Twenty years ago, there were dance classes and there were calisthenics classes. Carlsbad jazz dance instructor Judi Sheppard Missett didn't think that was enough.
"I figured out that there was a need for a third choice--dance and calisthenics, choreographed to music," she said. "I started out with five students, and I encouraged them instead of criticizing their mistakes. That approach worked, and they each brought a friend. Pretty soon, it really exploded."
Jazzercise was launched.
Today, through an international franchise program, Missett's gospel of jazzed-up exercise reaches more than 400,000 people in the U.S., Canada and 30 other countries. There are almost a dozen Jazzercise centers in North County alone.
And Missett still teaches classes in Carlsbad.
Missett has been training instructors since 1977, and now has close to 4,000 around the world.
All the instructors share Missett's cheerleading style of teaching, and work with routines choreographed by their head honcho. Missett designs a new set of dance routines every eight weeks, and distributes videotaped versions of them (created on site by one of Jazzercise's many off-shoot operations) to the teachers.
Nevertheless, many Jazzercise students prefer being taught by the woman who spearheaded this hybrid dance form into the multimillion-dollar operation it is today.
"I love what I do, and it probably shows," Missett said, as she prepared for a packed class. "Teaching is the best part. I don't know what I'd do if I had to give it up.
Missett's classes average 85 to 90 people (all but a handful are women) and last about 65 minutes. With music blaring behind her--everything from rock 'n' roll to honky-tonk, although jazz is her personal favorite--the 46-year-old Jazzercise guru leads her flock through a choreographed series of warm-ups, aerobics, muscle-toning, and flexibility exercises.
Sharon Levandovich, marketing vice president for Jazzercise, said that people from all over the world come to North County to take Missett's classes.
"They put San Diego on their trip, because they just have to see where it all began," Levandovich said. "We got started internationally because the women from Camp Pendleton wanted to take classes everyplace they went."
Missett has hedged her marketing bets a bit in recent years by implementing a low-impact program (Jazzercise Lite), a stretch and tone workout, and other alternatives to the original Jazzercise. She has also expanded into the nutrition business with a diet plan.
What's high on the Jazzercise list of priorities for the '90s?
"I feel this is the decade of customer service in every industry--not just the fitness business," said Missett. "We tap in on what people want."
Missett describes her jazz fitness program as a combination of art and science--jazz dance and exercise physiology.
The formula is one that appears to be standing the test of time.
"We're having a record-breaking year," Missett said. "We've actually picked up people who got left behind (when other fitness centers closed). We're continuing to fill a need."
COST: Rates vary, depending on frequency of attendance. The drop-in rate is $4 a class.
WHEN: Varies with location. It is not necessary to register for specific day or time.
WHERE: Carlsbad, 2808 Roosevelt St.
Encinitas, Village Park Recreation Center II, Mountain Vista & Willow Springs.
Escondido, 1541-9 E. Valley Parkway and 2250 S. Escondido Blvd.
Fallbrook, Heritage Hall, corner of Beech & Main.
La Costa, Stagecoach Park, 3420 Mission Estancia.
Penasquitos, 14309 Penasquitos Dr.
Poway, Poway Community Center, Bowron & Civic Center.
Ramona, The Dance Center, 2405 S. Main St.
Rancho Santa Fe, RSF Youth Center at La Grenada.
San Marcos, Red Barn, 149 San Marcos Blvd.
Solana Beach; Hammond Dance Studio, 626 San Rodolfo Dr.
Vista, 224 E. Vista Way.