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Song & Dance

Cayce LudwarCayce Ludwar bought the Williston Jazzercise Fitness Center, the largest in Vermont, in 2004. In terms of gross sales, it has reached “platinum” status as one of the largest centers in the world.

by Keith Morrill

Tuning up to the latest music and choreography

For the last eight years, Cayce Ludwar has seen time march on, and always to a steady beat. That’s how long she’s been an instructor at Jazzercise in Williston, the last three of which she has been the studio’s owner. 

Ludwar’s studio is part of a franchise started in Chicago 1969 by professional dancer Judi Sheppard Missett as a fun, accessible fitness program. It has spread from its base of operations in Carlsbad, Calif., and gone international, claiming centers in numerous countries worldwide. 

Ludwar’s Williston center has earned distinction in that global fleet of Jazzercise centers. For starters, her studio is the largest in Vermont. Ludwar expands on that, saying, “We have what is called platinum status. So in terms of gross sales, we’re one of the largest grossing centers in the world. In the New England district, there are only 11 of us that fall in that category.” 

To meet the demand, Williston Jazzercise offers classes from early morning until evening, offering clients 34 classes per week, to dance their way into fitness. Ludwar doesn’t shoulder that load alone. Thirteen other associates, each a certified Jazzercise instructor, share the responsibility of teaching classes. Ludwar and these associates work together to offer what Ludwar says is always the cutting edge in fitness, and an experience that can’t be duplicated, for clients and instructors alike.

“It’s one hour for yourself. If you are able to carve out that time, then I think you’ll overall feel better,” Ludwar explains. “That doesn’t mean that you need to be skinny. It doesn’t mean you need to look like a magazine picture,” stresses Ludwar. “It means you need to live fit within your own body.” The emphasis is on a healthy, active lifestyle. 

“There are not many professions that you have where you see an impact on somebody’s life right away,” she says. “If you were a fly on the wall, I think you’d be amazed with what goes on within the four walls of this studio,” say Ludwar with a smile. “I can pretty much say that happens at every Jazzercise. That’s just the environment and atmosphere we have, and I would say most people come through the door finding that connection.”

Ludwar should know. The same thing happened to her in 1997 when she discovered Jazzercise. At the time she was studying at the University of Vermont toward a degree in business administration with a minor in nutritional sciences. An unfortunate back injury had made it impossible to continue her collegiate soccer career, so Ludwar was looking for a way to stay in shape that wouldn’t exacerbate her injury. She found her solution in Jazzercise.

Hooked from the first class, she started attending regularly, and by March she was working the desk as a class manager, helping people check in at class registration. By the time she concluded her studies at UVM in 2000, her next move in life was clear. 

Brenda Carpenter and Courtney WagnerCayce Ludwar’s mother, Brenda Carpenter (left), coordinates class managers. Courtney Wagner is an instructor and Ludwar’s teaching partner at Mount Mansfield Union High School, where she teaches under a recently acquired Physical Education Program (PEP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Post-graduation, she began the certification process that all would-be Jazzercise instructors must undergo: a 12-week intensive training program learning choreography with a mentor, culminating with a test of their ability to teach the choreography, an anatomy and physiology exam, and business workshops. She began working as an instructor at Williston Jazzercise in August of 2000. 

In 2004, she was approached to purchase the Williston Center from then-owner Jill Nitz. 

“The timing was just right,” says Ludwar. “I had just had my first child. He was 6 months old, and I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and it was just something I could do. Owning your own business is very demanding, but I’m still able to have my children home with me.”

Ludwar and her husband, Michael, a team leader at Goodrich, now have two boys: Jacob, 3, and 6-month-old Cooper. They met through a blind date arranged by Linda Bogardus, who worked with him at Hackett, Valine & MacDonald. “Linda had been attending my Jazzercise classes,” says Ludwar, “and she said, ‘You have to meet this guy I work with!’ She still comes to classes.”

It remains important to Ludwar to make time for family outside of the studio. They reside in Williston, and spend their time together enjoying the outdoors, though Ludwar admits she’s not much for skiing, as she doesn’t really enjoy cold feet after the first run down the slopes. 

An in-house babysitting service called the Jazzerkids Room staffed, she says, by “a bunch of childcare providers” allows Ludwar to better manage her family, and lets other mothers do the same. Ludwar estimates that more than 99 percent of her clients are women, with “maybe five or six gentlemen who do join us.” 

Among those numbers, she says, are a lot of families attending together: sisters and, perhaps most common, mothers and daughters. The franchisor, itself, is run by a mother and daughter, and the Williston franchise is no exception. Ludwar’s mother, Brenda Carpenter, works at the studio coordinating the class managers.

Last October, the studio moved its operations to Day Lane, off Vermont 2A near Guy’s Farm & Yard and Chelsea Commons. Ludwar says the new studio is more space-efficient and includes improved parking, and a larger dance floor surrounded by windows that offer a view of Camel’s Hump in the background. It lends itself better to Jazzercise, she says.

Ludwar has made efforts to spread her influence beyond the walls of her Williston studio. Last year she was invited to participate in the Williston School District’s health and wellness committee, which continues to discuss ways to teach students and their families healthier ways of living. 

She was also subcontracted by Mount Mansfield Union High School in September under a recently acquired Physical Education Program (PEP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help spice up the physical education program. Chuck Webber, the director of physical education at MMU, says that Ludwar’s programs have done much to enhance the physical education program.

“Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious and the kids love it. By offering a variety of programs that will enhance their overall fitness level the students will hopefully be able to make healthy choices about their lifestyle earlier in life,” says Webber. 

Jazzercise dance classCayce Ludwar says that sometimes the hardest part of her job is breaking down the stereotype people have when they think of Jazzercise. Classes in the dance fitness program are always have the latest music and choreography, she says.

“Cayce and her teaching partner, Courtney, are positive role models for the young men and women here at MMU. It’s refreshing to know that there are students that actually want to come to class and participate as opposed to having to come just for the credit. Cayce and Courtney make it an enjoyable atmosphere.”

It’s not all fun and games. Despite her center’s success, Ludwar admits sometimes the hardest part of her job is breaking down the stereotype most people have when they think of Jazzercise. 

As she tells it, that company’s history can be a double-edged sword. While the name Jazzercise carries the advantage of instant recognition, it also carries a lot of extra baggage that Ludwar says can be challenging to overcome. 

When some think “Jazzercise,” they conjure images of images of leg warmers, neon leotards, gargantuan perms, and a host of other eyebrow-raising fashion from decades past. It’s enough to make the most hardened cringe, she says. 

“We’re not about that,” says Ludwar. “We are a company that stays on the cutting edge of anything in the fitness industry, and any trends. We’re a dance fitness program, so we’ve always had the latest music, the latest choreography.” Jazzercise, she claims, continually takes great efforts to stay hip, regularly updating its track lists, and offering its own line of fashionable exercise wear. 

It’s that same brand that gives Jazzercise its niche, says Ludwar. “I don’t really focus on competing with Twin Oaks or Curves or any of that, because we are that much different in terms of what we do.”

And the beat goes on. •

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