Let’s get physical with retrocise
Pumping moves popularised by Jane Fonda to an upbeat ’80s soundtrack is becoming big gym business, says Charlotte Lytton
The leg warmers are on, the Pointer Sisters are playing at full blast and I am grapevining up a sweat at the behest of an enthusiastic instructor in a neon pink headband.
This isn’t a feverish nostalgia-induced dream, but an Eighties aerobics session at Frame’s studio in Fitzrovia, London, where two dozen nine-to-five-ers have turned up for a Wednesday night dose of “retrocise”.
As the national appetite for fitness classes has swelled – with the industry worth some £5-billion in the UK, and one in seven of us now signed up to a gym – so too has a penchant for taking your workout back in time, with studios introducing new classes based on the moves of old.
From aerobics and rebounding (mini trampolines, first popularised four decades ago) at Frame’s six London outposts, to the newly launched thigh master class at Gymbox, people “love upbeat eighties music and don’t realise they are working out [when] singing along to old favourites”, explains Alexandra Davis, an instructor from Altrincham, Greater Manchester, who is planning to release a series of online aerobics videos due to high demand from those unable to attend her classes in the flesh.
It is this, Davis says, that makes the renewed affection for Eighties-style fitness (or, as she puts it, “a complete mind-body workout in a high-energy, low-impact dance class“) a no-brainer.
First brought to the masses by Jane Fonda, whose 1982 aerobics video became the fastest-selling VHS of the time (and has since shifted more than 17 million copies), this democratisation of exercise – bolstered in Britain by the likes of Rosemary Conley and Diana Moran, the “Green Goddess” – changed the face of fitness forever. Riding off the popularity of the Seventies Californian fitness phenomenon Jazzercise, people – predominantly women – could enjoy the wisdom of leotard-clad instructors from their own living rooms.
In a world now populated by high-intensity training classes, where model-types in crop tops demand endless burpees against a thundering bassline, reminding people that working out can actually be (whisper it) fun has been a revelation.
“At other exercise classes, I stand at the back feeling embarrassed,” says 33-year-old Jake Howie, a Frame regular. “Whereas I look forward to the buzz of this all day. You see people laughing and find yourself being upbeat without shame, which you always should be, but for some reason it takes this kind of class to bring it out of you.”
Studios including Another–Space, at which instructors don tutus for Eighties cycle classes to the tunes of Blondie, Queen and Culture Club; and Good Vibes, which last month held an Eighties Yoga Party combining “classic dance moves and your favourite yoga poses” for a “funky retro flow“, prove that when it comes to the rhythms of yesteryear, 2018’s fitness fans are willing to go old school.
This could be down to the fact that the ultra-competitive workouts du jour are more likely to raise a grimace than a grin, as “people don’t really enjoy it but know it’s good for them“, says Conley. “But aerobics is pleasant, does you good and everyone can do it,” she continues – including the four octogenarian attendees of her bi-weekly classes in Birstall, Leics, who have been turning up for the past 35 years to get their endorphin hit.
“I look at them exercising to Belinda Carlisle, smiles on their faces, and I think to myself, ’how very special that we can all still do this kind of aerobics and love it’,” the 71-year-old adds.
Aerobics became so ingrained in the British psyche – even taking over breakfast television – that it has retained a core fan base over the decades. Its low-impact style has been key to its longevity. Yet when first introduced, “it was seen as something totally and utterly different,” Conley, who released the Complete Hip and Thigh Diet book in 1988, recalls.
“This was suddenly very glamorous, and was a transition that was really exciting; it was the fashion, leotards and leg warmers, jazz shoes instead of trainers, and leaping around to pop music, which had never been done before.”
Several videos, the first of which was filmed in her front room, followed, becoming a fixture in homes all over the UK – including mine. For those like me who missed out on the home workout boom of the Eighties by dint of not being born, Conley’s legacy prevailed courtesy of a video borrowed from my grandma – to which my mum, sister and I would periodically attempt to imitate stretches we dubbed “ice cream scoops” (low arms, dipping side to side) and “washing the windows” (self-explanatory) while trying not to knock over the coffee table.
Of the current crop of “retrocisers”, most weren’t alive to enjoy the trend first time round either; at Frame’s class, a 20-something woman in front of me dances to Foreigner in an “I Love the 1980s” T-shirt. While for Howie, who grew up thinking the music his mum played was “naff”, being reintroduced to Madonna and Prince while attempting to master a heel-toe tap, “stirs something in you”.
Though unlikely to replace the super-slick workouts that currently dominate most modern gym timetables, aerobics’ return to the mainstream has delighted fitness fans and instructors alike – Conley chief among them.
“It was quite electric,” she recalls of its Eighties heyday, and “back then, we didn’t know what we were doing – we were just making up the moves and having fun.”
Which, when you think about it, is as good a reason as any to get your leggings on. Leotards optional. – The Daily Telegraph