Fat Girl Running: My Love Letter to Jazzercise

I am a fat girl. And it’s okay. Like mid 90s Ani said, “I ain’t no damsel in distress/and I don’t need to be rescued.”

I got here all by myself, by leading a fairly sedentary life. And you’d better believe that I made all kinds of excuses about why that was okay.

My parents weren’t very active, and I learned it by watching them.

Food insecurity in my childhood meant that I never really learned (in practice) the right way(s) to nourish my body.

Also, I don’t really like being outside anyway.

Have I mentioned that rightly or wrongly, I’m quite good at justifying the things I’m committed to?

Not even a diagnosis of diabetes at 20 was enough to change my mind. In fact, my denial initially sent me in completely the opposite direction, eating and drinking with a wild abandon that didn’t factor in the amount of havoc that I was wreaking on my insides. Neither was the death of my parents when I was 24. Clearly my bad habits – like the smoking I picked up, overeating, and my genetics – were just things I was going to have to learn to live with.

Fast forward a few years, when I finally convinced myself that I didn’t need the added insult of nicotine addiction. I quit cold turkey but folded that obsession into the one that I already had with food. I knew that I needed to change something, but that nagging voice with all the excuses refused to be evicted from my brain.

Don’t go to the gym. That’s for fit people. They will wonder who the pig is on the treadmill – because let’s face it: walking is the only thing you can do. And don’t even think about classes. How would someone your size keep up? Those people will judge you too. You might as well just quit while you’re behind and sit that behind down on the couch. You’ll be happier.

I kind of hate that voice.

I tried a number of things over the years in an attempt to reduce the amount of weight I carried around, but nothing ever stuck. Shockingly, that voice wasn’t my biggest hurdle. It was the not knowing how to approach a program realistically, running at it full speed, and fizzling out pretty quickly. I was all flashover fire instead of slow burn.

Then came the summer of 2011. I left Iowa City on a two-week trip back to my hometown of Philadelphia, and other parts of the East Coast. I had a high school reunion to go to, but I also wanted to visit as many friends as I could while I was there. Because I don’t drive, I made the most of my travels via planes, trains, buses and foot. By the end of my trip, I felt refreshed, and ready for something new.

As I made my way back to work, I noticed something from the bus window that hadn’t been there before I left. It was a sign that said “Jazzercise”. I had no idea what it was, but I have always thought that beginnings and new things were great – so I made a note to look it up later. When I did – I was intrigued. Group classes, routines, dancing, heart-pumping songs, AND strength routines? Could I do it?

I decided that it couldn’t be any worse for me than anything else I had done to myself up to that point. I was still wary of the people, and the judgment – so I picked a Saturday morning, first class of the morning that I could get to – and I stood in the back.

It was like a revelation.

No one cared what I was wearing. No one cared what I was doing. It didn’t matter if I didn’t know the moves. The instructor announced that the number one rule was to ‘just keep moving’. (Side note: I think that the other rule is to answer all questions with a ‘woo!’, which has always made me feel triumphant.)

And so that was what I did. I let the music flow through me and move me. I sang along, I laughed, I moved my body and best of all – I was completely unaware of how much time had passed until the class ended. How did this fat girl dance and use weights for an hour without realizing it?

I took the rest of the weekend to think about it and then decided to start my membership that following Monday. And I have been dancing ever since. I have lost roughly 80 pounds from my highest weight. I still have a ways to go, but I’m very proud of that accomplishment.

Jazzercise has been the community I didn’t know I needed. I have danced with the Iowa City crew at the Center, in the parking lot, in parks, at Iowa City Pride and in the Homecoming parade. I have celebrated birthdays and births of babies – and a number of the instructors were at my wedding. You can imagine what the dance floor looked like when one of “our” songs came on.

I’ve also danced at centers in different states – from Kansas to California (at Corporate and beyond), Florida to Alaska, Texas to Washington state. Jazzercise has been a constant through many hard times over the years: pregnancy and loss, the roller coaster of foster parenting, surgery and wondering if I would ever be able to dance again.

But there has been so much joy. Palpable, inspiring joy.

All that is to say: if you are looking for a space to get your workout in while also having the time of your life, don’t wait around. Do it! Maybe Jazzercise could work for you but if not – find your joy! Prioritize yourself. Live your best life.

“Push your body. Find your beat.”

And yes, I did dance again.


(Note: This post is not sponsored by Jazzercise. I just wanted to share something that I am passionate about.)


  1. It was great to read your article, Audra. I have been Jazzercising for almost thirty years and love it as much- no, actually more- than ever. Everyone I dance with feels the same way- not only does it keep our bodies strong and healthy, it keeps our minds and spirits energized as well. I moved from SF to Bozeman MT eight years ago and found the same kind of wonderful community- everyone cares about and supports each other. I’m so glad you found Jazzercise and have had the same positive experience. Here’s to many more years of dancing!

  2. I love this so much!! I felt the same joy when I became a Jazzerciser nearly 30 years ago. I became an instructor 5 years ago and now experience that joy in a different way. Thank you for having the courage the say the things so many of us have felt.

  3. Love your story. Thanks so much for sharing. I am sure you will open some eyes and literally you can save someone’s life if they listen and take action. You deserve to be so PROUD of yourself. Jazzercising over 40 years and 2 hip replacements later and still LOVING it!! It is a Wonderful community of positive, accepting people.

  4. So Inspiring! I got teary eyed-I am an instructor and have a customer who was sedentary when she started. At age 58 she decided to make a change after her friend, already a customer of mine, drug her to class one morning. She lost 100 lbs in a little over a year thanks to Jazzercise and healthy eating habits! Bravo! Congrats! Keep moving!😘

  5. You are a rockstar & love your story!! I was also a “fat girl” with a similar upbringing & I hated exercising until I had my first child and went into a Jazzercise class in 2003, and I found out that there was exercise. I could love! ❤️ I too have lost 80lbs at the beginning & now I am not only an instructor of 11years, but I now own 2 locations (Jazzercise Venice & Sarasota) & if you ever come down here I would be honored & totally excited to have you dance with us!!! Xxxxx keep up the good work & keep dancing & maybe you should teach next!!!

  6. Love your story! It is so great to hear when people can overcome things to help them live a better life! Way to go girl! I have been in Jazzercise for about 15 years and don’t know what I would do without it! I am off now because of surgery but can’t wait to get back!


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