October is National Children’s Health Month and, to celebrate, we sat down with Emily Tyson who leads the Junior Jazzercise program for children ages 4 through 16. "Miss Emily" has 11 years under her belt as a Jazzercise instructor and lives in Long Beach with her husband Christopher and their bulldog Layla.
Oh, and Emily is the first to tell you she’s “a big sap” who cries at all kinds of things, sad and happy.
How did you find Jazzercise?
My mom has been an instructor for 31 years but she never pushed it on me.
When I was eighteen, I took good care of myself and went to dance class all the time. I auditioned to dance on a cruise ship and they told me I needed to lose some weight. Now, I’m no “skinny Minnie,” but I’m not big. I thought “that can’t be my life.” I think the dance world is better than it was before, but there’s no way I wanted to live under that microscope.
After that audition, I started going to Jazzercise class more and went to the Las Vegas convention with my mom. We were dancing and laughing and I looked over at her and said “Okay, I get it.” And that’s my Jazzerstory.
What made you want to teach?
I love to dance and I love to help people and teaching encompasses all of those things for me. I get to help, teach and perform.
Tell us about Junior Jazzercise…
Joan Gambill was the Junior Jazzercise coordinator when I moved to Carlsbad and it was a natural segue for me because I’d been teaching dance to kids. That summer, Joan asked me to teach a Junior Jazzercise camp to a group of kids. And the rest is history.
Other than dance fitness, what do you teach the kiddos in Junior Jazzercise?
Self-respect. That’s really important. Respecting yourself and others. Being humble, but also liking yourself. Confidence. Being appreciative. For our bodies and food on the table. “Please” and “thank you” is a big thing with me. That never gets old.
In my camps, I give the kids a gratitude journal and talk about being thankful as part of being healthy. It gives them a tangible way to think about things they’re grateful for and creates a habit. It makes the camp more than just dancing and playing games.
Do you talk about nutrition in your classes and camps?
We do talk about establishing a healthy relationship with food. We talk a lot about balance. We’ll play Fruit and Vegetable Bingo to learn what certain fruits and vegetables are. I try to inform the kids what’s good for their bodies and what’s not, but there’s no wrist slapping for liking ice cream. I just say “your body has to have vegetables and protein, and then have treats.”
How can learning about fitness help children down the road?
Exercise is something your body needs to survive plus it releases endorphins. Fitness should never be a chore. What we do is create a habit.
We’ll sneak exercise in at camp by playing a chase game. The kids will be booking it around the room and I’ll ask them, “Are you sweating?” And then tell them, “Sweat is your body’s air conditioner.” I ask them to notice how good it feels. It feels good to move. We also talk about different ways to get fit – dancing, swimming, basketball, or whatever they’re interested in.
October is Children’s Health Month. What do you want parents to know about children’s health and fitness?
It’s incredibly important that your child is into something physical. Kids have to move. Their little bodies need it for obvious reasons plus physical activity is a great way to express yourself. Their bodies and their minds need that.
Have them try different things until they find an activity they love. Dance has gotten me through some real life stuff – my parents getting divorced, breakups, the works. I still dance and I have wood floors in my house. It was a selling point for me.
What does Jazzercise mean to you?
You’re going to make me get emotional. (she pauses) There aren’t really words for that. It’s my passion. (through tears) My mom and I are close no matter what, but it’s something I love that I get to do with her.
Jazzercise has also given me the opportunity to change people’s lives of all ages. It fills so many of my cups so full. I’ve met amazing friends and helped change lives.
I can go anywhere and (other Jazzercise instructors and students) open their arms and welcome me. They don’t know me but that doesn’t matter.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow instructors?
Keep doing what you guys are doing because you’re amazing. We would not be here without all of you. Keep being the new Jazzercise.