there’s going to come a point when you can no longer ignore that you’ve spent every month since October gorging on bite-sized candy bars from your kid’s Halloween bucket, Turkey Day leftovers, and handfuls of Christmas candy. Yes, folks it’s time for you to look into the mirror and face what you’ve done to yourself physically, and what better way for me to give you some encouragement than this item from the June 4, 1984, Journal Gazette featuring Jazzercise instructors Cheri Seeley and Mary Morton taking a few moments to sit on the floor of the studio in full leotard and have a little record club session, leafing through a stack of 45s to figure out what would be the best tunes to spin for a then-upcoming Jazzercise fundraiser.
What songs could folks have possibly been Jazzercisin’ to in 1984? Zooming into the picture to read the record sleeves resulted only in a smudgy blur, so off to the internet I went. According to Billboard, some of the top Hot 100 songs around that same time included a lot of ballads like John Waite’s “Missing You” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” that I’m pretty sure would have been real hard to get your Jazzercise on to. Although there’s a part of me really having a fun time imagining a bunch of Coles County Jazzercisers of 1984 swaying around like narcoleptics to the smooth sounds of “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins.
But wouldn’t you know it there were some “jazzy” tunes that folks could have all shed a few pounds to that year. Amazingly, several of them even had titles that fit right in with the exercise theme like “Jump” by Van Halen, “Footloose” by the great Kenny Loggins, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham! (the exclamation point was part of the band name) and perhaps most appropriate, “The Reflex” by Duran Duran. It’s a stretch but I suppose Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen” could be included as long as you counted the “No More Love On the Run” part in parentheticals.
It’s here that I must admit that I don’t actually know what Jazzercise is. I remember being a little kid and seeing ads for such things in the Journal Gazette and hearing grown-ups talking about what a phenomenon it was while testing that new fondue pot they just bought as I sat on the stairs and read comic books and waited for them to break out the Uno deck. I searched around a little more in the archives for more evidence of the program’s popularity and found a 1983 news item with local Jazzercise instructor Kaye Kuhring striking a promotional pose for another Jazzercise event, also featuring a Corvette show, to be held at the good old Cross County Mall. Rural King owners take note; this is the kind of thing we need to bring back…that and an arcade. And Radio Shack.
Even now I’m still confused by the concept. I mean, isn’t it just exercising and dancing at the same time? Surely folks were doing such things before someone called it “Jazzercise”, right? What in the world had to have happened at the time for exercising in tandem with recorded music to make that quantum leap forward into being “Jazzy”? Suddenly having skip-proof record players that could absorb the shock of people jumping around? Or maybe it was the fact that it was the ‘80s and music suddenly goosed itself up a notch tempo-wise. Hey, you know I love me some ‘70s tunes, but unless you had a room full of people trying to drop a few L.B.’s to Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” my guess was no one was going to be “five-six-seven-eight”-ing to “Baby I’m A Want You” or “You Light Up My Life”. Also, what’s with the “Jazz” part? At the risk of descending into “why do they call it Ovaltine when the jar’s round” territory, you guys aren’t dancing to jazz. At least I don’t think you are. Again, I’m clearly out of my depth here.
Well, not entirely of out my depth. Look, if you experienced any of the ‘80s, you were involved or witness to some type of diet “craze”. We know all the old standbys, right? Dexatrim and Alba 77 shakes, at-home rowing machines, Jane Fonda in the VCR, and “Body Electric” on PBS before the sun came up. Anyone remember that crazy “Deal-A-Meal” program where people had to stick colored cards into a big pleather book while Richard Simmons barked orders at them from a TV? That’s the kind of tedious bookkeeping we had the time for prior to the internet. Trust me, I looked everywhere in the archives for a picture of Richard Simmons holding up a Deal-A-Meal workbook but (tellingly) all I could find were a clutch of classified ads from 1992 from folks trying to sell off their unwanted “Deal” accessories.
Some of these weight-loss activities are still with us, of course. Weight Watchers is going on strong to this day. I’m sure you’ve been standing in line at the check-out at County Market and overheard folks ahead or behind you talking about the “points” of everything in their cart and around them, the kind of obsessive behavior usually limited to adolescents talking about their last game of Dungeons and Dragons.
Jazzercise carries on as well! I continued to find articles in the archives about new clubs and instructors are recent as a few years ago. More power to you all, I guess. And yeah, to Cheri, Mary and Kaye wherever you are, I know some doughy wiseacre who’s not flexible enough to be able to tie his shoes without groaning putting photos of your '80s athletic fashion choices back in the paper again has to be a bit like someone putting your high school yearbook photos back into circulation for all to see, but trust me when I say that I mean well. It’s not like I wasn’t rocking an unbraided rat tail at the time, after all.
And in the interest of full disclosure, my first choice for a local diet program ad featured, upon further archival review, a dead person, so you were all my second choices. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that dieting is, in fact, deadly. So let’s hope for my sake that you’re all still doing well and still “jazzin’”. Although it must be said, if one of those records in that photo wasn’t “Out Of Touch” by Daryl Hall and John Oates, No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 just a few months after that photo was taken, you really blew it.