Food outlaws

All that Jazzercise

I felt like the women who watched Travolta dance in Saturday Night Fever
  • I felt like the women who watched Travolta dance in Saturday Night Fever

When I was invited to a Jazzercise party, I had horrible flashbacks. When I was a kid, my mom did Jazzercise. And seeing her practice her routines to songs like "9 to 5" and "Walking on Sunshine" in leotards, in the living room – those were the thoughts that raced through my head.

Jazzercise has been around for 40 years, but only 10 years here at the Lions Club in North Park, which is where their anniversary party was going on.

Susie Tyler, one of the instructors, invited me. And when I came in, she asked my date and me to take raffle tickets. I refused them, and my date whispered, "Find out the prizes first. What if it's a car?" When they started the raffle, some of the prizes included gift certificates to local stores, gift baskets with lotions and soaps, chocolates, and stuffed animals. One of the weirder prizes was Randy Jones BBQ Sauce. My date asked, after a nice gift basket was raffled off, "Why didn't we take raffle tickets?"

The few times during the night they stopped the dancing for raffle prizes, it was always for at least half an hour. I heard somebody walking by say, 'This is the longest raffle in history!" At least the lady up at the microphone, Berly Murphy, was funny and entertaining. Berly is both an instructor and the owner. I wondered to myself if "Berly" is the best name for an exercise instructor. When I told her there was so much food, and such incredible-looking chocolate cake and desserts, I thought that was a conflict of interest She said, "We call ourselves the outlaws. We don't always do the right thing. And there are three things we don't talk about here: politics, religion, and fat-free foods." Berly had her husband running the bar, which had all kinds of alcohol. I downed a few shots of Jack Daniel's but had eaten a big dinner earlier, so I didn't eat anything. One lady kept bugging me to try the artichoke dip that she had made. When she told me the main ingredient was mayonnaise, I was glad I hadn't. One of the guests at the party told me he was surprised that a few of the Jazzercise students were overweight. Maybe it's not as physically demanding as other aerobic workouts. They all seemed to be great dancers, aside from a few of the older white guys. Maybe that's a stereotype, but I'm waiting for somebody to prove me wrong.

The music was a great variety of current tunes and older stuff from all genres, such as "It's Raining Men," Prince's "Wanna Be Your Lover," and "Hey Ya" by Outkast. The crowd was a mix of older and younger people. I was told that one lady in her late 80s recently gave up Jazzercise here at the Lions Club. One lady had the body of a 20-year-old but the face of somebody 30 years older. She seemed to like showing off her body, from the way she was dressed — and there was a picture of her on the wall pulling her shorts down to reveal a big anchor tattoo on her butt.

Sometimes the crowd would be doing the electric slide or other choreographed dances. Later there was swing dancing. One of the part-time instructors named Tannie, who looked like a prettier Gloria Estefan, got out on the dance floor. She was amazing. I felt like the women who watched Travolta dance in Saturday Night Fever. I saw she had a towel at her table to wipe off sweat and thought how uncomfortable that must be for someone dressed up at a party.

One of the instructors came up and said, "There are mostly women that do Jazzercise. We have a few men that do it, but most of them are gay."

The battery on my camera died, and as I was messing with it, I spilled my red wine. Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, but it was on their hardwood dance floor. I spent the next ten minutes wiping it up.

The next time a raffle started, a present was given to Berly. It was in a long, narrow box that was five feet high. Someone yelled out, "It's a sex toy.” When her husband came up with scissors, a lady yelled, "The thing in the box is going to replace you!" It ended up being a few banners for her company.

One woman had a cast on her leg. I asked her if it was a Jazzercise injury and she said, "No, it was a three-mile walk I did." She explained a little more about the injury, but with Oingo Boingo blasting out of the sound system, I couldn't hear her.

The next party I went to was a dance for younger people. They called it "Lovers Rock" to give it a Valentine theme. It was put on at the Culture Shock Dance Academy near Old Town. There was a long line of people waiting to get in, and when I talked to some of them, I found a few had come down from LA. Later, when I talked to China, who helped put on the event, she told me, "We had four kids from Sacramento and one girl from Frisco come down for this event. When we put on our other breakdancing competition called Queen Bee at the Scottish Rite Center, we have people from lots of other countries attend."

That event has a $3000 prize. Tonight, the top prize was $200. Second place was $100. They also gave out Pro Ked shoes and other little things.

I remember breakdancing becoming popular in the early '80s. At the basketball courts where I played, people would breakdance to music from their boom boxes. China told me, "It started as far back as the '60s but didn't really become popular until the media picked up on it in the '80s."

The crowd was surprisingly young for a party that had almost 400 people at 11:00 p.m. I was one of the few white guys in attendance and definitely the oldest. I saw a few 12-year-olds with sports jerseys and backward caps. I saw shirts that said "E-Swift," "B-Boys," "Lakers," "Devious," "PM6," "Raiders," "Queen of Hearts," and a Mexican girl with an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt. A lot looked like gangsters, but I was surprised how nice everyone was. One kid bumped into me and said, "Excuse me, sir." Others were talking about the people dancing and it was complimentary. I heard no dissing.

Breakdancing has a lot of headstands, spinning on the floor, and shuffling. One move looked kind of robotic. I asked an African-American kid with a giant Afro what that was called. He said, "That's 'freezing.' You freeze the motion for a second and then continue. It's kinda old school."

There were two large rooms. One was well-lit and had people practicing and getting ready. You'd see four different people breakdancing at the same time. The other room was dark aside from a few lights and a DJ. One side had the women's competition and the other side had the guys.

I didn't realize "breaking" was still so popular among youth. One guy told me, "This studio has a breakdancing class every night of the week. Oh, maybe not on Sunday, but every other day."

China said, "Breaking goes in hills and valleys, in cycles. Teenagers are into it, and when they get older and start chasing girls, they stop doing it. Then comes another generation. A lot of clubs wouldn't let it continue, because dancers sometimes got hurt doing backspins or flips." I remember a guy cracking a rib doing a "dolphin dive" when I was a teenager.

China said that last year's event was at the Che Cafe and the promoter of that is in New York now. "We found out there wasn't going to be an event, and we said, 'Bullshit.' So we did it here."

I asked about breakdancing's popularity in other places, and she told me, "Surprisingly, in Europe it was big in the early '90s. In Germany, when the Wall came down, it was very popular in the clubs."

I left the event thinking about a few things — German kids and Jazzercisers breakdancing would look funny. And the girl with the "I'm With Stupid" shirt: she never once left the dance floor. I never saw who "Stupid" was. ■

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