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Instructor takes fitness into quarter century

Brenda Richardson leads her evening Jazzercise class through a Kylie Minogue song. Richardson celebrated 25 years of teaching Jazzercise on July 15. - Angela Cowan/News staff
Brenda Richardson leads her evening Jazzercise class through a Kylie Minogue song. Richardson celebrated 25 years of teaching Jazzercise on July 15.
— image credit: Angela Cowan/News staff

Brenda Richardson recently celebrated her 25th year of being a Jazzercise instructor, and spent the day doing what she loves most: teaching classes.

Richardson, who’s spent the past 14 years teaching at Oak Bay’s Henderson Recreation Centre, has dabbled in personal training, strength training and sports nutrition, but has always come back to her passion.

Jazzercise, a franchised program first developed in 1969, was founded by Judi Sheppard Missett, a jazz dance teacher who found a lot of her students weren’t that serious about taking it to a professional level.

“They wanted to lose weight, maybe get in shape for a wedding and have fun,” said Richardson. “So she simplified the choreography, took away the mirrors and set it to music. Next thing, she had 20, 30, 60 people taking her classes.”

Richardson has seen the same kind of popularity at Henderson, and said there’s no one type of person who jazzercises.

“We cater to everyone,” she said. “My youngest customer is in her teens and my eldest is 87.”

Along with the wide range of ages, Richardson has seen all manner of health and fitness levels come through her classes, and has survivors of stroke, heart attack and cancer regularly attend. She’s taught tennis players, golfers, a woman who claimed Jazzercise helped shorten her half-marathon time and even a class of 60 rugby players.

Richardson, who just turned 60, said she was never a committed gym-goer in her younger years, and never really had a fitness routine. Then a friend asked her to go to a Jazzercise class in 1986, but at first, she wasn’t completely sold.

“I didn’t totally have the routine down, but my friend said ‘you have to give it a second chance,’ so I did.”

From that second class, the rest is history. In three years she was a certified instructor, and in 1999, she became an instructor trainer, and loved it.

“I trained most of the instructors on the west coast,” she said. “It’s so fun to share something you love with others.”

She stepped back from the heavy workload and time commitment of teaching instructors this year, and now teaches five of the 10 classes she owns, all with the complete support of her husband. “I’m very blessed in that he’s my biggest fan.”

When asked why she loves the classes so much, she emphasized that it’s more than just a physical class; the coordination and mental aspect is just as challenging as the cardio and strength. “For me, it satisfies my brain as well as my body.”

It’s also offered her “an out” when life has taken a rough turn, dealing with family hardship and death.

“It’s saved me so many times,” she said. “You have to look after yourself first, because then everybody benefits.”

Richardson’s students are as enthusiastic about her as they are about the class.

“She’s just the best,” said Heather Sproule, who’s been jazzercising for 23 years, including through her breast cancer treatments. “That’s why I’ve followed her wherever she teaches. It’s fun, and exercise normally isn’t fun.”

Jacques Lemay, who co-founded Oak Bay’s Canadian College of Performing Arts with his wife, has been attending Richardson’s classes since his retirement from the school in 2010.

“Brenda’s very inspiring. In order to inspire a class, she needs to give of herself, and I’ve never seen her on a bad day,” he said. “I’ve been teaching for 36 years. I can recognize a good teacher.”

The day of Richardson’s 25th teaching anniversary, her morning class surprised her with a framed poem and a silver bracelet inscribed with “Simply the Best” inside. At the start of her evening class, the gymnasium erupted in cheers of congratulations.

She smiled widely at the applause and adulation, and thanked her students for their support.

“Here’s to 25 more!”

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