Fun With Jane

Doug Wallace Issue: Section:

2009 represents an important anniversary for me and Jane Fonda.
We’ve been seeing each other for 25 years now.
Dad brought home “Jane Fonda’s Workout” circa 1984 along with a number of other movie classics, all using the now defunct “video disc” technology. Defunct because video discs were the size of records, and they often got stuck inside the video disc device, requiring a butter knife and needle-nosed pliers for extraction. This was Jane’s first of 22 workout videos she would make throughout her reign as Regina Aerobixa.

I have been jogging, twisting, lifting, cursing and burning my way through this same video now since the age of 14. By now I have probably burned off the caloric equivalent of my entire body weight and perspired a bathtub’s worth of sweat. The video starts with Jane and a bevy of her workout pals stretching out in a beautifully lit exercise studio which has remained immaculate for a quarter century. Everyone is wearing the obligatory brightly-colored unitards and leg warmers of the era, and “hip” synthesizer music in the background is jazzing everyone up.

Jane then suddenly tweets, “Are you ready to do the work out?! Are you READY to DO the Work Out!! For the advanced level workout, stand straight, butt tight, we’re going to pull up out of the torso and gently roll the head to the right…”

Over the years, Jane’s mostly silent aerobics friends in the video have slowly developed personalities of their own based on a sly look here, a subtle groan there. There’s the country temptress “Sadie”, who looks full-faced at you when the camera pans her way, her eye lids half open. There’s blond “Vlad” who considers himself the alpha male of the group. When it comes time for the leg lifts, he dons ankle weights. “Stan” on the other hand doesn’t, and his thick black-framed glasses and the fact he’s always about half a step behind everyone else make him the most human of Jane’s friends. Then there are the aerobics versions of “Ginger” and “Mary Anne” from Gilligan’s Island. And over these 25 years I’ve learned it’s the Mary Annes of the world guys should always be trying for.

It’s said that our body is constantly recycling old cells out and new cells in so that every seven years we are all living in completely reconstituted bodies. For about the first 18 years of “doing Jane Fonda”, my left inner thigh would produce a highly satisfying ‘pop’ when doing the scissor kicks routine. I stopped feeling the pop about seven years ago, but I realize now that that was an entire body ago.

Deep into the routine, Jane is leading us through innumerable repetitions of a hard perpendicular reverse kick movement. She says brightly “Hang in there, everyone.” This incites a series of protest groans from everyone. (Everyone except Vlad.) This in turn touches a nerve in Jane. She now feels like she has to put down a small revolt. She barks “Hang in there!” without the previous bonhomie in her voice. You could tell she wants to add a “dammit” at the end, but doesn’t. I used to relate to the pain of Jane’s friends and felt spanked by Jane’s harsh tone. Now, as a grownup manager in my own right, I relate to Jane. You have to show your subordinates the stick once in a while after all.

But a good leader knows when to share a laugh with underlings too. Soon after the mini revolt, Jane is leading us through an exercise that resembles how Jane might go about making baby Janes. Aware of this, the crowd suddenly breaks out in laughter, and Jane joins in with us. We’re family again, and all is forgiven.

25 years ago, Jane was riding high on Hollywood fame from her performances in China Syndrome, Nine to Five, and On Golden Pond. I had just graduated from childhood and was embarking on the road to Adulthood through the valley of Adolescence. No more Little League. No more frogs and salamanders. But today I can still do almost all of the exercises in the video. I wonder, though, if Jane can.

And I wonder about the perfect epitaph for Jane Fonda. Would it be “Make it burn!” or “Don’t forget to breathe”?


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