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Me Being Me!

Hello Fellow Bulldogs! I received an email from one of my ’69 classmates and longtime friends, Jerry Driggs. He wanted to discuss an idea for the SHSAA web site and newsletter. I couldn’t imagine what I could contribute to the newsletter let alone the web site. I was somewhat apprehensive but thought - How bad could it be? To say I was surprised about what he had in mind would be an understatement. Here’s how the conversation went.

JD: “Hey Rita. First of all, Happy Birthday! You and I both turn 66 this year. I was thinking. Of all the people that we went to school with, you are the only one I know who is doing something today that is as physically demanding and emotionally satisfying as it was when you were 16 years old – fifty years ago.”

ME: “You better explain that a little more!”

JD: “You’re right! That could be taken a couple of ways! What I mean is, back at South you were a cheerleader, a dancer, and always motivating people with your enthusiasm and spirit. I see your Facebook posts almost daily and did a little digging. At 66, you are the oldest, active Jazzercise Instructor in Central Ohio. You’re teaching 5 to 10 classes a week and have been doing that every week for 25 years!

ME: “Uh huh. Go on.”

JD: “The people taking your classes post such inspiring comments about how your classes, your energy, and your attitude impact their lives. It dawned on me that at 66 you are doing things that women half your age aren’t able to do. I think that would be a great story to share.” ME: “Wow! I never looked at it that way. I can’t imagine that with so many other stories, that anyone would be interested.JD: “Are you kidding me? I think it is exactly what people would like to read. We all need to be reminded of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. What do you say? You in?”

ME: “OK. I’ll do my best. I believe that we all have the ability to give hope, help, encouragement, and strength to others. If anything I share can do that, I will be glad to give it a try!"

Here Goes! - I have been involved in dance and physical activity all of my life. I started dance classes at the age of 5. This is a picture of my sister Deborah (class of ’70) and me (left) at our first recital. At South High School, I was a cheerleader. My early dance experience gave me confidence that helped me achieve that goal. I loved everything about the experience. The friendships with the other girls, and the discipline it took to be good shaped my life. Upon graduation in 1969, I enrolled at Capital University. I was a member of the cheerleading squad there for two years. Financial realities have a way of changing priorities. In my junior year, I realized I was poor and needed to find a job. I gave up cheerleading to work part time but I continued with the Dance Club. That was the first time I realized that life-choices often means giving up some things in order to get others.

Next stop – IBM. After graduation I got my first full time job. I was hired as by IBM. It was a demanding and competitive environment. For the first time in my life, my workout regime came to a halt. I wasn’t happy about it. As I was achieving in one area of my life, I was feeling a void in others. I knew what was missing. I had lost the energy and satisfaction I got from exercise and dancing.

One morning I was driving down Broad Street on the way to a sales meeting. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign on a church with the word Jazzercise in big letters with an equally big phone number. I had no idea what Jazzercise was but it grabbed my attention. I made the call the same day. It turned out to be one of the most important calls in my life. It was 1980.

I signed up for my first class and couldn’t wait to attend to discover what this mix of dance and exercise was all about. I wasn’t disappointed. It was great music, funky dance moves, and quite a workout. I was back to what I loved. It was not only fun, but the class turned into a great support group where members began to feel like family.

With that first class under my belt, I began to search for other classes. Over time, I added classes to my weekly workout in German Village and at the Jewish Community Center! I might add that in all of those classes, I was the only African American woman but it didn’t matter to me or to the others. I point that out because we focused on a common goal not on differences.All of us were there for one thing – a great workoutI

I was feeling strong by then and no matter what was going on in my life, it was an hour of losing myself to the music and moves.

New Assignment – Not long after feeling settled in Columbus, I moved to Atlanta as a result of an IBM promotion. Right away I began to look for Jazzercise classes. Living in a new city and knowing no one I was eager to find the same type of friendships and support that I experienced in Columbus. I couldn’t find a class close enough so I decided to join a gym. That didn’t work. Being alone on the different pieces equipment didn’t give me the support or camaraderie that I needed to succeed. It wasn’t long before I gained nearly 30 pounds and lost my edge. I threw myself into my work. Twelve-hour days were the norm. I felt lost.

On the Road Again – My stay in Atlanta ended when another IBM promotion relocated me to Detroit. I began my search for a Jazzercise class as soon as I arrived. I was determined to get back into a grove that I knew worked for me. I found Jazzercise classes that gave me what I wanted and needed – other members who were genuine and instructors who were encouraging. I threw myself back into routines that worked for me in the past. I quickly lost the pounds and I was back to letting me be me! My head was on straight and my body was filled with energy. I clearly realized how important that combination was for me when it came to dealing with life’s challenges like a painful divorce, adjusting to a new city, and trying to meet the new career expectations.

With this newfound clarity and purpose I decided to leave IBM. I quit shortly after the promotion and returned to Columbus. I knew I had to follow my heart. It was the best decision I ever made. In spite of not knowing what was going to happen and not having a specific plan I trusted what was important to me.

Back In Columbus – I had been home for a few months and was taking classes 5 days a week. I decided to “raise my game” and become a Jazzercise instructor.

Rita Toles-Ghee 2017

Something inside me was saying, “you don’t just want to be an instructor, you need to be an instructor.” At the age of 42, I took the plunge. I became the oldest woman and the only African American woman in the training. After four months of hard work, I became an instructor. I was proud to be the oldest trainee and first African American instructor in Columbus. I have taught in all ares of Central Ohio for 25 years. Upper Arlington, Reynoldsburg, Gahanna, and Dublin. All of the women in these classes have had two expectations - a good workout and an instructor who cares about them. I have been able to meet both priorities.

What Have I Learned? In 1980, I discovered a unique combination of exercise, dance, and camaraderie that has fed my soul as well as my body for nearly 47 years. There have been ups and downs but dance and exercise have been consistent friends. I have learned to listen and to understand the needs of others; to be observant and to recognize those who struggle; to provide alternatives so everyone can experience success; to be a cheerleader and to congratulate each person for her accomplishments. I can truly say that the seed that was planted back at South High School has grown and blossomed into a way of life. In October, I will retire after 25 years as a Jazzercise instructor. My old bones are saying, “Time to slow down –but not to quit!” I am going back to where I started 47 years ago as a customer who wants to have fun Me Being Me!

Rita Toles-Ghee - UpTown Funk at 66!

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