Keep on dancing
Aerobics instructor Joan Rabin going strong after more than 30 years
Ever since neon spandex, pump-up music and enthusiasm for aerobic dancing spread across the country in the early 1970s, aerobics classes have been held in downtown Mountain View. The class routines combine upper and lower body exercise with dance techniques, a workout created by Jacki Sorensen in 1969. While the outfits and the disco soundtrack may have changed over the years, in Mountain View one thing has remained the same: aerobics instructor Joan Rabin.
Rabin, 67, owns the Mountain View franchise of Sorensen's program, where she has been teaching aerobics classes for more than 30 years. Apart from the dance routines and music, Rabin notes one other striking change in aerobics — there are more older students enrolling in the classes. Rabin attributes this trend to research on the benefits of exercise in old age, even for people heading into their 80s and 90s.
"People used to get to age 50 and they would drop out; now people are staying longer into their 60s and 70s," she notes.
Yet she does not only teach senior citizens. Rabin offers childcare during her hour-long classes, and says that contributes to the large turnout of young mothers. She describes her childcare as a "little preschool" for the children, who paint, draw, read and socialize while their mothers exercise.
Rabin's students praise her positive attitude and enthusiasm for teaching. One student, Debby Hagenmaier, has been taking Rabin's classes for 25 years.
"What happens is that it really becomes a support group for a lot of people," says Hagenmaier, 62. "There's something contagious about being with Joan, and everyone picks up on that and supports one another. Some people are amazing dancers, but we also have people who have never danced. It doesn't matter what you look like in that class, it's completely free."
Florence BeGole, who began taking classes from Rabin five years ago, uses her childcare services.
"I can go to any exercise class, but I stay with Joan because of her personality," BeGole says. "She does it because she loves it. There's no other instructor who does it with such enthusiasm."
For Rabin, the range of age groups speaks to Sorensen's flexible dance routines. Her class contains 20-year-olds and 70-year-olds, and students exercise at their own pace.
"Even if the older students have a problem with their back or their knee, we can help them adjust the routine so they can still do the program and not hurt or further injure something that might already be some kind of an issue for their body," Rabin says.
Becoming an instructor
A kindergarten teacher in Sunnyvale, Rabin says she enrolled in a night aerobics class in Los Altos in 1977 during the early stages of the exercise phenomenon. When she had exercised with the class for one year, her instructors asked her if she wanted to teach her own. She started the intensive training that Sorensen's instructors receive.
After passing both a weight test and a running test where she was required to run 1-3/4 miles in 12 minutes, Rabin says she attended dance clinics to learn the routines. After these classes, Rabin and the other trainees would meet to discuss the exercise programs and practice together. Rabin then went on to work for Sorensen under her company Jacki's Inc., teaching aerobic dancing in Mountain View.
In 1990, when Sorensen franchised her aerobics program, Rabin says she did not hesitate to purchase her Mountain View branch, holding classes at the Mountain View Masonic Lodge. Becoming a small business owner means thinking about little things. Even playing music required new bureaucratic involvement: Rabin and the other instructors belong to music associations in order to play the copyrighted music for their students.
Rabin says she remains dedicated to Sorensen's exercise program.
"I love dancing, the people are just great, and I love the exercise," Rabin says. "All the routines are very fun, because Jacki Sorensen has this theory that adults forget to play. She sees the program as a way to have fun while you're exercising."
Sorensen regularly revises the dance moves and music to ensure her pupils remain entertained, Rabin says.
"Every three months all the music, ab work, weight work and dances completely change," Rabin explains. "Jacki always makes up new routines and dances. It keeps the students interested in coming. Maybe that's why, but I have some students that have actually been with me all 30 years."
Changes over the years
In those 30 years, much has changed. Along with new dance routines, many of the techniques were revised in order to keep up with research on the proper way to exercise. Rabin says that in the earlier stages of the program, the dance routines incorporated much more pounding on the floor. With discoveries on the importance of preserving bone and joint strength, Sorensen's steps now are much easier on the limbs. Perhaps more noticeably, the classes now incorporate weight training when the students are not dancing.
"No one had even heard about weights 30 years ago," Rabin says. "In the past 15 years, strength training has become very popular. Now, you have the option of using weights during the strength-training session."
While Sorensen works with a medical board to ensure the safety of her exercise routines, the dances are carefully choreographed to work for non-dancers as well as dancers, Rabin says. When Sorensen won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition in May, Rabin says she and her class were overjoyed.
"When we announced this award in our classes a few months ago, everyone was very excited," Rabin says. "We had our own little party."
Rabin occasionally surprises even herself with her passion for dancing and teaching aerobics, and says she has no plans of quitting.
"I never dreamed I'd be teaching 30 years," Rabin muses. "It's become okay to not even be an older student, but also an older instructor. People accept that now, as long as you have the ability and also the enthusiasm. I keep telling my students, as long as I still have the energy and my body can keep up, I'll be teaching."