ELDERSBURG — In between crunches and choreographed moves, Paulette Greenwalt, 70, called out instructions to her aerobics class, just as she has done for the past 38 years.
Greenwalt, who occasionally took instructing breaks to sing snippets of song lyrics, has instructed aerobics for longer than Piney Ridge Elementary School, where the class was held, has existed. And when she stepped down Wednesday as instructor, she left behind a legacy of fitness, fun and family.
"Looking back, we've just had so much fun dancing," said Sandy Blough, a 37-year class participant. "We've been together for so long, they aren't even really classmates, they're family."
Whether the dancers had been with Greenwalt from the start, or whether they'd just joined, the treatment was the same — always welcoming, always working hard.
Greenwalt taught the Jacki Sorensen Fitness Program, a type of exercise class that she said was once extremely popular in Carroll County.
"At one point, we had eight instructors. That's how big it was," Greenwalt said. "For over 30 years, people have been dancing with me. It has to be pretty special to hold people that long."
Sorensen's program blends aerobic exercise with strength training, alternating dance segments with core work, weights and stretching. The dance program began over 40 years ago, according to the Jacki Sorensen Fitness Program website, and four routines are released each year.
The fresh choreography keeps things interesting for dancers and Greenwalt alike, she said.
"They use big names in music that are really, really fun to dance to," Greenwalt said, naming Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, One Republic and Luke Bryan as a few favorites.
Though the program's popularity in the county has dwindled in recent years, its nationwide presence continues. Following Greenwalt's retirement, Carroll County will still have one teacher left for interested dancers. Nancy Brett runs a program out of Carroll County Community College.
Though the class is occasionally strenuous, aging dancers often stuck with it, returning to Greenwalt year after year.
Fran Johnson, a 36-year participant, sees the program as the "best out there," adding that it's approved by doctors, and the energizing, stress-relieving dancing is unmatched.
"Sure, it'll cause us some aches and pains sometimes after we get out there and dance," Johnson said, "but it's nothing compared to what we'd have without it."
Greenwalt underwent back surgery and now has 12 screws and two rods in her back, she said. And though she continued to teach for a year and a half with the injury, she decided the time had come to step — or, in this case, dance — away from teaching.
"I'm 70 years old now and I don't feel like I'm offering the quality that I used to," she said. "But it's the most fascinating exercise program ever. I'll be sad to leave it behind."
Though Greenwalt unlaced her sneakers for the last time as an aerobics instructor Wednesday night, don't expect her to give up exercise or her friends in retirement.
"If someone took over the class, she'd definitely keep dancing," her husband, Wyatt Greenwalt — a 30-year class participant himself — said, before joining the class doing choreographed exercises on the ground.