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Jazzercise Returns: The Dance Aerobics Craze From the '80s Shashays to the Upper East Side

By Amy Zimmer | May 31, 2011 2:54pm | Updated on June 1, 2011 7:06am

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — Before Zumba or Bhangra had Upper East Side women in search of fun aerobics classes jumping to ethnic beats, there was Jazzercise, a favorite of the legwarmer crowd during the 1980s.

It turns out Jazzercise is still thriving, and while it may be more popular with moms in the suburbs, Sharon Fathi is hoping for a revival in Manhattan when she starts teaching her Jazzercise class on the Upper East Side on June 13.

Her 6:30 p.m. Monday classes at the Church of St. Stephen's of Hungary at 414 E. 82nd St. will join two other Manhattan Jazzercise classes in Tribeca and in Midtown at DanceSport.

"It sounds silly, but it's not," Fathi, 32, said of the jazz dance aerobics phenomenon that was created in 1969 and became a franchise in 1983. "It's actually the best workout. There are thousands and thousands of followers. It's like a cult. It's like a sorority."

An image of a Jazzercise class.
An image of a Jazzercise class.
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Facebook/Jazzercise UES NYC

Fathi always danced growing up, but while her friends went on to study in conservatories, she chose business school and became a management consultant. She didn't get into Jazzercise until after she lost her consulting gig in the downturn after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which forced her to move back in with her parents on Long Island.

"The only thing that got me out of bed was Jazzercise," Fathi recalled.

She eventually picked herself up, re-entered the corporate word and moved back to the city, where she now lives on the Upper East Side. In 2003, she became certified to teach Jazzercise, which she did for a few years until she began focusing on other physical activities, including doing triathlons.

While training for a marathon this year, Fathi went to a dance class and tore a muscle in her calf. Her physical therapist suggested she put the intensive marathon training on hold and advised her to "go back to what you know." She got recertified to teach Jazzercise this month.

"I gained a bunch of weight when I was in physical therapy," Fathi said. "In six weeks of Jazzercise, I lost 23 pounds. It works if you watch you diet and do the workout consistently," she claimed.

According to Jazzercise's website, doing Jazzercise can burn up to 600 calories in a 60-minute class that incorporates jazz, pilates, yoga, kickboxing and resistance training.

The classes — of which there are 32,000 a week around the globe — have moved beyond the 80s and are constantly updated with the latest music. This week's playlist could include JLo's "On the Floor," Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," or Ke$ha's "Blow."

"Some people think it's very outdated," Fathi said. "But at the same time, it has brand recognition for people who remember it back in the day."

Asked why Jazzercise — whose official spokeswoman is Cheryl Burke, two-time winner of the popular ABC TV show "Dancing with the Stars" — hasn't taken off in Manhattan as it has elsewhere, Fathi said it was for practical reasons.

"The rental prices here are much more expensive," she said of studio space. "The business model that Jazzercise has works more in the suburbs."

She lucked out finding a big room with a stage in the church on her block and is sure her neighbors will jump for her class regardless of their dance backgrounds.

"You do it enough times you'll feel confident," she said. "By the end you'll know what I mean when I say, heel hop, sashay or grapevine. [It's a] one hour sweat-your-butt-off, fun workout."