What it used to be: Jazzercise. Most traditional dance classes, with their stop-and-start choreography and necessary skill mastery, are just too complicated for the average exerciser to follow along and get a good workout. But that changed in 1969, when Jazzercise founder Judi Sheppard Missett introduced her easy-to-follow fusion of aerobics and dance moves that led to the 80s workouts (and outfits!) you’re thinking of. And while Jazzercise is still a popular way to sweat, the same party-like atmosphere is what attracts hordes of women to Zumba classes today. Created by fitness instructor Beto Perez, Zumba merges Latin-inspired dance styles (a la the merengue, salsa, and cumbia) with more popular trends (think: Reggaeton and hip hop) in an easy-to-follow class format (there’s even Zumba for babies!).
Why is it still a hit? Zumba is a fun and easy way to work up a sweat, sure—but it also offers some serious benefits, says Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. “There is plenty of research that demonstrates dance is effective for developing cardiorespiratory fitness and providing numerous benefits such as calorie burning, lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of onset diabetes, and strengthening the lower-body muscles,” he says.