05.30.13

‘Prancercise’ Creator on Her ‘Wacky’ Workout and Being Too Famous to Prancercise

The woman behind the horsey exercise craze tells all: the joys of galloping in ankle weights, the injury that almost dashed her dreams forever, her new book, and more.

Joanna Rohrback knows you are laughing at her, and she doesn’t care.

She’s aware that people think her exercise routine “Prancercise” is “goofy,” and that by extension its founder must be “spooky and goofy and weird and wacky. I say bring it on. I love it. Look at all the attention it’s getting me. If I wasn’t all those things, I wouldn’t be who I am.”

Video screenshot

Watch Joanna Rohrback teach Prancercise—and watch her Internet disciples go wild.

She also wouldn’t be an Internet sensation, which is something of an understatement. Since Rohrback recently revived the hilariously original aerobic routine she created in 1989 but shelved for more than two decades, the Coral Springs, Florida, woman has been bombarded with so many clicks at her website that it crashed Wednesday, and she’s scrambling to figure out how to add more server capacity. She can barely keep track of the interview requests galloping in. It’s such a big deal that its founder can’t find the time to prancercise. 

“I didn’t even get to do it today, and I’m so upset about it,” Rohrback told The Daily Beast. “I can’t even do all the interviews. I’m going wacko.”

Wait, what’s prancercise? Have you been living in Pyongyang or something? It’s an exercise routine inspired by horses, featuring such moves as “the prancercise gallop” and “the prancercise box” as well as some incredible rhymes by its instructor and founder, Rohrback, decked out in a crisp salmon jacket and some very revealing white pants:

“We’re gonna really cut the noose and let it loose, with the prancercise gallop.”

And:

“It’s better to be punching into space than in your face.”

Back when the 61-year-old social worker invented the exercise routine, there was no Internet—at least not as we know it. There was just a woman in Hollywood walking down the street one day and inventing a whole new way to work out.

“I must have heard a really good song I liked on the radio,” Rohrback said. “I started moving in a rhythmic way, using ankle weights. And it just evolved.”

It felt like prancing, she said, like the way a happy horse frolics through a field of poppies. She was using her upper body and her legs, and because the whole thing was so fluid and natural, there was no pounding impact on the pavement. Prancercise was born, and it was beautiful.

Rohrback started prancercising outside, every day, on the “boardwalk” in Hollywood. People asked her about it constantly. “I think I even got it on a news clip,” she said. She quickly realized she shouldn’t keep prancercising to herself.

She made a video, but there was no YouTube to host it. So to be sure no one could ever steal the idea, she created a permanent record of her creation: “Funky Punky’s Prancercise Program.”

She filed it in the Library of Congress.

“Things were different back then,” she told The Daily Beast. “Prancercising was developed before Zumba came out. If I had had the investors and everything back then, prancercising would have been a huge hit.”

Then came “obstacles,” Rohrback said, including a “female condition” that sidelined her. She couldn’t prancercise for nine years. It was horrible.

“This book finally let me experience my inner horse. I was like a child again.”

Doctors said Rohrback needed surgery, but she knew the power to heal herself could only come from within. She cured herself, she said, with a strict regimen of natural herbs and diet.

In the meantime, she held down jobs as a social worker for the state of Florida and as a realtor. She founded the Vegetarian Advocate’s Group. She created a support group for people with food addictions, and another group of “Citizens for Democracy.” And she wrote a book: Prancercise: The Art of Physical and Spiritual Excellence, which was back then an unpublished manuscript.

Last July, for the first time in nearly a decade, Joanna Rohrback discovered that she could prance once more. She knew it was time to share her creation with the world.

“I wake up and here it is, 2012. Oh my god, I had never fulfilled my dream,” she said. “The top of my bucket list.”

With no publisher, no backing, “no family helping me—I don’t have a boyfriend or anything,” Rohrback decided she would publish her book herself. The cover features two different pictures of her floating alongside a fiery white steed.

“This book finally let me experience my inner horse. I was like a child again, prancing through the woods. At one point, I was convinced I had four legs. A smile radiated from my face. I punched the sky, knowing that I was free. Call me Prancer, for I walk my path with joy.”

Sales are a little slow so far, she said, but it’s getting rave reviews on Amazon:

“I'm a man who used to weigh 340lbs. I used to lift weights to stay in shape, until I dropped a bar on my head and was knocked into a coma. While unconscious, an angel visited me in my hospital bed and commanded me to wake up and try Prancercise. I regained consciousness immediately and bought this book, and what a difference it has made in my life! I'm now 148lbs and have never felt better. I have to buy a new set of ankle weights though, since I had to remove my last pair to get away when a dozen teen girls came running after me the last time I was prancing through the park. Get this book! You won't regret it.”

Another:

“I’m a very lonely person with a lot of time of my hands thinking about all the friends I could have if I could just built up the courage to prance up to them and say hello. I was doing my regular 2 am youtube surfing when I stumbled upon this angel from above Joanna. Now, instead of my usual starring [sic] at mirror and shout-crying for 20 minute intervals, I just prance the night away.”

Not all the reviews are positive, though:

“I was prancercing [sic] and accidentally pranced my way onto a rock and sprained my ankle. The doctor tried to shoot me! Stay away, unless you have strong legs.”

Rohrback says prancercising can have astounding results. She still does it every day—in her house. Florida is much too humid to prancercise outside, she said.

“You can go out and do something like this, in your own manner and your own form,” she says. “You don’t have to be like monkeys imitating each other in the gym.”