Okay, ladies, so you’ve danced all night or cheek to cheek or even by the light of the moon. But would you like to dance aerobically? All it takes is a T-shirt, gym shorts, sneakers and a lot of determination.
Aerobic dancing is the exercise craze that’s sweeping the country. Its founder, Jacki Sorensen, has 1,000 instructors in 34 states leading nearly 50,000 women in strenuous hoofing to lose weight, firm up their bodies and improve their health.
“Aerobic” is from the Greek words air and life, and 36-year-old Jacki stresses to her students that “huffing and puffing” strengthens the capacity of the heart and lungs. She works out the vigorous choreography at home, then sets it to pulsating pop and disco tunes like YMCA, Greased Lightnin’, At the Copa and Cracklin’ Rosie. The pace is driving—students over 35 are advised to take an EKG before signing up—but so far no one has had a seizure in class. “Your heart,” says Jacki firmly, “is a muscle. Without exercise, it will get flabby.”
Jacki has been dancing since she started ballet, tap and tumbling lessons in hometown Oakland, Calif. at the age of 5. She recalls choreographing her first dance for the fourth-grade play “and I haven’t stopped since.” At UC in Berkeley (class of ’64), she worked up to head pom-pom girl and won the talent segment in the Miss California contest with “a kind of stylized Ann Miller routine.”
Sophomore year, while engaged to somebody else, she met Neil Sorensen, student director of the marching band. They were married after graduation and headed for Big Spring, Texas, where Neil went through Air Force pilot training. Once he got his wings, they were posted to Sacramento, then Puerto Rico. To keep busy (they have no children), Jacki began teaching dance to officers’ wives and kids. In 1969 she was invited to launch a physical fitness program on the base TV station. “It was the dark ages of exercises,” Jacki remembers. “Men were just beginning to jog and women were still doing slimnastics.”
Inspired by Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s celebrated book Aerobics—”He’s a semigenius,” says Jacki—she took one of his basic endurance tests, running 1.65 miles in 12 minutes. “I figured my dancing made me score well,” she says. “That’s where I got the idea to combine aerobics and dancing.” Jacki tested six women for 12 weeks and all improved in such vital signs as pulse rate and breathing. Their figures were better too.
Aerobic dancing began to catch on when the Sorensens moved to New Jersey in 1970. Neil, by then out of the Air Force, became an aviation underwriter, and Jacki started lessons in a church basement. Soon enthusiastic housewives spread the word about her twice-a-week, 45-minute sessions that truly trimmed the flab.
Under Jacki’s management, Aerobic Dancing, Inc. today has become a multimillion-dollar property. Husband Neil, also 36, now works full-time as vice-president. Each dance session has a theme title, like Alive, Magic, Sunshine and Showtime, and the three-month course costs about $50 (but $120 in New York City).
As chairwoman and president, based in Northridge, Calif., Jacki is readying a new aerobic dance wear line for the fall, when her book, Aerobic Dancing, will come out. Material success has not dimmed her cheerleader belief in fitness. “It’s like sex appeal,” she grins. “If you’ve got it you know it.”