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Inspirational instructor and owner leads popular program by example

January 27, 2013
By SHAUNNA DUNDER HERSHBERGER - Lifestyles Editor ( , Times Leader

When Paula Schlegel's son was only five, his preschool teacher gave her a free pass to a Jazzercise class. Schlegel said she'd spent years taking care of her family but neglecting herself, and she was so desperate to get back into shape that she walked in the door and joined the class before it even started. It only took one class, and she was hooked. She immediately lost weight and inches. Within six months, she said the change was noticeable. Seven months after joining, she began training to become an instructor.

Schlegel led her first Jazzercise classes in the basement of a church in Bethlehem, and she eventually moved to a slightly larger basement at St. Paul's. She was leading the charge of a program that was rapidly growing in popularity both nationally and internationally.

Jazzercise was born in 1969 when founder Judi Sheppard Missett turned her love of jazz dance into a worldwide dance exercise phenomenon. The program, an international franchise business, offers a blend of jazz dance, resistance training, yoga, Pilates and kickboxing movements. According to the Jazzercise official web site, benefits of the program include increased cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility, as well as an overall "feel good" factor. There are approximately 7,800 instructors teaching more than 32,000 weekly classes in 32 countries.

Article Photos

Paula Schlegel, right, Jazzercise instructor and owner of the Jazzercise center located in Elm Terrace Plaza in Elm Grove, leads the class in a warm up routine. Jazzercise is a dance exercise program that offers a blend of jazz dance, resistance training, yoga, Pilates and kickboxing movements. According to the Jazzercise official web site, benefits of the program include increased cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility, as well as an overall “feel good” factor.

For Schlegel, a Wheeling resident, church basements just became too small. She had her eye out to expand into a Jazzercise center, which could be open any time, had convenient parking and, as Schlegel put it with a laugh, they wouldn't get "kicked out for funerals or weddings." When an opening became available in Elm Terrace Plaza in Elm Grove, Schlegel took a leap of faith and opened her Jazzercise center. Growth and an explosion in popularity made it necessary to make another move, just a few doors down in the same plaza inside Powerhouse Fitness Center.

While there may be similar dancing programs out there, Jazzercise is unique in that Schlegel and the other instructors get choreography sent to them from the corporate offices. "Every eight to 10 weeks, we get a new set of 30 songs to learn," she stated, noting that in this way, the industry can keep everything "fresh" by using the latest music and keeping participants engaged with exciting new routines.

The instructors are also monitored once a year to make sure they and their centers are in compliance. "We move the way they tell us," she said. "It's tried and true."

And this uniformity is one of the best things about the program, according to Schlegel. "It's consistent throughout the world." For example, you could go to a class in Miami, San Francisco or Denver and hear the same songs and routines as you do in Wheeling.

And while there is consistency, each class is unique. Because there are so many new routines every two to three months, instructors can mix in new routines with old ones to create their own custom mix of songs for the workout. "Jazzercise keeps your brain in gear," said Schlegel. You never know what songs an instructor will teach in each class because it's very easy for them to switch out old routines for new ones.

A Jazzercise workout takes 60 minutes and consists of approximately 40 minutes of cardio work, followed by 20 minutes of strength training. The cardio set begins with a warm up, and then routines gradually build in intensity - into the "green zone" when your body is working its hardest. After a few routines in the "green zone," the routine intensity gradually decreases into a cool down song. For the strength training portion, yoga mats are suggested for floor work, but participants have the option to stand as well. Hand weights are needed - but also not necessary - for this portion of the workout. Choose a weight that's comfortable for you. Most participants start with three or five pound dumbbells. And most importantly, participants should bring water and a towel. If you forget your water, don't worry! Jazzercise will give you a cold bottle of water.

While being a Jazzercise franchise owner and running a successful facility is Schlegel's dream, her dream was almost shattered by a devastating health issue.

Five years into teaching, Schlegel began to experience knee problems. When her sore knees became too much for her, she went to an orthopedist, who shocked her when he said it was her hip, not her knee, that was the problem. "I had no idea it was my hip," Schlegel said. "None." Schlegel was diagnosed with degenerative hip dysplasia and would require a hip replacement - she was only 44 years old at the time.

