Icons & Innovators
When Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, famously coined the term "aerobics" in 1968, Jacki Sorensen took his program and set it to music. Aerobic dance was born, and Sorensen's creative fitness moves are still changing lives around the globe.
Jacki Sorensen is credited with originating one of the most significant fitness movements in history: aerobic dance—the combination of fitness and dance that swept the world in the ‘70s before evolving into the multifaceted group exercise classes of today.
Thirty-eight years later, Jacki Sorensen still lives and breathes choreography, creating over 150 routines a year for her fitness programs, which are taught in the United States, Puerto Rico, Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Russia.
Sorensen is president and founder of Jacki’s Inc., headquartered in DeLand, Florida. Her three popular cardiovascular programs, Aerobic Dance, Aerobic Workout, and StrongStep™, feature new music and choreography four times a year to keep routines fresh, fun and challenging.
“Business just keeps bubbling along, and that’s a blessing,” says Jacki Sorensen, who barely has time to take a break between developing new choreography and spending time with her husband and business partner, Neil, who had a bone marrow transplant this year. “Helping him make a full recovery is my passion right now,” she says. “He’s my hero and the love of my life.”
Sorensen’s energy and enthusiasm translate into her programming, which clearly keeps people coming back, sometimes for decades. In fact, she attributes the success of her programs to her high retention rate. “Many of our students and instructors have been with us for 20 or 30 years,” she notes. “My message to people who are just starting out is to make your programs safe and effective first, but then work hard to keep them exciting, entertaining and fun.”
Barbara Bau, Granada Hills, California, an instructor who teaches Sorensen’s routines, says of Sorensen’s unique programs, “Every session is like a Broadway show, due to Jacki’s genius. Her choreography makes it possible for the nondancer to dance, get a workout, improve health and feel like a star.”
Not surprisingly, Sorensen started out with a broad background in dance, including tap, ballet, modern, acrobatic, Hawaiian and jazz. While working on her bachelor’s degree, she began her career teaching dance classes at officers’ wives clubs on various Air Force bases. In 1969, she was asked to develop a fitness television program for Air Force wives at a base in Puerto Rico where Neil was stationed.
When the Sorensens later moved to New Jersey, she introduced the first aerobic dance class at a local YMCA, and within 3 months, her class of six grew to two classes of 25 students each. The program rapidly expanded to other YMCAs, Bloomfield College and Seton Hall University.
“Movement is life and you can’t be living life to its fullest unless you’re as physically fit as you can possibly be,” says Sorensen, whose strong belief in physical fitness has made her a leading voice in the industry over the last 30 years. In 1985, she was awarded IDEA’s first Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into Club Industry’s Hall of Fame a year later. She has been recognized by the American Heart Association, Special Olympics and United Cerebral Palsy for her contributions. Earlier this year, she was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame. Sorensen is also the author of two best-selling books, Aerobic Dancingand Jacki Sorensen’s Aerobic Lifestyle Book. She has lectured extensively on health and fitness to groups throughout the world.
“The fitness industry has learned the importance of education and motivation to get and keep people fit,” says Sorensen. “The biggest personal and business lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that my life is one of service. I think what I’ve enjoyed most are the responses and stories of our students and instructors. And my hope for the future is that today’s youth will grow up to realize that regular exercise and good nutrition are as necessary to their health as brushing their teeth. You can’t store physical fitness, so you’ve got to work activity into every week of your life.”
Mary Monroe is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.