The Prancercise Lady Copes With the Dark Side of Internet Fame

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Still, Rohrback arrived at the casino smiling wide. A phalanx of photographers from Getty Images and the Associated Press fanned out before her, bulbs flashing. Rohrback, in heavy makeup and neon green, preened. Schwartz, wearing the same outfit, settled in at a table at the front, the two of them looking like boxer and manager before a fight. They'd recently had a spat over the direction of Prancercise® but had now made up. Schwartz guarded the books and T-shirts like fine jewels.

Rohrback was squinting into the flashing lights when a brown-haired woman jostled her arm. Time to get backstage, she told Rohrback. The contest was about to begin.

The room fell dark. The four-chord rock song from Rohrback's video boomed from the concert speakers. Three dancers wearing pink — two blond women and a buff guy — fluttered on stage and began to Prancercise®. But they kicked their feet and waved their arms all wrong. The British casino moderator, teeth big and yellow, bloviated into the mic. A crowd of 60 people swelled around the stage.

"I love Joanna because of her style — but c'mon, this is all just about the camel toe!" one young and twitching man said.

Everyone laughed except Schwartz. The gray-haired woman turned her head away from the air-humping dancers. "This isn't Prancercise®," she whispered. "I'm so happy Joanna can't see this. She'd hate this."

Afterward, five bedraggled casino regulars stumbled onstage and attempted to out-Prancercise® one another and win $1,000 in free slot play. One man in a baseball cap, who looked aged and dazed, jerked his walking cane back and forth. The crowd heckled the buffoonery.

Finally, Rohrback stepped out to face the throng. The cameras flashed for several long minutes. She took the microphone in a thin hand and, giggling, anointed a woman with long, sinewy hair the winner. After the performances, nearing midnight, Rohrback refused to let the glow of the night fade. She slowly gathered the T-shirts and Prancercise® books. During the entire night, she's sold only a few. "Gamblers aren't into holistic healing," she said.

Then she brightened. Joanna Rohrback always brightens.

On a recent weeknight at 9, as the lights are blinking out near Coral Springs, Rohrback steps out onto the street wearing spandex and ankle weights. She hasn't had the chance to Prancercise® all day.

She fits on a pair of headphones, hits play on a Bee Gees mix tape, and gallops into the darkness. While some women would worry if out alone at night, Rohrback is bereft of concern. She has Prancercise®. The exercise, she says, will protect her. "Prancercise® is uninhibited," she says. "I don't feel scared doing it. I always feel light. All the stress in my life passes, and I feel empowered. I feel awe."

And perhaps this is the power of Prancercise®. It's not intended to get you ripped or marathon-ready. It's meant to make you feel weightless. That's why Rohrback was so adamant about hovering on her book cover. When you trot like a horse, you lose yourself in the absurdity of the act, and every worry suddenly dissolves. It's why Rohrback loves Prancercise® and why it returns to her at times she needs it most.

Richard Simmons was right. "Joanna's like Judy Garland walking down the yellow brick road. When I started, everyone laughed at me too, because I'm certainly not a handsome person. All the handsome men and women laughed at me and told me I'd never make it. But people who succeed are those who are persistent."

Forty-five minutes after Rohrback began her Prancercise® loop through the streets, she returns to her house. She can't Prancercise® as far she used to. "I'm 60 years old now," she says. Taking long equine strides, she steps up to her door and walks inside her house. She has no idea how many calories she just burned, and she doesn't care.

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Terrence McCoy