Longform

The Prancercise Lady Copes With the Dark Side of Internet Fame

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In this moment, celebrity seemed like a pretty good fit for Joanna Rohrback. She beamed like a kid showing off cartwheels for adoring parents.

Rohrback was clad in her Prancercise® uniform: black spandex, black tennies, feathered hair hanging shoulder length, neon-green long-sleeved shirt rolled up to the elbows. Over the course of one month that New Times spent with the Prancercise® creator, attending local casinos, Starbucks, and flea markets, this was the only outfit she ever wore.

Rohrback cannot overemphasize the importance of brand maintenance. She trademarked the term Prancercise® and founded Prancercise LLC last year and frets over scenarios of intellectual property theft. (She warned New Times that to be on the safe side of a potential legal thicket, we'd better trademark Prancercise®. Other media outlets have not, and she's currently consulting her legal team, she says, to see what there is to be done about that.)

Rohrback was attempting to explain such concerns to Morris, who was urging her to unveil the hidden nucleus of Prancercise®. "Could you give us a little tutorial?" pressed Morris, who was traveling the nation interviewing pop internet sensations. After Rohrback, he was scheduled to interview a rapping realtor in San Diego, whom Rohrback and Schwartz agreed sounded quite interesting.

"But how does one actually Prancercise®?" Morris asked again. Rohrback stopped prancing. Her heavily made-up face was suddenly severe. This, she informed Morris, was something she cannot provide Rude Tube. "I need to sell my book," she said, referring to her recently self-published instructional manual, Prancercise®: The Art of Physical and Spiritual Excellence, available for $23.36 from Amazon. "I can't just teach people how to Prancercise® for free, you know."

Her book does, in fact, go into granular detail to convey Prancercise®. It explains something called the "Prancewalk." This requires many "elongated strides," "rotated hips," and arm motions that are both "graceful and rhythmic." Afterward follows the "Prancetrot" — referred to in formal settings as the "Prancercise®trot." This one isn't for beginners, Rohrback cautions, advising care when attempting such maneuvers. The "Prancetrot" demands a "combination of quick-step consecutive steps" amid a flurry of flailing arms. Finally there's the "Prancegallop," an acrobatic achievement that calls for "springing high off the ground... like leaping in the air."

P90X fanatics need not apply. "I think it's a nice beginners' workout," famed fitness guru Richard Simmons told New Times. "If you look at a lot of videos out there, it's only tough-looking people going harder and faster and stronger. But with Joanna and I, it only leads to smiles and rainbows — not thunder."

Simmons, speaking from his Los Angeles residence, began to weep into the telephone and took several deep breaths to calm himself. "You can tell that what Joanna does comes from her soul, and that's what makes her stand out. She's precious. If she was here, I'd do her nails."


Prancercise® first came to Joanna Rohrback at a time of great despondence.

The year was 1989. As Rohrback tells it: "It was three months earlier that I'd broken off my engagement to marry a handsome and charming Jewish dentist." His name was Mitchell Feuer. He lived in Hollywood. And to Rohrback, he wasn't exactly Johnny Depp. "Each boring day had led to another boring week and month," she writes in her self-published book, which has sold hundreds of copies since her video took off. Rohrback says her creative energies were too robust for the trappings of traditional, married life: the shopping lists, the cleaning responsibilities, the pressure to have kids. She had to get out. But how?

She left Feuer (who didn't respond to requests for comment for this article) and moved into a rundown studio apartment near Hollywood Beach, which she considered a "prime location" for imaginative endeavors. Most important, the Broadwalk, a wide pedestrian avenue with blue-collar mom-and-pop shops on one side and turquoise waters on the other, was "a haven for exercise fanatics like myself," Rohrback writes. She settled into a new life of adventure and "set the stage for the creation of Prancercising."

On a clear morning at 7 soon after, Rohrback was power-walking down the Broadwalk when serendipity struck.

She had on a pair of headphones, and a Motown cassette was spinning inside her Walkman. A "really great" song that Rohrback can't recall came on, and its infectious beat overpowered her senses. Over the next few moments, it's unclear what, precisely, happened. What she remembers is this: She began to prance — yes, prance. Shimmying to that Motown groove, she swung her arms backward, stepped back and forth, and summoned an equine spirit to guide her gallop. Her breast swelled with feeling. This was neither dance nor exercise.

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Terrence McCoy