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ImageOne thing leads to another.  Eileen Coller was taking a Jazzercise class in Dryden when her instructor approached her to become an instructor herself.  She hadn't thought about instructing before, but decided she would like to do it.  So she became certified, at first working for her instructor, then going out on her own. 

Three years ago she approached her student Lee Ann Capogrossi about becoming an instructor.  And Capogrossi decided to go for it, working with Coller, teaching in borrowed locations in Lansing and elsewhere.  "We had to find places that would allow us in and have a pretty consistent schedule, which is really difficult to do in this area," Coller says.  "The schools were very gracious to let us use the building."

Last month the pair opened their own studio, The Upstate NY Jazzercise Center, at 3100 N. Triphammer Road, just south of the intersection of Triphammer and Peruville Road (34B).  Scrounging for locations that allowed consistent scheduling was getting harder, and they had talked about opening their own center.  "We've both been talking about it for a couple of years," Capogrossi says.  "We knew we couldn't do it without the other.  We were talking about it and Eileen said, 'OK, you find a place and we'll do it.'"

They searched for an affordable location that would be a good spot for their kind of business.  "It's nine miles from Groton," Coller says.  "We're close enough to Ithaca and Cayuga Heights.  The Lansing area is booming right now.  I think we are centrally located enough.  It's three and a half miles from the mall, so if you can get to the mall you can get here!"

They needed an open space that could house a dance floor, with no poles or other obstacles. They also needed a place they could move into quickly and easily, because many people join health programs in January to fulfill their New Years resolutions.  The Triphammer Road location was perfect, with a large unobstructed space and a bathroom that could double as a dressing room.  They purchased a dance floor, and installed it with help from friends and family. 


Judi Sheppard Missett founded Jazzercise in 1969, mixing jazz dance with resistance training, yoga, Pilates, and kickboxing movements.  She stressed cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and strength training.  "Jazzercise is on the cutting edge a lot of the times with new fitness changes," Coller says.  "They incorporated the strength training, because it is what is going to keep you most healthy long term.  Building the muscle base, keeping the core really strong.  Weight bearing activities help your joints, help bone density and all of that.  But also for functional fitness, if you're strong in your core, in your legs and your abs and your back, that's going toi help you carry your laundry basket.  So Jazzercise incorporates the cardio part into aerobics and strength training."

"And it makes it more fun," Capogrossi adds.  "So you're not just on a treadmill for 45 minutes.  It's for people who like to dance and move around and enjoy music.  And get fit at the same time.  We work pretty darn hard to get some sweaty ladies!"

Coller says the people in her classes become friends, and that encourages them to come regularly.  "It's one of the things that I think is different than a lot of the other classes people go to in gyms," she says.  "You know everybody's names, everybody is really nice.  You try to take them under your wing when they're new so they feel like part of the camaraderie of Jazzercise."

Capogrossi says that also explains their program's high retention rate.  "If you have friends that you know you're going to see, of it you don't see them and you run into them at the store," she notes.  "You say, 'Hey, where have you been?'  You feel part of that group.  That's what is super about Jazzercise and what keeps people coming back."

The pair wants to offer even more variety as the studio gets on its feet.  Two of their students have decided to become certified instructors, and Coller and Capogrossi hope they will want to work for them, increasing the number and variety of classes they can offer.  They currently run 11 classes per week, and say they would like to offer 25 in the next couple of years.  Eventually they hope to make the studio a full time venture, offering 40 classes per week.

Having the resources to do that will mean that they can offer Jazzercise classes to a variety of demographics, which lends itself to filling each day in the studio with the pre-work crowd, elder adults during work hours, then kids after school, and more adults after work.  The parent company is based in Carlsbad, California, and offers support to their certified franchisees.  That includes new dance routines, promotional materials, weekly updates, music sets and other materials and assistance.  The company gets an initial franchise fee, then 20 percent of gross revenues.  That means that instructors must be dedicated and committed to filling their classes in order to make a profit.

They have already begun offering technique classes, which Coller says gives them a way for to go more hands on in a small group.  "I think that's the biggest miss with other programs, because what is missing is the emphasis that is placed on body position, form, what muscle you are contracting," Capogrossi  explains.  "So we really focus on proper form and technique, because if you're doing a leg lift and you're moving with momentum, you're not using any muscle."

The two say that they are a good fit for running the studio.  "There's the fun part, the social part, getting people motivated and having a good time," Capogrossi  says.  "Showing them a good time -- we have to have fun or they're not going to have fun.  Eileen does all that -- she's the cheerleader.  We both are very social people anyway, and Eileen is well connected in the community.  And I like to do the marketing and talk with the reporters, and come up with ways that we can continue to grow the business."

Eileen Coller (left) and Lee Ann Capogrossi

Coller concurs.  "When we combine our strengths and talents we have a really good synergy," she says.  "There's this behind the scenes thing that sometimes seems overwhelming, but when you have two people to manage it, it's a little bit easier to balance.  There have been things I had no idea how to do, and Lee Ann has been great at it.  So we grow together."

The pair says that the program virtually sells itself, and in that spirit they will be hosting a grand opening on January 7th at 4:45 to let people come and see for themselves.  They will encourage visitors to try the routines, answer questions, and serve refreshments.  The instructors' own sense of fun is contagious, and that will also likely attract new Jazzercisers.  "My favorite part is the teaching," Coller says.  "I love putting a class together and having a fun workout.  And also it's a workout for us."

"I like being able to help people out, because I know how hard it is for me to get motivated and get out there," Capogrossi  agrees.  "I was 30 pounds heavier ten years ago.  It's a struggle.  To be able to help people and be part of their overall health and emotional health, too.  Giving them something to look forward to."
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