It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re running, you must be able to adapt as you go. Nobody has taken this philosophy to a higher level than Judi Sheppard Missett, who combined a love for dance with a need to achieve fitness, back in the day when it was not so trendy to look after yourself. 40 years later her invention "Jazzercise" now oversees more than 7500 instructors and has a burgeoning support staff at corporate HQ in Carlsbad, CA.
Sheppard Missett always had a love for the bright lights and toured on Broadway during her adolescence, starring in productions of "West Side Story," "Funny Girl," "Coco" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." She loved to dance and was enrolled in dance class back at home in Iowa. "I was pigeon-toed and my mom thought it would be good for me to be in a dance class to help with my inward rotation. I loved it, and everything came naturally to me." Even at that young age she felt a natural enthusiasm for her passion and taught dance classes to her local friends in the neighborhood.
Following a bachelor’s degree in theater and radio back at Northwestern University in 1966, she found that while teaching traditional dance she felt motivated to introduce her students to a special class, "just for fun" as she put it. She realized that most of the students were there to get in shape and have fun and did not have any particular aspirations to be in front of the footlights. Soon her new methods were gaining critical acclaim and she found that her classroom attendance was packed.
Shortly after moving to California her concept really started to take off and word spread far and wide. So popular were her classes that the city department responsible for overseeing class attendance in Carlsbad restricted participants to those who lived locally. Enterprising women signed up for PO boxes at the local post office, just so they could attend the classes. One of her students suggested that she was combining jazz music with exercise and should call the concept "Jazzercise" and this stuck.
As additional instructors were recruited the new technology of the time, the VCR, was used to train them. Further embracing this technology, a production company was commissioned to produce tapes and distribute to clients nationwide. From there it seemed natural to sell franchise opportunities and these were snapped up both across the nation and in a variety of countries overseas.
Judi has ensured that she moved with the times and, as people’s taste for music evolved, she and her company evolved as well. She puts down her longevity to consistency. "They know they’ll do a little yoga and Pilates, burn some calories and get out of the door in an hour. Sometimes in a health club, they don’t know what to expect and they can feel lost. That’s when class attendance can take a big hit." By adapting to the market, Jazzercise has resisted the decline felt by some other health clubs. Combine this with the creativity of the franchise, where new routines are established every 10 weeks or so and there is a recipe for the success that has been enjoyed for four decades.
Judi Sheppard Missett has managed to affect millions of people by introducing them to fitness in a fun way. She has been honored by numerous lifetime achievement awards and induction into halls of fame. Her persistent philosophy of giving back to the community has resulted in donations of more than $26 million to a wide range of charities over the years.