With 40 years of teaching Jazzercise under her belt, Barb Peterson says she’s now in better shape than ever.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck and the shutdown began March 13, Peterson didn’t skip a beat – or miss a Saturday morning class. With the help of Facebook Live, and her husband Pete’s tech savvy, she now streams her three Jazzercise and two Personal Touch training classes each week.
A lifetime of fitness
Originally from Southern California, Peterson was first introduced to Jazzercise while a senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“My sister I’m very close to in San Diego said I had to try out this new thing in town called Jazzercise,” she recalled.
Already big on exercise – the business major ran cross-country at Cal Poly and also had dance experience – Jazzercise was an instant hit. In addition to dance, the workout phenomenon includes strength, core and resistance training, flexibility, balance, aerobics and more.
Her instructor, Judi Sheppard Missett – the founder of Jazzercise – appreciated her enthusiasm and approached her about teaching.
Peterson was recruited by Hewlett-Packard in 1980 and moved to the South Bay, soon starting a Jazzercise franchise. When HP split in 2000, she went with Agilent Technologies and later Keysight Technologies. Upon her retirement a couple of years ago, she began consulting work for the Packard Foundation in Los Altos. Jazzercise has been there all along.
Peterson joked that when her husband asked her to marry him, she told him she would need a prenup stating that she could continue to teach Jazzercise Monday and Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. As she still does.
She started small with a class at the Jewish Community Center on Terman Drive. Word of mouth led to more than 100 people in her classes at the Cubberley boys gym. She then moved to Jordan Middle School, back to Cubberley, to the former Elks Lodge and finally settled at the Whisman Sports Center in Mountain View, as well as teaching classes at the Los Altos Youth Center. She now counts 180 people on her monthly ticket; classes average 40-70 students.
Cathy Jensen has been enjoying Peterson’s classes and friendship for 33 years.
“Barb is admired and appreciated not only as an incredible instructor,” Jensen said, “but also as a generous spirit who has created a community of friends and supporters of each other for many years.”
Keeping up virtually
When the pandemic hit and Peterson transitioned the in-person classes to Facebook Live, she and her students quickly adjusted to the new format. She had 78 people participate in a recent Saturday morning class.
“I still feel that same passion, that excitement for life when I’m in there with these people,” she said, “even though (now) I’m just looking at the back of my cellphone.”
Before the shutdown, Peterson and her regular students had been planning a 40th anniversary celebration June 6, with a brunch party after class. When a face-to-face celebration was deemed impossible due to the ban on gatherings, they came up with Plan B.
“My husband put together a video – it was beautiful,” Peterson said. “We had a Zoom session with over 100 people. … It was very emotional. … It was unbelievable that the pandemic didn’t put a dent in it.”
During the Zoom celebration, organizers surprised her with proclamations from U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, Assemblyman Marc Berman and Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga. Berman’s certificate of recognition stated: “Your thoughtfulness, caring, and gratitude is very much appreciated by the over 10,000 multi-generational students you have taught throughout the years. Thank you for continuously creating a space in which participants feel more than welcomed, and for fostering an environment that has encouraged the development of long-lasting friendships.” Jensen also arranged for a personal video from Jazzercise founder Sheppard Missett.
The mother of three – she has a daughter and son in San Francisco and a son in Connecticut, as well as a 2-year-old granddaughter and another on the way – said her children recall growing up seeing her practicing routines in the evenings.
“We realized it wasn’t work for you – it was just something you felt passionate about,” her kids told her.
Peterson still spends four to five hours per week developing new routines.
A celebration of life
Peterson is thankful for the opportunities Jazzercise has afforded her to give back. Among many fundraisers they’ve held over the years, their 1993 benefit, Jazzercise to Beat Breast Cancer, raised more than $100,000 in two hours for Susan B. Komen.
“There were over 1,000 people in the large gym at Foothill,” she said, adding that next-door neighbor Steve Young, former 49ers quarterback, volunteered to come and auction off some jerseys – a big part of the draw.
Peterson’s also grateful for the Jazzercise community that has developed over the past four decades.
“It’s a big support group,” she said. “Every class, I start with, ‘Thank you for being here.’ I think that gratitude every day helps everyone. How grateful I am to dance and exercise.”
She believes that Jazzercise not only strengthens the body, it also benefits the brain. Memorizing dance steps and thinking of what comes next in a routine may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
“Your body is getting stronger, your brain is getting stronger,” Peterson said, summing up her passion for Jazzercise. “Spiritually, mentally, physically – it’s a celebration of life for that 60 minutes. For this one hour, we leave everything outside. This is our hour to celebrate life. You just keep coming to class through the good and the bad. It gets us through those moments when life throws a wrench at you. If you can get to class, life’s good.”