All That Jazzercise
By Konny Thompson | Photos courtesy of Jazzercise
Since teaching her first classes in 1969, Judi Sheppard Missett has been going strong while building a wordlwide fitness empires that's based here in Carlsbad.
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“When you love your workout, results come easy.” The simple truth of this motto is at the heart of the philosophy behind Carlsbad-based Jazzercise, the high-energy dance exercise program founded in 1969 by Judi Sheppard Missett. Committed to the conviction that fitness is an important aspect of well-being and improves the overall quality of life, Missett has turned her love of jazz dance into a worldwide dance exercise phenomenon. Jazzercise has now been helping people understand, experience and enjoy the value of health and fitness for more than 40 years.

Back in 1969, Missett was attending college at Northwestern University and working as a professional dancer in Chicago; she also taught classes in a local dance studio between performances. But when her students confessed a desire to learn the dance moves and get fit without becoming professional dancers, Missett changed the class format. Instead of having her students face the mirrored walls, as in traditional dance classes, she turned them to face her. She became their mirror—she became their example and their motivator. Missett redefined her dance classes as a source of fun and fitness, and the concept took off from there. Her first class had 15 students, her second doubled to 30, and from there to 60. The concept spread like wildfire with no marketing strategy but word of mouth.

In 1972, Missett and her family moved to Oceanside, where she continued to dance professionally. She also brought Jazzercise with her. Just like in Illinois, the concept caught on quickly: The demand for Jazzercise became so great that she found herself teaching 25 classes a week. It was then that she knew she needed help and trained five teachers to help with the heavy class load. In fact, Jazzercise became the first program to train and certify instructors, creating the first industry teaching standards and holding the first instructor conventions. “It all grew organically; it was an organic revolution,” Missett says.

The ‘70s: “Decade of Innovation”
Missett’s term for this decade grew from her groundbreaking position in the fitness industry. The fusion of dance and fitness for the masses had become a force of its own, and Missett found herself at the helm of this new fitness trend. In 1977, Missett started her instructor-training workshops and opened the first Jazzercise corporate office in Carlsbad.

Missett also was one of the first to take advantage of the decade’s burgeoning technology. Jazzercise began videotaping routines to send to certified instructors, laying the groundwork for the program to spread across the country as well as internationally. Now videos are produced for instructors every 10 weeks, Missett says. When reflecting on these early days, Missett says, “We grew phenomenally; I flew by the seat of my pants.” And fly she did. The program went international in 1979 with classes in Europe, Brazil and Japan. Today, Jazzercise has 7,800 instructors who teach 32,000 classes a week in 32 countries around the world.

The ‘80s: “Decade of Development”
This was truly a decade of “firsts” for Jazzercise. Missett appeared weekly on “P.M. Magazine,” a national television show, as well as on NBC’s “Today” show. Jazzertogs, her personal brand of fitness apparel, accessories and more was launched, and in 1981 she published the book “Jazzercise: A Fun Way to Fitness.” She produced a workout album, “Jazzercise”, that became the first fitness record to go gold.

In 1983 Jazzercise began franchising its instructors and the business quickly spread to all 50 states. Jazzercise instructors were asked to participate in the Opening Ceremony of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and Missett was a member of the Olympic torch relay in Oceanside.

Then, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan named her the year’s “Top Woman Entrepreneur.” And two years later Judi’s daughter, Shanna Missett Nelson, became a certified Jazzercise instructor, setting the stage for future collaboration. Ending this decade in style, Jazzerjam Chicago ’89 brought 6,000 Jazzercise customers and instructors together for a three-day health expo honoring Missett’s 20th year in the fitness industry. The event ended with Missett leading the participants in the world’s largest aerobic dance class ever.

The ‘90s: “Decade of Reinvention”
With Missett’s dedication to exercise and fitness, it’s no surprise that she chose not to rest on her laurels and kept Jazzercise moving in new directions. She created the Kids Get Fit program, a free fitness classroom learning program that reached 95,000 children in its first year. Within a few short years, this program was used by more than one million children worldwide.

Another important innovation that debuted in 1998 was Cyberstretch by Jazzercise, a computer screen saver with 26 illustrations and action tips designed to help prevent repetitive stress injuries. The ‘90s also saw Internet strategies developed and refined, a new circuit-training class that combined aerobics with strength training introduced, and numerous awards and accolades bestowed on Missett by everyone from the fitness industry to President George Bush. Missett believes in the concept of “disruptive innovation—where we do something so different that we change the industry.” And change she did.

There was no change in momentum when Jazzercise entered the new millennium. The first year of this new era saw Missett honored at Working Woman magazine’s second annual Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards Ceremony as a regional finalist in three categories: Social Responsibility, Customer/Client Service and General Excellence. And Jazzercise was proud to report that in the same year it raised more than $1 million for charity—not a bad start to a new decade. Continuing the family Jazzercise legacy, in 2001 Shanna was appointed as the company’s executive vice president. “I am really fortunate to have grown up with Jazzercise and to be raised around so many positive people,” she says.

Jazzercise continues to move forward in the industry. In 2008-‘09, Jazzercise announced its best financial year ever, posting $94 million in system-wide sales—the company’s eighth consecutive year of system-wide sales growth. New innovations for this era include a series of video podcasts for travelers titled “Workout Whenever,” available for free on iTunes.

But perhaps the most noteworthy event of this decade for Jazzercise took place in 2009. Jazzercise celebrated its 40th anniversary in Chicago, where it all began. To mark this momentous occasion, 1,000 Jazzercise enthusiasts from all over the world worked out together in a series of classes at Chicago’s Union Station. That evening the celebration continued with a reception at the Art Institute of Chicago’s new Modern Wing. From such humble beginnings to such a grand celebration is the mark of a company that has done something very right—so right that Jazzercise recently ranked 18th on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500, the highest ranking for any San Diego-based company and third-highest ranking among all businesses in southern California.

As if that were not enough for one company to accomplish, Missett’s philosophy of “giving back to the community” has led her team to raise more than $27 million for various nonprofits by organizing large-scale workout classes, performances at sporting events and local benefits. In addition, Missett is a passionate supporter of the arts and hosts biannual receptions at Jazzercise’s Carlsbad headquarters to help budding artists gain exposure.

“When you love what you do, it is easy to go to class,” Missett says. “Our workouts are successful—you can change your body. And because they also fulfill a social need, we become part of our students’ lives and part of the community. The most important part of this whole story is passion. If you follow your passion, good things happen. When you follow your passion, you find success.” Indeed she has.

Jazzercise Opens La Costa Studio

In an ongoing effort to meet the growing demand for Jazzercise classes here at home, Executive Vice President Shanna Missett Nelson is proud to spearhead the opening of a new studio in the La Costa Town Center at El Camino Real and La Costa Avenue.

“We are so excited,” Missett Nelson says of the new studio. “It’s a beautiful facility and we are so proud to be able to help people meet their health and fitness goals while having fun at the same time.”

The new Jazzercise Fitness Center hosts 15 certified instructors teaching 42 classes a week. Each 60-minute Jazzercise class offers a fusion of jazz dance, cardio box, hip hop, strength training, yoga and Pilates set to popular music.

The Jazzercise Fitness Center is at 7720 N. El Camino Real, Suite A. For class times, call 760.476.1750 or visit