According to Weinmann, Jazzercise is a great stress reliever, act of self-care and fun social activity.
Contemporary music blares and the Royal Oak studio is filled with a dozen exhilarated women from all walks of life. They’re copying the uncomplicated choreography of the energetic woman on the stage who’s leading them in a cardiovascular dance routine that feels like more fun than exercise.
On this particular day, there are three generations of Jewish Jazzercisers — Allison Weinmann of Huntington Woods, her daughter Ronit Szczotka of Oak Park and Ronit’s daughter Orli, 2, who’s just spent a happy hour in the childcare room while her mother and grandmother dance.
Weinmann first joined Jazzercise 14 years ago after seeing an ad in the local paper. She immediately connected to the music and dancing aspect.
“I’m not self-motivated when exercising and this way I just come and do whatever the instructor says for an hour. A great class for me is when I’m on autopilot, just dancing with my mind free to wander elsewhere,” Weinmann said.
Best of all, according to Weinmann, Jazzercise is a great stress reliever, act of self-care and fun social activity.
“Jazzercise is the only exercise I’ve ever found that I’ve stuck with and continue to enjoy,” she said.
Weinmann spent years urging her daughter to attend, too, but Ronit balked.
“I was hesitant as the images I associated with it were Jane Fonda and ’80s wardrobe and playlists,” Szczotka said. Finally, grudgingly, she agreed to try a class together with a family friend, both of them just wanting to get their mothers off their backs.
Right away, though, Szczotka was hooked, too. “They played songs I knew. There was a vast age range participating, and I walked away from that class pleasantly surprised. I signed up shortly thereafter,” she said.
Life is busy, but Weinmann and Szczotka, both members of Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, love carving out quality mother-daughter time and simultaneously doing something healthy for themselves.
The fact that the location also offers childcare during some classes is an added bonus. “Knowing my daughter is safe while I’m focusing on my health is unmatched,” Szczotka said.
The franchise owner of the Royal Oak location at 1019 N. Main St. is Jane McNamara, 66. She first experienced Jazzercise at a mom’s group in an Arkansas church in 1988 when her youngest was a baby. By 1993, she became a certified instructor.
McNamara opened a franchise in Columbus, in Dayton, and later, in Michigan. She opened the Royal Oak location in 2000 and moved to its current location in 2009. She has also purchased the Birmingham and West Bloomfield Jazzercise locations.
“It started out as a hobby, but it became a pretty big job,” said McNamara, who only recently returned to instructing after a four-year break because of health issues.
According to its website, Jazzercise is one of the world’s leading dance fitness companies with 8,300+ franchisees teaching 32,000+ classes each week in 25 countries around the world. Despite the competition, Jane is proud to boast that the Royal Oak location is the No. 4 top-producing location in the world in terms of numbers of customers, classes and instructors.
A Jewish Clientele
Of the 300 members at the Royal Oak location, Jane estimates that a solid 30% of her clientele are Jewish.
“There was a whole wave of new members after the JCC (in Oak Park) closed a few years ago; the first new joiners then spread the word. It was a beautiful thing,” McNamara said.
Another self-professed Jewish “Jazzaholic” is Ita Leah Cohen, 56, now of Oak Park, formerly of Birmingham, who’s a member of Dovid Ben Nuchim–Aish Kodesh in Oak Park.
One day during a hectic time in her life, Cohen was driving and, while at an intersection, looked up and saw the bright Jazzercise sign. Thinking “that’s just what I need,” she immediately pulled into the driveway, strode inside and signed up.
That was 15 years ago. “I never looked back,” said Cohen, who used to attend six days a week and now mostly attends the virtual live classes. “I love everything about it; the people, how energized it makes me feel, the one hour of peace where I don’t think about anything except having fun. It has had such a positive influence in my life … I attribute my calmness to Jazzercise.”
In fact, Cohen said, whenever she’s feeling uptight, her kids will look at her suspiciously and double check, “Did you go to Jazzercise today?!”
That is exactly what McNamara loves best about her job. “We really change people’s lives for the better, not necessarily just their bodies, but internally, their healthy outlook.”
There’s also a tremendous sense of community and camaraderie between the people who attend Jazzercise classes.
“It’s judgement-free … such a welcoming feeling,” Szczotka said. Before she got married in 2019, one instructor hosted a Beyonce-themed wedding sendoff for her family and friends. “It was the perfect way to begin my wedding weekend and a memory I will always cherish.”
The enthusiastic Jazzercise community is eager to pass on their positive vibes. Every year, the instructors pool their gently used workout wear, which sells for up to $5 a piece. The raised funds are usually donated to a cancer-based charity. One year, the proceeds were given to a Jazzerciser mom who had left an abusive marriage and was left with nothing to support her kids.
“That money helped her start over,” McNamara said. The grateful mom painted the beautiful canvas that still rests on her desk today, a reminder of the power and support of the Jazzercising community.
This year, the $1,700+ of raised funds were donated to Teen Clean Closet, a one-woman operation that provides basic hygiene products for Royal Oak students who are unable to afford them.
There are 52 classes offered during a typical week at the Royal Oak location. All genders and ages 18+ are welcome. For more information, call (248) 398-0111.