Apr 11, 2013
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!