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Apr 11, 2013

Whatever Happened to Aerobics?



Friends, from 1986 to 1990 I was an addict.  I was addicted to aerobics.

I was living in Rhode Island and I had an unlimited monthly membership to The Body Firm, an aerobics studio run by a woman named Tracey Carpenter in the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence's East Side, where I took classes at least five or six times a week.  I did high impact, low impact, step aerobics, the works.  Not for the first time (or the last), it was generally twenty-five women and me.  I still remember my teachers, most of whom were sassy Italian Americans with big hair and heavy Rhode Island accents (two parts Boston, one part Brooklyn), with names like Gina, Tina, and Dina.

(Parenthetically, in preparation for today's post I have discovered that Tracey has reopened The Body Firm in neighboring Pawtucket and is still teaching -- Go, Tracey!)

Aerobics was what I loved most rolled into one: movement, music, and mirrors.  I remember the first time I heard about aerobics: a high school friend's very trendy mother was taking classes at the groundbreaking Body Design by Gilda studio on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  This was also around the time that Jane Fonda came out with her best-selling workout book-soon-to-be-exercise-empire.  No one did more to popularize aerobics than Jane.



Back then, it was the rare female celebrity who didn't put out an exercise book or make an exercise video.  There was Do It Debbie's (Reynolds) Way, Jane Powell's Fight Back With Fitness, Victoria Principal's The Body Principal; even former Olympic athlete Zsa Zsa Gabor had It's Simple, Darling.







Of course, there were a zillion non-celebrity tapes too.  I'm not sure which category Richard Simmons falls into.  He was everywhere, and definitely helped give aerobics the campy reputation it has today.




There were even aerobics movies, like Perfect starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis.  A (lean) turkey.







As with all fads, there was a huge supply of aerobics-inspired kitsch collectibles -- mugs, figurines, refrigerator magnets, plus toys, records and cassettes!



 







Last but not least was trend-setting aerobics fashion:

Reeboks! (I owned a pair just like these)



Tights! (for the gals, of course -- ideally worn with scrunchy cotton socks and leg warmers)



Super high cut leotards!



Aerobics colors were anything neon, jewel tones, along with the classic mauve-and-turquoise Key West palette.  The most important thing was that all this be an Outfit, not just some crap you threw on to work out in.  You were exercising before a wall of mirrors and you had to look your best, especially if, like me, you always, always parked yourself in the front row.





Naturally, there were also aerobics-inspired sewing patterns.







I'd argue that the aerobics craze was probably the first time exercise clothes had so heavily influenced fashion (though obviously not the last). It was suddenly chic to look like you were going to or coming from the gym, even if you'd never worked out in your life.

I would kill to go back in time and take one of those classes again (and could still probably do those workout routines in my sleep).  After a few years, however, I realized aerobics could be extremely repetitive, even dull.   How much running in place with your arms criss-crossing over your head, grapevine steps, or on-your-back, pelvis-raised butt squeezes can you do?  As I recall, it was also quite hard on the shins.

In closing, exercise enthusiasts of a certain age, were you ever an aerobics fanatic?

Did you "feel the burn" while lying on your side, propped up on one elbow, doing inner thigh lifts with a two-pound weight strapped to your ankle?

Did your workouts end with a low-impact cool-down to something from Flashdance or Fame -- Out Here On My Own perhaps?

Whatever happened to aerobics (and aerobics fashion)?

Jump in -- ten times, in place, please!



49 comments:

  1. Richard Simmons! I fondly recall watching him on TV as a child: I think he might have been on just before Play School so I always caught the cooking part at the end. Have you seen his safety video for AIr NZ? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iaTEgoezNQ

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    1. Wow! Richard Simmons pushed the envelope - no U.S. carrier could ever do this.

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    2. I got to go to a Richard Simmons class once! He sniffed me out as an interloper (I was there for a work assignment) and made me join him in a "circle of fear" dance off. Me and Richard, in the middle of a circle of clapping ladies, dancing like our lives depended on it. It was simultaneously terrifying and the best thing ever.

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  2. Oh! I think one of my sisters had that turquoise clad Barbie. I definitely remember my mom owning a Jane Fonda video and taking an aerobics class with my best friend's mom at some point during the 80's. Although, by the time I was old enough to want to work out (as opposed to play) the crazes were rollerblading, Tae Bo and Buns of Steel. I didn't really ever do any of them.

