At age 75, Judi Sheppard Missett is still dancing, still teaching, and still CEO of Jazzercise, the
ur-dance-fitness company she founded and that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. She
also has a new book: Building a Business With a Beat. Created when Jane Fonda was better
known for Barbarella than for aerobics, Jazzercise today is a $100 million business with more
than 8,500 franchisees, and it cracked the Inc. 5000 in 2010, at the ripe age of 41. The company
not only forged fitness culture for women—It’s fun! It’s easy! It’s social! We don’t judge!—but
also has helped thousands of women become business owners, some of whom have launched
multiple studios to teach the program. —AS TOLD TO LEIGH BUCHANAN
One day in 1969 at
her local YMCA in
fitness tests and
decided to take one.
Her score was off
the charts. “They
were like, ‘Oh, my
gosh, what do you
do? Do you swim?
Do you run?’ ” she
recalls. “And I said,
‘Mostly, I dance.’ ”
How I Did It And All That Jazz
JUDI SHEPPARD MISSETT JAZZERCISE
Those fitness classes you go to?
She basically invented them.
The founders who get in you shape—and keep you that way.
My mother saved my dance lessons. Maybe
that’s how it all started.
When I was 11, my instructor of seven years
left Red Oak—the small town in Iowa where
I was raised. So my mother recruited young
dance assistants from studios in larger cities
to come teach me and other local children.
She found them facilities, produced their
recitals, and sewed their costumes—an early
version of what I would do for my instructors in Jazzercise.
I went to Northwestern University, and
started training at Giordano Jazz Dance
Chicago. The owner suggested I teach
a program for the moms whose kids were
in his beginners’ classes. This was 1969. I
created a class that was hard—disciplined
with lots of technique.
Almost everyone dropped out. They said,
“You know, Judi, we don’t want to be
professional dancers. We just want to
look like them.”
So I started a new class with easy steps and
lots of positive encouragement. I also turned
students away from the mirror. Fifteen
people showed up for that first new class.
By the third, I had 60.
In 1971, I was teaching 35 classes a week in
community centers and YMCAs around San