The shift away from dance and toward athletics may explain the growing male participation in competitive aerobics—up 50% from 1984, when the nationals began. In 1987, for the first time, the contest for best individual performance was divided into separate male and female categories. Moreover, of the 70 finalists, 30 were men—up from 15 men (and 35 women) four years ago. Indeed, it might be difficult to imagine a former Eastern Illinois University defensive back performing high leg kicks and jumping jacks to the Jacksons' All Night Dancin'. But don't say that to Kim Wells, of San Mateo, Calif. Wells, 31, started aerobics in 1983, when he had hopes of a career in pro football. "I was looking for a way to stay in shape before trying out for the USFL," he says. Wells pulled a hamstring at the tryouts and sidelined his football plans. But he continued his aerobics training, and today he can do splits and high leg kicks as well as bench-press 285 pounds. His all-around fitness earned him the men's title at Nashville. "It was a dream come true," he said. Wells may soon have to set new goals. Schwartz, ever the promoter, plans to stage the first World Cup of aerobics with international competition within two years. Beyond that, he has visions of Olympic competition.
Schwartz carefully packaged December's championship for television. (The finals, which were taped in Nashville, started airing last month on more than 100 television stations around the country.) To give the show more of a "sports look," Schwartz hired high jumper Dwight Stones, the '72 Olympic bronze medalist, and fitness expert Charlene Prickett as commentators to provide critiques of the competitors. "It's not just a television show that we are producing," says Schwartz. "It's a sporting event."
Whether the sports world is ready for competitive aerobics is another matter. When Stones was asked if he would ever participate in aerobics, he replied: "No, it's not going to help me to jump higher." No doubt, Schwartz and his high-energy entourage would differ.