One women stands on a stage in the front of the room, she wears a tie-dye workout shirt and black sweatband. People have been filing into the room for fifteen minutes. As people come in they gravitate towards their friends and begin chatting. The regulars move towards the front and one woman goes straight for the fan in the corner, “I just get so hot, this fan is the best,” she says. The room is almost completely full when Beyonce’s song “Love On Top” starts. The woman standing on the center stage begins moving and in quick succession everyone else mimics her. There are more than 20 women in the room and one man. It doesn’t matter that the crowd ranges from ages 20 to late 70s, Lesli Turner’s Jazzercise classes get everyone moving.
Turner has been teaching Jazzercise since 1981. At age 22, a friend told her how great Jazzercise was. She decided to try it, and went to a Jazzercise class at Kennedy Middle School in Eugene. “I knew after that first class, I was like this is what I want to do. I was like oh my god I love this stuff,” Tuner said. She quit her job in the University of Oregon Computing Office and became a certified instructor that fall. Fast-forward 30 years and Turner’s entire career has become Jazzercise.
“I always wanted to be a PE teacher,” Turner said. “When I went to my first Jazzercise class and I realized this is fitness, it was the perfect fit for me.”
Turner owns and teaches at the Eugene Jazzercise Center on the second floor of the Smeed building at 7th and Monroe. The studio hosts up to five Jazzercise franchised classes a day and she teaches Monday through Friday. The studio has been in the same location for over 30 years.
Cathy Snyder is the studio’s class manager but even she participates in Turner’s classes. “She’s a great instructor so it’s fun to take her class,” Snyder said.
When Turner began teaching at Smeed in the 80s, Jazzercise was “outrageously big,” and instructors had to have their classes approved by the area manager. As instructors would give up classes around Eugene, Turner would buy the franchised classes and bring them over to her studio to teach. After the studio’s previous owner retired Turner took over the lease.
Jazzercise allows instructors to purchase franchised classes from the company and then teach the classes. That way every class no matter where it’s taken, whether it is Florida or Eugene, is the same.
From 1989- 1999 Turner was the Jazzercise trainer for the area. She would host workshops three to four times a year and offer practices and auditions in her studio for people to become certified instructors. “For that 10 years anybody that was certified in our region came to me and I trained them and I passed them and I certified them,” said Turner.
At the end of her training period Turner decided to move bigger. While on a vacation in Austria, Turner began talking to a hotel owner in a small town; the owner mentioned she was looking for an aerobics trainer. “I said what you really need is Jazzercise,” said Turner. The women loved the idea and Turner was hired on staff.
She had her ex-husband watch her two daughters and got her classes subbed out for six months so she could move to Austria to teach. She even tried to teach in German when she could. “It was probably the most interesting experience, living in a different culture,” Turner said.
In 2003 that same Austrian town hosted a Jazzercise conference and invited the creator of Jazzercise and Turner. The two got to meet and hangout. Turner was recognized for bringing Jazzercise to the area.
She has since returned to Eugene and is well liked by her employees and students. Snyder loves working at the Eugene Jazzercise Center “I enjoy it, it’s a good experience. She’s friendly, organized, considerate, “ she said.
Turner’s hour long class mixes kickboxing, Pilates, and Latin dance moves. She announces the artist to each song as they come on and sings along with the lyrics, often changing them to be more inspirational and pertain to her class. She puts new lyrics to the melody to encourage students. “Don’t listen to her it’s two steps forward four steps back,” Turner said. Every person leaves the class sweaty.
“People think Jazzercise is stuck in the 80s but we’ve kept it with the times, we have a combination of everything,” Turner said.