Schlegel recovered rather quickly from her surgery and was back to teaching eight weeks later. She said that it took nearly a full year, however, for all her muscles to completely recuperate. At this point, Schlegel figured her trouble was behind her.

About a year and a half after her surgery, Schlegel noticed her knees hurting again. "I'd heard that once you get one hip done, the other goes pretty quickly," she explained. "The doctor didn't think mine looked that bad, but I think once I did have that one replaced, I was just off balance."

Schlegel was in denial for a while, continuing to teach even though students noticed her limping and her pain was getting worse. Finally, she had put it off long enough. She returned to the doctor and told him she couldn't do it anymore. "If something's broken, I like to fix it," she stated.

In September 2011, Schlegel underwent hip replacement surgery on her other hip. However, the recovery proved to be a lot tougher this time around.

"I came to class as a student to help myself recuperate," Schlegel explained, noting that she could easily modify the workout to accommodate lower impact on her healing hip. "I taught about eight or nine weeks later, and after that class, I couldn't walk. I thought maybe it was just the muscles and everything trying to get in sync, so I taught another class. I couldn't walk after that one either, and from that point on, I was on crutches."

"Looking back now and knowing something wasn't quite right, I think I did know something was wrong, but I just wanted to get back to Jazzercise," she admitted. "I was in so much denial."

In April 2012, Schlegel went under the knife for a third time, this time to revise her second hip surgery. Now, she says her hip is "perfect."

"Looking back, it was horrible, a very dark time, but the outcome was just great," Schlegel reflected with a light smile. She returned to teaching in July and now has a steady schedule of teaching four or five classes a week.

Schlegel is quick to point out that her Jazzercise family provided tremendous support during this rocky period. The other instructors took on her classes as well as their own, and students continued to attend and join through the holidays and into spring. "It was a ship without a captain, but no one ever gave up," she said.

And now that she's feeling better, Schlegel can concentrate on her business, something she feels very hopeful about. "I realize this is a business where people start and stop, start and stop, but we also have ongoing people who - this is what they do," she said, referring to those Jazzercise members who continue to come simply because they love it.

And what's not to love about it? "It's a fun, great workout," Schlegel explained. "Even if you have adversity or a health situation, you can still do it. I have a person who comes in the evening who had a knee replacement, so I'm not the only one doing this who had something replaced." Jazzercise can be done at many different intensity levels and modified to your personal ability level, so it is possible to recover from a surgery while doing it, according to Schlegel.

Schlegel's team consists of six trainers - Schlegel, Gail Adams, Ashley Alberts, Mandy Breiding, Rebecca Broadwater and Brenda Mayer. Schlegel is also in the process of recruiting and training two new instructors, who will try out at the end of February.

For those people who say they aren't coordinated enough or would never be able to keep up with such a workout, Schlegel says emphatically, "Just try it." She says that we all have a special vision in our minds of what it's like, and it really is for everybody. "People love being in this environment," she added, noting that her classes are always a good mix of young, old and middle aged members. "Even if you don't do it at a fast pace, some of the older ladies who come swear that their doctors tell them their blood pressure is better. Just moving is great."

"My daughter used to say, 'that's what my mom does'," Schlegel laughed. Both of her daughters are around 20, and over Thanksgiving, they got hooked on Jazzercise. "Something that was 'mom's thing' became something they loved. They loved the music and the camaraderie and this environment.

"You don't even really realize you're working out."

Jazzercise is located at 176 East Cove Ave., inside Powerhouse Fitness Center in Elm Terrace Plaza. Classes are offered daily: Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Fridays at 6:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 4:30 p.m. (express 30-minute class); Saturdays at 7:45 a.m. and 9 a.m.; and Sundays at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. (30-45 minute body sculpting) and 4 p.m. Classes are $35 a month plus tax, or $8 for walk-ins. For information, contact Schlegel at 304-233-5767 or email



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