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    1. I still have that Barbie in the turquoise unitard - my girls have inherited her at this point but I don't think they ever dress her in that outfit. They have no idea what aerobics is.

      I did a little bit of aerobics here and there but the Tae Bo and cardio kick-boxing were more my style - a great way to get out aggression if you have a punching bag. I also used to roller blade but quit after I fell on my rear and broke my tailbone. I think that many fitness classes can get repetitive after a while, which is why I prefer things like ballet and other types of dance; it's more of a skill that you can build on. And horseback riding, though many people don't realize what a great workout that can be for the inner thigh.

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  3. What happened to aerobics? After we all got Physical with Olivia Newton-John, it got replaced by Pump, Circuit Training, Pilates, Bikram Yoga, Cycling...
    Exercise remains but neon got banished forever.

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    1. NEON IS BACK. Thank the hipsters for that one...

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  4. I loved aerobics classes. Like you, back in the 80s-90s I had access to unlimited classes at various points and sometimes went every day.

    Unfortunately, my knees started to be bothered by it, and then I got busier with other things and didn't have time, plus I didn't have such great access to classes anymore, so I gave it up.

    Have thought about trying Jazzercise again -- that was fun, and it's still around.

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    1. I think I've finally reached the "Do It Debbie's Way" demographic; I should try that.

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  5. Now it's Zumba...

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  6. Hey, I was an addict too! I LOVED it for the same reasons. I made all my own gear, even screen printing grey marle lycra with little Japanese inspired sunset icons to get the looks I wanted. Hip to be Square, I need a Hero, It's Raining Men, Blue Monday - wonderful songs to move to.
    As for Richard Simmons!!! The frequent flyers of my country have him indelibly etched on our retinae, thanks to Air Nz's ever changing feast of silly safety videos. Note the cameo appearance by Phil Keoghan of The Great Race- he is a kiwi and started his career here in children's TV. Anywa, for a 3 minute laugh:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWhHpjZfTik

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  7. I absolutely had and did the Barbie Dance Aerobic video! My friends and I used to love popping Jane or Richard in the vhs during slumber parties. We were pretty little then, but I remember it making us feel really cool.

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  8. When I was in high school, my mom and I had matching Jane Fonda steps. After college, I started taking step at the Y and now I teach the class (just like one of those Shape magazine testimonials, hahaha). I would love to make one of those leotards for Halloween and show up to teach like it was 100% normal. Maybe 2013 is the year!

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    Replies
    1. You have to do big hair and big, puffy, terrycloth sweatbands to go with it.

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    2. Along with the music and the mirrors, there was quite a bit of mousse!

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  9. Those glossy tights . . . the idea of exercising in nylons makes me cringe. I'd itch for a week. I remember that Barbie, though! At the risk of sounding especially dorky: I always wanted legwarmers. Never got them. I could get some now but it wouldn't be the same as it would have been in 1986.

    Somehow Richard Simmons and "Great Balls of Fire" should never appear on the same video sleeve together. I have to kind of love Richard Simmons just-because, but he also creeps the heck out of me.

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  10. Yesterday's unitards are today's yoga pants. Look like you're going to the gym, while guzzling a zillion calorie Starbucks frappe-whatever.

    I remember doing step aerobics my sophomore year of high school in the early 90s. It's really not a huge leap from Jazzer-size

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  11. I was an addict while I was a student, I think I was spoilt as one of the Phys Ed tutors ran the classes, she was an American, (a rare thing in North wales in the early 90's) and way ahead of her time. Classes were dance based and regularly had 80-100 participants, and great fun. However once I moved after Uni I found all aerobics classes to be dull and repetitive in comparison. I now rely on the MOS pump it up series. dance based, great music and I can look stupid and sweat it out in my own living room!

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  12. I was a bit young to partake in classes, but I LOVED my Barbie in the blue unitard. (I was totally thrilled to see her make a comeback in Toy Story 3!!)

    My neighbour across the street also had a "Get In Shape, Girl" set of aerobics video, weights, and accessories. Does anyone remember those?

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  13. You can work out with Richard in LA! Classes are pretty cheap, my girlfriends and I need to get around to doing that.

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  14. You know I had a conversation similar to this with my brother. He is responsible for programming at a municipal recreation centre and he was telling me how fitness goes in fads. Be it aerobics, step classes, zumba, squash or pole dancing, they all have a peak and while some people will continue with it, most won't. The key for him is seeing the next trend coming and planning accordingly.

