Aerobic Dance: An Evolution

CBRC VIntageTwo weeks ago we talked about our new Barre style class- a blend of ballet, Pilates, and yoga practices.

In writing that post we began mulling over just how much the dance industry has influenced the fitness industry. Just for fun, let’s explore that a little:

We’ve talked about the origins of Pilates(link)– in the early 1900’s Joseph Pilates developed ways to create lean, strong bodies- like those of dancers.

Then in 1959 a German Ballerina by the name of Lotte Berk developed Barre as a blend of ballet and physical therapy exercises to use as she was recovering from a lower back injury. Now Barre classes blend ballet concepts with Pilates and Yoga techniques.

Imagine with us aerobic dance classes of decades past: brightly colored spandex, big hair, leg warmers- you get the picture. Where did those come from? And how have they affected the industry today?

Back in 1968 Dr. Kenneth Cooper, known to many as the father of modern fitness, wrote a book simply titled “Aerobics.” This was a new term which means “with oxygen.” The front of Cooper’s book touts “The most effective physical fitness plan ever! Scientifically developed and tested! No diets! No calisthenics! No will-power tests! For men and women!” Catchy sub-title, right? The idea of an effective workout that didn’t look like a track meet was a popular one. Before long fitness professionals all over the world were picking up on the idea and developing classes around the concepts.

One of the first, and perhaps best known, early aerobics classes was good ole Jazzercise (now you’re imagining the spandex!:). Judy Sheppard-Missett founded the Jazzercise empire in the 1960’s and quickly trademarked and franchised/licensed the name. The concept behind Jazzercise was that every class was exactly the same- you could attend class anywhere in the country and hear the same music, dance the same choreographed routines, etc. As we know, that endeavor was very successful.

About the same time that Judy was working out her licensing agreements, another dancer by the name of Jackie Sorensen was developing her own aerobic dance style- but in a free-spirited nature.  Jackie was a freestyle instructor and put together her own aerobic dance classes. They were high energy, effective, but not limited to one particular soundtrack or song and kept the choreography fresh and exciting. Dance instructors the world over picked up on Jackie’s idea and started putting together their own classes.

Enter: 1970’s. Can you imagine aerobic dance classes in the Disco era?! The fitness industry learned A LOT in this decade. Aerobic dance classes were growing in popularity and they were high impact: jumping, running, leaping, lots of traditional calisthenics- but mixed with popular dance moves and set to peppy soundtracks. One of the unintended results of such high impact classes were a plethora of injuries. Human bodies can’t take that level of overuse for long periods of time- joint injuries started popping up all over the place. By the end of the 70’s fitness professionals were starting to take notice and dial back the impact.

By the 1980’s we started to see an evolution into lower impact, but still aerobic, dance classes. (Low impact means that one foot never leaves the ground) Celebrities like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons jumped on board and started promoting their own brands of aerobic dance/fitness. The celebrity aspect acted as a slingshot to propel aerobic dance into the spotlight. Suddenly aerobic dance was everywhere, even on VHS tapes in your own living room! Classes were a combination of lower impact styles, with some jumping jacks and a few high impact moves thrown in. About this time the fashion industry started noting the trend and designing “fitness wear” which gave us head to toe spandex…

The 80’s and 90’s were a mixture of just about everything, then in the late 90’s the concept of aerobic kickboxing was born. Before aerobic kickboxing classes emerged those moves and skills belonged exclusively to the martial arts genre- as the classes gained in popularity the moves found their way into modern dance styles. Another recent movement has been the Crossfit phenomenon of the past decade. Crossfit takes us back to a more traditional concept of calisthenics- which has seeped back into dance classes as well.

Throughout the decades free spirits and fitness professionals, following in the footsteps of Jackie Sorensen in the 60’s, have evolved their own brand of aerobic dance. From this movement we received modern favorites such as Zumba, Hip-Hop, BodyJam, etc (many of which you can experience at CBRC in our group fitness classes). Our modern classes pull from that Jazzercize movement of decades past- popular moves/popular music- as well as concepts taken from ballet/Barre, Pilates, Yoga, kickboxing, and even some good old calisthenics to form a workout that will give you results without damaging your joints.

So there you have it- the modern dance family tree.

We hope to see you in class sometime! (you can find a schedule of our group classes here)

We wish you good health,

Columbia Basin Racquet Club

CBRC Vintage 2

Photos from CBRC archives 🙂


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