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Josie Gardiner '67: Dance, Fitness, and how ZumbaŽ United Them

Passion fills Josie Gardiner '67 when she discusses her life's work.

“I love fitness, but dance is in my heart and soul,” said Gardiner.

The two have come together in unexpected ways for the former Boston Ballet dancer.

Gardiner's Liberal Arts degree from Colby Junior College allowed her to focus on what she loved—dance and theater. She attended the University of Colorado and worked for a year in the banking industry. Gardiner and her husband moved to Panama and then to Lima, Peru, where she had a baby. She took ballet classes to get back in shape and began teaching a dance fitness class that combined ballet barre work with athletic exercises. When she returned to the United States, she taught a similar class at the urging of friends. It grew to 150 students in three months.

Gardiner was at the forefront of the aerobics craze of the 1980s. In 1985 she joined Reebok's development team, where she helped create Step Fitness and stability ball exercises. There she met her business partner, former Rockette Joy Prouty.

In 2002 Gardiner was named IDEA Instructor of the Year, and in 2005 she was named the American Council on Exercise Instructor of the Year.

Gardiner found new purpose when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer nearly 16 years ago. After eight weeks of radiation, she was so weak she couldn't even dry her hair. When Gardiner asked her doctor how to get fit again, he said that with her background, she probably knew better than he did. Gardiner wondered about those going through treatment without her experience, and her perspective changed: Fitness became about motivating people and getting them to move again.

In 2006 Gardiner and Prouty were at a convention when they heard “crazy wonderful music” coming from a booth for a new program called Zumba® Fitness. They observed a class, and that made Gardiner think that Zumba® could bring dance back to the fitness industry. She and Prouty recommended a program for the active older adult because “everyone wants to dance, no matter how old,” and they were asked to develop Zumba Gold® with Zumba® founder Beto Perez.

Zumba®, according to Gardiner, is not about perfection—it is a way to have fun while getting fit in a nonjudgmental environment. Gardiner and Prouty went on to develop Zumba Gold® Toning, and she recently helped launch the Zumba Gold® Jumpstart program and Gold Boosts.

The music still moves Gardiner at 67, and she has no plans to decrease her work as teacher or personal trainer in the Boston area. There are still people to motivate, including those who have not yet discovered they can dance.

-by Kelli Bogan, Colby-Sawyer College Archivist