    I was a kid when this was big, I got a "Get in Shape, Girl" set. I think it was a cassette with bracelet weights. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZhvocyYtSc

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  15. I used to work out an hour every day back in the day. I used Kathy Smith's VHS workouts. Remember when step aerobics became popular? I was addicted to that stuff. People told me I had Betty Grable legs. And yes, I had the BIG HAIR. No sweatband though. It ruined the hair. ;) I'd wear the short lycra skirts to work to show off my legs. Then I recently saw the same skirts at Target! Sadly, my Betty legs are long gone. Now I have knee problems. Who knew?

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  16. For the Debbie Reynolds generation it has become Aqua-aerobics. If you're in a swimming pool and a woman comes in dressed as a cross between a Mexican wrestler and a Mr Man carrying what used to be known as a ghettoblaster and followed by a dozen octogenarians run for the hills don't even change.

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  17. Oh my goodness this brings back memories. I had the big permed hair, the headband, the footless tights with the leg warmers. At one stage I think I had more leotards than (acid wash) jeans in my wardrobe. I miss the 80s sometimes!!

    Now I stick to yoga and running, but still have plenty of the fancy gear for those!!

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  18. And don't forget the '20 Minute Workout' with revolving camera work!

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  19. I used to do Dance Workout with Barbie when I was a kid! The kids in that tape had the best outfits.

    I also seem to remember some early-morning Disney exercise show that I'd do before school sometimes.

    I don't know why I was into aerobics as a kid... I guess it looked cool? lol

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  20. Aerobics became Cardio! Thank you for the wak down memory lane. Your pictures reminded me of the profliferation of stripes and the wild crazy brightly-colored patterned cotton lycra (this was the 1980s before everyone started wearing black and or solid colors in the 1990s).

    Best,

    Rose

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  21. Thirty years ago (goodness) I worked in physically demanding restaurant kitchens in Portland, Oregon and also took aerobics classes from excellent instructors at The Fitness Place, I think it was called.
    Where has aerobics gone? For me, underground--my basement, where I exercise to Karen Voigt videos in view of my fabrics and patterns. Fitness and fabric--great combination.

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  22. I have the current Jane Fonda workout which is for us "older" people. I had her earlier ones too. I used to wear the cutest striped leotard with leg warmers.

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  23. Yes Yes Yes! I did the Jane Fonda workout (it was my mother's video). I did the 20 Minute Workout (on TV). I joined a gym. Aerobics was the thing. And then I found yoga. (BTW, I found it when I was 19 in 1989 - long before it ever was popular.)

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  24. Oh my. Jane Fonda! My 5-yr-old and I did the Jane Fonda workout everyday. It was the best shape I've ever been in since high school. Then I joined an aerobics class and my knees have never been the same. So good memories and bad. I don't miss the lycra but I do miss my scrunchy socks! Wigwams!

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  25. Oh nostalgia! I still have the shiny black short sleeved leotard that served both for tap dance (under a little skirt, with red tights and black tap shoes) and for aerobics (with matt black footless tights, an oversized pink t shirt knotted at the hip and in winter pink leg warmers). Alas, they offer no plain aerobics classes at the gym any more and Zumba is way too energetic now I'm over 60. Maybe I'll make a new little skirt and get the leotard out again for tap dance this winter.

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  26. You have brought back some memories for me! I am from the UK but back in 1987 I spent six months living in Miami. Twice a week I went to the local Richard Simmons franchise for aerobics classes. I loved going and remember the excitement of buying a black and neon yellow outfit to wear.

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  27. This is too funny. I have always despised exercising in public so I bought myself the LP (yep, vinyl) of Jane Fonda and we made it burn in my loungeroom. Only prob, the needle kept jumping because of all my thumping, unco moves (wooden floors, you see). Later, when i was expecting my son, I bought a Denise Austin video. Does anyone remember her? She was the pregnancy aerobic queen. She was very sweet.

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  28. The swimming pool and gym machines were (and still are) my thing. I could never get past the awful day-glo leotards and grisly 80s lycra fashions that came with aerobics. Ugh (that's me shuddering at the above pics...) Yup, several decades later and they still make me cringe.

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    1. Me too! HIDEOUS! :-)

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  29. it's still going on over here, it's just that now they call it things like bodypump and bodyjam.

