Judi Sheppard Missett Founder of Jazzercise and international aerobics fitness pioneer
When she opened her mind to the endless possibilities of a “little idea,” Judi realized that by embracing change, taking a risk ─ and following her passion ─ she could empower thousands of other women to become happier, healthier and successful in business.
About forty years ago a tiny little idea and my passion for dancing turned into an opportunity unlike anything I had ever envisioned for myself. Evolving from jazz teacher and performer to businesswoman and CEO of an international fitness company was never on my agenda—and certainly not something that I ever thought I’d want to do.
I fell in love with dancing at a very young age. At the age of eleven, I had my own studio in the basement of my family’s home and charged seventy-five cents to teach children in my neighborhood how to dance. By the age of fourteen, I was a professional performer and continued to work professionally while I earned my degree from Northwestern University in theatre, radio, and television.
The light bulb went on when I was a dance instructor in Chicago. Lots of women would come to one class, but then they wouldn’t come back. It bothered me because I wanted them to really feel the joy of movement and understand what dancing could do for their bodies. When I asked a few students why people weren’t returning to my classes, they said that many women didn’t really want to be a professional dancer; they just wanted to look like one.
At that moment I thought, well, okay, it’s time to make some changes. I started by taking the mirrors down and ramping the music up. Based on my jazz techniques, I made the next set of classes fun and easy to follow. Not only did the health and fitness levels of my students improve, but the classes became so popular that I had to turn people away!
I always thought my career path was to be in theater, but the direction of my life changed completely when I discovered my love of dance could help women feel and look better as well as lift their spirits and improve their self-esteem. They were not only happier within themselves, but they were better for their families, co-workers and friends. As my role as an entrepreneur evolved and Jazzercise continued to grow, I empowered thousands of other women to become successful in business as instructors and franchisors owners.
If there is one lesson I can share, it is this—if you follow your passion, you will never fail. Be willing to embrace change and re-invent yourself when the opportunity arises. I love what I do and do what I love as a teacher, a performer, and a CEO. And it all began when my mind was opened to new and exciting possibilities just because of a little idea.
Judi Sheppard Missett, fitness advocate and aerobic fitness pioneer, founded Jazzercise, Inc. in 1969. Today, the international dance fitness company has 7,800 instructor franchisees in all 50 states and 32 countries. Judi has received many honors that include dozens of leadership and lifetime achievement awards such as induction into the Enterprising Women Hall of Fame, the International Association of Fitness Professionals Hall of Fame and the President’s Award from the Women Presidents’ Organization.