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Lady with a mission.

Lady With A Mission

When keeping in shape is a struggle - too little time, too little energy, too little enthusiasm - it helps to know that not every celestial Hollywood body has always sported flat tummies, incredible triceps and rounded bottoms. In fact, 58 year-old actress/singer/dancer Rita Moreno believes she looks better now than she did when she performed in "West Side Story." As she puts it, "I was a little dumpling back then. Being a small boned person, it's just as serious for me to gain four pounds as it is for other people to gain ten. I'm essentially a pear-shaped person and I have to really watch it."

The 5'3", 110-pound powerhouse of energy has a passion for living life to its fullest and is proud when she announces to her nightclub audiences that she's still going strong. Convinced that the key to her strength and stamina is exercise, Moreno shares her secrets of beauty and vitality in her best-selling workout video called "Now You Can." Released in January 1990, it has already hit the platinum mark of video sales. "Everyone assumes because I'm 50-plus that my video is geared for this audience," she explains. "With respect to age, the video ranges five decades."

Moreno selected women from the real world, "civilians" of different ages (65, 47, 39 and her 23-year-old daughter). "Except for my daughter, nobody has a perfect body, but all are fit. My goal was to target the women who have been ignored for years. One lady on my tape has a very full bosom and full thighs which you never see on workout videos. But she's firm and gorgeous. And that's the motivational part of this tape. You are gorgeous, you just have to see yourself that way.

"I've noticed in my many years of travel that a lot of young women are as out of shape as older women," she said. One of the principle reasons for making this tape was that I noticed people were discouraged with the perfection of a lot of the participants in many celebrity exercise videos. Furthermore, they were discouraged without realizing it by the difficulty of many of those tapes. I can't tell you how many people have come to me and said, `Why is your tape going to help me stay with the program when I've never stayed with a program for more than a few weeks?'. My answer is, `Has it ever occurred to you that you've been doing some that are too difficult?' And they look at me like I've said a revelation."

With such a glut of Hollywood bodies on the exercise video shelves "it makes me a little ill," Moreno admits. "Some really don't know what they're doing. I had health experts involved in the making of this video." Offering both fitness and philosophy, Moreno is anxious to talk about her latest venture. "There are a number of things unique about my video. Number one, it's aimed at the woman who cannot keep up with the more popular ones ... does not want to run the 24K, does not want to be an athlete. Just the average woman who wants to be fit. It's not a question of losing pounds but of becoming firmer and toning up. Of course, you have to diet and exercise to lose weight, but listen to your body, I do.

"Number two, my video is very motivational." Indeed, at the outset, Moreno talks to her audience as if chatting over coffee, then takes them into low impact dances "Respect," complete with Motown moves, "Tuxedo Junction," salsa, big band sounds and somba, arranged by her personal music arranger. The video then sugues into her motivational conversation. "I tell them how I was a late bloomer in exercise and not to get discouraged."

In fact, Moreno did not begin exercising until eight years ago. "I had begun to resurrect my nightclub act and I was terribly out of shape. After one flight of steps, I was breathless. And I said, wait a minute, my body is a temple and it's the only one I have. So I started to take exercise classes. The other thing was I had a terrible menopause. One day when I was feeling particularly awful I decided to try an aerobics class. After ten minutes, I was feeling better, after 20 minutes even better and by the end of the class I went out skipping. It's true what they say about endorphins."

It may have been years since you jumped rope, but rediscovering the joys of dance and exercise with minimal ease was the governing factor behind the video. "That's why it's called `Now You Can,' and that's why there's different age groups on it. From the comment cards I get, the response started from women in their '50s and '60s and I noted only last week that they were getting younger. I think the word's getting around. It's probably one of those tapes that's going to be around for a very long time."

Consider this: The average person does not exercise while having their head turned at a 90-degree angle to watch a TV screen. So Moreno has considered this factor when designing her workout routine. "All our exercises are done standing up and holding onto chairs for several reasons. If you're looking at a TV lying down, your neck gets a cramp in it. Furthermore, a lot of people hate being down there. And, a lot of people don't have the space for that. We assume that everyone has a TV room, which is nonsense. Usually there's about three feet between the TV set and table. With that in mind, I did the same exercises standing up, including a stomach exercise that I invented standing up - which is wonderful when done properly."

Confessing her figure does not even compare with the Jane Fondas or Raquel Welches, Moreno suggests that she is more like Sophia Loren, and that she is aware of having to firm up her entire lower body. "I have very bad knees and a fragile lower back as most dancers have. So my personal workout routine is the stationary bike, stair climber, and a low impact aerobics class, as well. I do this about three days a week for almost two hours, but you must give the muscles a chance to rest. So going three or four times a week is adequate. Let's remember, in December I'll be 59 and so what? But there comes a time when you have to decide what's more important, your face or your derriere and in my case, my sacrifice is my behind because my face looks better with a few extra pounds. That's why I have to exercise the lower part of my body regularly."

Moreno's intense interest in exercise and fitness was no doubt spurred by her need to be an "everything woman. I see possibilities in every moment in life. It's like a pyramid. The moment you start taking care of yourself, you start liking yourself more. The moment you start liking yourself more, you begin to look better. The moment you look better and like yourself more, your life does change. 'Now You Can' love yourself again."
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Rita Moreno
Author:Siegler, Bonnie
Publication:American Fitness
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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