‘Hooked on Aerobics’: Then and Now


    By Elizabeth McIff

    “Hooked on Aerobics” is a BYU-based phenomenon that surprisingly swept across the country and even the world in the mid-eighties.

    A syndicated television work out program, “Hooked on Aerobics” has been airing on television screens all over the world since its release in 1986.

    Although the show can still be seen today, there were only two seasons originally shot. The 1984 season was only seen on KBYU, but the 1986 season was seen in living rooms all over the country and the world said the current “Hooked on Aerobics” organization president Claudia Hill.

    It began as a dream of founder and past president of “Hooked on Aerobics” Phyllis C. Jacobson, said former instructor Colleen West. Jacobson passed away in 1997.

    “She wanted to make an aerobics program that would take in all populations,” West said. “The fact she was able to accomplish that is what made the program so successful.”

    For a year before the 1986 filming, the “Hooked on Aerobics” team met to devise the best method of safely exercising the general public, West said.

    It was Jacobson”s idea to feature three levels of impact, which became the main reason the show was such a success, West said.

    To become an instructor for “Hooked on Aerobics,” an applicant was thrust in front of a camera, music was put on, and the potential instructor had to call out steps to the beat of the music, West said.

    Six instructors – three males and three females – were hired from the audition, including West. All had to sign a contract which entitled instructors to be paid $25 a show with no royalties, West said.

    All 64 shows of the season were shot over a two-week period during Christmas break. Seven shows a day were filmed, with hairdryers used to blow off sweat between shootings, West said.

    “Each show was hosted by Ellen Thomas, who was a dance major here at BYU at the time,” West said. “The other two spots were filled by one female instructor and one male.”

    Tammy Runia rotated the shows with West for the second season. Hill”s husband Bard was one of the rotating male instructors for the season as well.

    “When my wife told me I was starting to put on a little weight, I told her I would get more exercise playing racquetball than doing aerobics,” Bard Hill said. “I went to a class with her and I almost died.”

    When returning to BYU to complete his masters in communications, he began teaching aerobics classes and then earned a spot on 30 of the “Hooked on Aerobics” shows.

    “Because it was a BYU project the show was intended for an LDS audience,” Claudia Hill said. “For this reason we had to have appropriate costumes, gestures, and music.”

    The music was composed especially for the show with regular beats, so if it were to continue airing, it would not be too obviously outdated West said.

    The set was designed by a professional paid for by Jacobson herself, because funds for the show were so limited, West said.

    The show still airs every Saturday morning at 6 on KBYU.

    “Years after we shot the show I would see people at the store and they would say, ”I worked out with you this morning and I love what you did with your hair,”” West said. “They still thought I was getting up every morning and doing the show.”

    Fan mail continues to be sent to the KBYU studios.

    “I still receive letters and emails requesting new shows or videos,” Claudia Hill said. “I have been in the process of trying to get a new season produced and aired.”

    The original cast still fondly remembers their experience with “Hooked on Aerobics.”

    “I don”t even care that I only got paid when we produced the show,” West said. “Reading letters that fans sent me about how the show changed their life has made it all worth it.”

    Today, Ellen Thomas, the original host of “Hooked on Aerobics,” lives in California with her four children and is still in great shape, Claudia Hill said.

    Instructor Colleen West is now a full time faculty member in the dance department, teaching and designing folk costumes. She is also the coordinator of the tape dance program. It has been nine years since she had to give up teaching aerobics.

    Male instructor Bard Hill currently resides in Provo with his wife, Claudia, and family. He works for Powerquest and taught aerobics with Claudia every year at BYU Education Week until this last year. They currently teach ballroom dance at Education Week.

    Claudia Hill is also a full time faculty member in the dance department. Once the woman behind the scenes of “Hooked on Aerobics,” Hill is now president and trying to continue the dream Phyllis Jacobson started.

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