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  30. I had the "Lean Legs" and "Super Stomachs" videos pictured above! I may even still have them somewhere. They weren't bad workouts, actually.

    We used to do the "Twenty Minute Workout" which was on TV very early every morning. Anyone remember that? I mostly remember slogging through the workout, but my sister remembers it as being a step above soft core porn.

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  31. I was just marveling the other day at the staying power of Step. My gym doesn't have a step class at a time I can go (I left work early to go to one several months ago and man, it was so fun), but I still use my step at home weekly.

    The fashion, though... I'm so glad leotards for anything other than legitimate gymnastics or dance are over.

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  32. Hahahaha, awesome! I wish I did aerobics now! We did step aerobics in PE, which was a great workout, but since everyone was too embarrassed to shower in the locker room, we would all go to the next class sweaty and red in the face. :)

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  33. It took its time in arriving in the Czech Republic, I guess; it was still all the rage when I was in grammar school. Unfortunately for me, perhaps, I saw it as boring, repetitive right from the start. Well, mostly confusing, to tell the truth; I could never get the steps right and saw no point in it.
    But I do remember the fashions, long before I knew what aerobics was; it seems very much Barbie to me now, and I don't like it much in a "so not me" way, but there was a time I did not feel that way... when I was about ten. :P

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  34. I always thought aerobics was cheesy and hypersexualizing. I avoided it and don't have the repetitive stress injuries to show for it.

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  35. Um, no, aerobics wasn't the first exercise craze to seriously impact women's fashion. Horseback riding did that in the 18th century - rise of the sidesaddle habit for traveling as well. Bicycling did that - short (above the ankle) skirts and practical hats for grown women. http://www.gutenberg-e.org/gordon/chap5.html
    I *hated* those leotards with super-high-cut legs (and I still hate underwear cut like that - not comfortable); I bought my leotard from a ballet outfitter.

    Sandy in TX

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  36. I still have Jane Fonda's Low Impact Aerobics tape and use it when I begin exercising after an injury--or re-injury, as the case may be. Since I exercise at an uncivilized hour of the morning (around 5:00 a.m.), I can't handle blaring music or someone yelling! *lol*

    At the time aerobics was popular, I still took ballet class three times a week, so I never really became involved with it, other than as part of the rehab process.


    Taja

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  37. What the heck! Am I the only one that still plugs in my videos to do Kathy Smith Richard and scads more of them. I have a complete library I'm over 60 and still do them all with no pain. :)
    Well I don't do the hi-impact anymore. Good topic nonetheless.

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  38. In my neighborhood (SF Bay Area), aerobics was the big thing from the early 80s to the early 90s. I was a bit nervous when the Jazzercise craze swept through since it seemed to take over like some sort of cult. Still, as soon as the more generic aerobics hit my gym, I was out there jumping and dancing with everyone else. I LOVED those high cut leotards. What ever happened to those? I wore Reeboks for a while, then I became a fan of some newfangled brand that was so ridiculously comfortable it was worth the (then) outrageous price for shoes.
    Thanks for the reminder of my good old yuppie days!

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  39. Aerobics is now "cardio" and most people do it solo on machines, like treadmills (not very fashion-provoking). The closest thing to the 80s aerobics fab is Zumba, basically latin dance cardio, which is everywhere. I've seen ads for Zumba shoes, but otherwise not a mainstream fashion impact.

    I did go to a Jane Fonda Workout studio in San Francisco in the 80s and people really did look like this.

    Personally, I think the high cut leotards were an abomination.

    On a similar vein regarding male workout fashion, I totally love the 70's gym shorty-shorts outfits on the basketball court. Watch any 70s-80s basketball game clip and you'll see what I mean. (Just not the same with the baggy pajama style short down to mid-calf. ) Let's bring those back. Can you find patterns for these?

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  40. I have most of Jane Fonda's workout albums and some newer CDs for older folks. I used her workouts on a rotating basis, with the shorter workouts on the week nights (Tues, Wed, & Thurs) then the longer more advanced on Sat and Sun. Boy was I in good shape in my 30's and 40's! I should start again on a more restrained basis as I am 30 years older.

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  41. I could never do aerobics, because I cannot dance! I had the shoes and the socks, walked several miles and did weighs 3 times a week. I hate the type of cardio now with the burpee stuff. I'm really boring with Leslie Sansone, but it is April 18 and I still have 3 feet of snow on my yard. Walking in place will have to do.

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