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"For a long time, Prancercise® was kept under wraps," says Rohrback's longtime friend Joyce Brobeck, a massage therapist in Fort Lauderdale. "She's a very private person, and she was always worried about people stealing it... She had the keys to the Hilton Gym [on Hallandale Boulevard] and only came in early and late. I didn't see the whole thing until she showed me and the others outside of the gym. It was beautiful."
Rohrback doesn't like elucidating how she survived those years. "Do people need to know everything about me?" she asked New Times, pausing. "It was credit cards and savings." (Brobeck mused that Rorhback's father, who worked as an attorney in New York and died young, had left her well off. Rohrback denies that theory.)
She also kept Prancercise® hush-hush. In 1994, she moved in with her mother, who'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's, in Coral Springs and furtively wrote her book, which became equal parts instructional manual and memoir. But she couldn't find a publisher who understood its vision, and as her mother melted into sickness, both the exercise and written work languished. "She took care of her mother all by herself," friend Josie Marinello, 94, remembers. "She has two sisters, but they didn't volunteer anything; all of the pressure was on Joanna." Rohrback no longer speaks to her sisters.
Rohrback's mother died in 2004, and in the aftermath, the Prancercise®-er developed a severe "feminine condition" that she mentions frequently but almost aggressively declines to identify. She was too sick to find consistent work, she says, and became a regular, then a high roller, at casinos across Broward. "I couldn't Prancercise®!" she erupts over a bottle of Fiji Water inside a darkened VIP chamber at the Isle of Capri. "I couldn't be creative; what else was I supposed to do? ... I lost a lot of money. In five years, there was only one when I actually made any money."
Then, with Rohrback once more at her lowest, Prancercise® again galloped to the rescue. In 2011, her feminine condition began a slow remission. "I healed myself," Rohrback explains, declining to elaborate. Soon she was prancing the beaches of South Florida, teeth agleam. It was time, Rohrback thought, to take this thing public — with or without the publishers. So that fall, she got her trademarks and put up an advertisement on Craigslist asking for help designing her book cover.
"We met at a Dunkin' Donuts," remembers Eric Gzimalowski, a blond 26-year-old photographer in Coral Springs. "She said she wanted to get some photos of her, quote, exercise routine. She was very, very confidential and never once used the term Prancercise®. It was crazy."
It got crazier. She pushed across the table a tizzy of legal documents. "It was some sort of documentation saying I wouldn't sign or steal or sell or copyright anything from her book. She was very, very strict. I was dumbfounded, and then I signed it."
Rohrback's directions for the cover of her book were specific: She wanted clouds and fields and horses. And at the center of the idyll, she directed Gzimalowski to superimpose photographs of her squeezed inside spandex and anklets, mid-Prancercise®. "She said she wanted her movement to be whimsical. I wouldn't say she's controlling, but she's a woman who's extremely passionate about Prancercise®." She paid him $150.
On a cloudy winter day soon after, Rohrback enlisted a tanned Miami cameraman named William Brito, who climbed into a golf cart at a country club in Tamarac and shot Rohrback Prancercising under the palm trees. "We're gonna really cut the noose and let it loose!" squealed Rohrback, trotting in white tights. "Let's stop talkin' and do some walkin.' Afterward, she chose a four-chord rock song to accompany the video, and then, on Christmas Day last year, it went live on YouTube.
Prancercise® now belonged to the masses.
Months of silence later, on May 25 in East London, a ponytailed bloke named Edwin Stratton, who was once the drummer of the prominent English band One Minute Silence, was scrolling through the Reddit subforum "WTF" when he saw an image he'll never forget.
An anonymous user had posted the image of a book cover, which showed a white woman hovering above green fields aside a galloping white stallion. It was absurd. He loved it. "The cover was superb," he tells New Times. "So I looked for a video on YouTube, which I was delighted to find actually existed."
At 1:14 a.m. that night, Stratton tweeted the Prancercise® video to British comedian/blogger Robert Popper, who had blogged about a new Estonian fitness routine called "Horsebic" that, incredibly enough, also impersonates a horse's mannerisms. Popper watched the clip of Rohrback prancing through the Tamarac country club, thought of Horsebic, and blasted a quick post on May 27. "Prancercise® is some kind of special!" he croons to New Times.
Things then happened very fast. Lauren Kirby, a young brunet who freelances at Buzzfeed, saw the video on a private Facebook group with her friends. "And when I saw it, I knew it was viral material," she says. On May 28, Prancercise® materialized on Buzzfeed, under the category "Because Yes." The website Videogum, fecund ground for many bloggers, also punched in a story that day, and Prancercise® went supernova. (Even New Times got into the mix, on May 29, heading our take: "Florida Woman Invents Insane 'Prancercise.' ")