Beat goes on, holiday or no

Jazzercise becomes a way of life for many participants, some of whom attend hundreds during the year.

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WALLA WALLA -- Sunrise is still an hour away, but already traffic is stacked in the parking spaces along Spokane Street. The roar of whipping winds and skittering leaves is momentarily broken up as the alleyway door to Jazzercise opens and the pulsating rhythm of hip-hop music spills out into an otherwise idle downtown.

"Come on arms," instructor Chrissy Jones implores from the stage at the head of the studio. Twenty-seven "Jazzercisers" sashay across the lightly finished wood floors, moving their arms in conjunction with their legs.

They are a devoted bunch. Last April when a 54-year-old man walked through the door of a class in session, took his clothes off in the bathroom and emerged naked, most of the students kept working through their routines. One stepped into the alley to call the police.

So if the sleepy remains of moonlight, the howling winds of a blustery morning and indecent exposure won't deter the steadfast Jazzerciser, neither will the Thanksgiving holiday.

Studio owner Janet Byerley said today's 10 a.m. session is about more than just alleviating guilt from having that slice of Thanksgiving pie.

"It becomes part of your lifestyle, part of your routine," she said at the end of the recent morning session.

The commitment to the program is actually a badge of honor for many. Byerley has annual T-shirts made with a list of students who attended class more than 100 times throughout the year. They make up the "Fit Club."

Out of the 160 to 170 people enrolled, more than 70 are expected to attend 100-plus sessions by year's end. Another 20 will probably Jazzercise more than 200 times. Three will have been there more than 300 times, Byerley said.

Walla Walla resident Jan Palumbo, who's attended 115 sessions this year, said the constant change of pace and the infusion of enthusiasm from the program's eight different local instructors have kept her excited since joining last January.

"I love the music," Palumbo said of the songs ranging from Marvin Gaye to Gwen Stefani tunes. "It's constantly changing, and the routines are constantly changing so you can't get bored."

For a while, the venue for Jazzercise changed, too. Byerley, who has been teaching Jazzercise for eight years, said the program's more than 25-year history here led it through church basements, the ballroom of the Marcus Whitman hotel, schools and most recently the Odd Fellows building across the street from the current site. The program had operated there several years before Byerley moved to the studio behind The Cookie Tree a year ago this month.

The dance-based fitness program -- which also incorporates Pilates, yoga and kickboxing moves pre-choreographed to about 150 songs -- attracts an array of students. During the recent 6 a.m. session, two of the 27 attendees were men. Participants ranged from college-aged to retirees. A renowned violinist worked out in the front row just a few feet away from a farmer. All are brought together by the exercise phenomenon founded in 1969 by Judi Sheppard Missett.

Started as a way to combine jazz dance with exercise moves, the program grew into an international franchise that today includes a network of 7,500 instructors with more than 32,000 classes taught weekly in 32 countries.

Today's class, expected to draw 40 students, will be Walla Walla Jazzercise's hourlong celebration of the 40th anniversary of the worldwide program.

With a workout under their belts, they'll be ready to face whatever the holiday holds, Byerley said. Rain or shine. Dry turkey or spilt milk.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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