Huff, #%&(%#, Puff

When I signed up for an exercise class, a number of things worried me. Would I end up wasting money by paying a monthly fee and not attending? Would my ratty T-shirts brand me as a fashion nerd? Would the class resemble elementary school gym, where a misstep made you the butt of cruel laughter?

None of those things happened. Fortunately, I saw a Jazzercise class advertised at our local community center and after attending my freebie introduction, I was hooked. While I miss classes when I’m out of town, I am amazingly regular when at home. The group of women I exercise with is friendly, non-judgmental and too busy having fun to be competitive.

It turns out that I didn’t even realize what should have been worrying me. Being somewhat out of step with the culture, I was unaware that much of popular music was becoming increasingly misogynistic, profane and violent. I never thought to ask if songs were screened and while I combat the volume with earplugs, nothing I have heard at Jazzercise has ever made me uncomfortable.

Not so for my friend, Judy. Despite having a few less than stellar experiences while visiting all sorts of gyms and classes, and writing about them in her humorous book, Till We Eat Again, she keeps on trying. Her latest venture resulted in article published in the Wall Street Journal, lamenting how the almost maniacally environmentally conscious gym she joined showed no concern for bombarding its patrons with offensive, demeaning lyrics. When Judy objected to the obscene lyrics of Robin Thicke’s song, Blurred Lines, the owner sympathized, but was unwilling to remove the song from her playlist. Three supportive letters to the editor that the Wall Street Journal subsequently published suggest that Judy isn’t alone in her discomfort.

What I especially appreciated, though, was a personal letter Judy received and shared with me. Another Judi, this one Jazzercise’s founder, Judi Sheppard Missett, wrote to Judy, complimenting her on the article. It turns out that she too, struggled with Robin Thicke’s song. Here, in part, is what she wrote:

“…Most recently, I had choreographed a routine to “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. It had the perfect beat, was dancing to the top of the charts and we were getting numerous requests from our franchisees. It had all the elements I typically look when creating a fabulous routine. I worked on the choreography and was ready to kick off our Jazzercise Fitness Convention in Palm Springs, Calif. with the new “Blurred Lines” routine. The week of the event, I had a change of heart. I listened to the lyrics, thought about the true meaning behind the words, and considered whether this song was in line with the philosophy of the Jazzercise business.
My gut said, “no.”

I decided to change the song in the final hours before the event. I also filmed a video message to our 7,800 franchisees worldwide letting them know the reasons behind my decision. I had received so many requests, I thought they might be disappointed. But guess what? The positive feedback poured in! They understood and embraced my decision to continue to put out positive, uplifting empowering messages, as that is what Jazzercise classes are meant to do.

Since then, we have put more strict quality controls in place to ensure we select the right music for our classes. We screen every lyric to make certain our music feeds the minds, bodies and spirits of our customers. I’ll admit one gets by us every now and then but we are doing a much better job at it…”

So many times, those of us who advocate for decency in popular culture are portrayed as prudes, dinosaurs and completely out of touch with reality. If promoting respect for all people earns that label, I will proudly wear it. Actually, those who think that glorifying profanity, violence and misanthropy has no effect on our standard of living are the ones who are truly out of touch with reality.

For years, I have loved and appreciated my morning Jazzercise classes. While I knew the founder’s name, I knew little else about her. Judi Sheppard Missett’s letter delighted me while reminding me that each of us has multiple moments in our business and personal lives where the decisions we make matter on a larger scale than we might know.


What’s in style one year may be out the next


7 thoughts on “Huff, #%&(%#, Puff”

  1. I’m frequently “shot down” when I complain about lyrics and told “the words don’t matter. No one listens to them anyway.” If the words don’t matter and no one listens to them anyway, I’d like to know why all lyrics aren’t confined to nonsense words. Why not use hymns and put them to the “awesome beat” and “amazing music?” Perhaps sadder still are all the lies, the ones used to sell the hateful lies and the ones used to accept it into one’s life. Thanks, Susan. I didn’t know Jazzercise went to so much trouble. Good to know.

  2. Susan, thank you for sharing a link to my story and for giving the well deserved kudos to Judi Sheppard Missett for her stand against degrading music in her Jazzercise studios. One correction, though: the title of my latest humor book is Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping, and I invite readers to download the first chapter on my home page, where they can also read my Wall Street Journal story.

  3. Carol – thanks for your comment, but don’t discount how the example we set as adults often has the biggest impact on our kids. An adult quitting an exercise class she loves because of the lyrics says a lot to a child even if they don’t acknowledge it.

  4. When our children were home, we screened all the lyrics from their music cds. After they went shopping we had them show us if they were trying to smuggle off limit cds into the house. They finally got the message after we caught two of them after a shopping jaunt. Their defense was that it was their money and they should be able to spend it how they wanted. I explained the “garbage in / garbage out rule” yet again and confiscated the cds. Today they make their own decisions about what they listen to but my grandchildren are also subjected to the same rule and they ask for KLOVE radio in the car all the time. Taking a stand stands makes a difference. Today, I would be over the moon at the lyrics. My daughter who has our 14 year old grand daughter went through this and even she could not believe the degradation and violence in the lyrics. I read an article recently written by a man in the music industry and he said that gangster rap when it first started was not something the record industry wanted to play; however, when they found out how lucrative it could be they caved. This kind of music erodes people’s souls. I am glad your friend wrote her letter; more women should make a stand concerning the garbage aimed at their kids in music, video games, and cds. Also, by the way, my children were never allowed to watch MTV when it started and they didn’t turn into social nerds.

  5. Is it not ironic how members of one segment of society are so gluttonous for ‘fair treatment’ and ‘respect,’ yet the culture they propagate is besmeared with language that evokes and promotes the degradation of human beings? People who listen to this toxic swill disguised as music cannot help being dehumanized.
    This has been going on for a very long time. Unfortunately, now there are radical culture vultures in charge who preach absolute cultural equality, how one man’s culture is just as valid as another’s, and any ‘culture’ has as much right to exist as the dominant culture. Would they defend the right of an Aztec to rip out a living human heart? Any exhalation of raw emotion gets elevated to the status of ‘art.’ And this decadent broth will be served us on a silver platter on the airwaves again and again. Lamentably what some define as art would drag us down into the septic tank with its foul, suffocating contents.
    But I like your standards much better, and those of the Rabbi, who teaches that we must be discriminating about what we define as art. For genuine art is sublime, and it is to ennoble us, to inspire us, to raise us higher and higher.

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