“The fat is just burning off and the muscle tones are coming there, they’re not there yet, but they’re coming!”
One of the very best things about the 1980s was that everybody who had ever been famous or nearly famous produced an exercise videotape. But in the pantheon of horrible workout videos, there must surely be a special designation for LaToya Jackson’s Step Up.
I first became aware of this work’s existence about five years ago when I sauntered in to a an East Village gay bar on an off night and the bartender had the video on as visual wallpaper. I realized that I had inadvertently stumbled into an art installation, for I immediately became hypnotized by the video and, seeing as there were no other patrons, I implored the guy to turn up the sound. I watched it from beginning to end and when it finally ended, I screamed “again!” like a little kid coming off of roller coaster. The bartender obliged and I watched the whole piece a second time, which only made me love it more.
If asked to explain what makes this video so epic in its astonishing awfulness, the answer should be “how much time ya got??” To wit, I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite things about LaToya Jackson’s Step Up, in no particular order, plus, hang on till the end of this blog entry for a truly awful-sounding Eating With The Stars recipe: “LaToya’s Creamy Apple Dessert,” a treat so crappy it apparently defies any specific dessert categorization!
FIVE THINGS I LOVE MOST ABOUT LATOYA JACKSON’S STEP UP
1. LaToya exhibits no aptitude whatsoever for “step work,” be it of the exercise or dance variety. As in her music videos, LaToya proves she just can’t move. The four steps she’s mastered here: a simple grapevine, a double-dream hand-style mime thing, a circular hip movement and a (gentle) head snake (popularized by sister Janet), are repeated ad nauseum, most likely because they were the only steps that were technically available to her. She also seems to have a reasonable handle on walking forward and backward—essentially a modified “Bus Stop” from the 70s—but I didn’t include that in this list owing to the fact that anyone with legs can walk forward and backward. Watching LaToya struggle through her own video is far more entertaining than watching her lip-synching or trying to dance, plus the Step Up video induces a pleasant, calming sensation that quiets the mind, kind of like yoga but without the effort.
2. The outfit. For my female readers or any of you who might cross-dress before vigorous excercise, you probably have a highly attenuated understanding of what LaToya is actually going through here: getting through a grueling step workout in full drag under hot lights with a wig the size of Encino on your head cannot be easy (though I appreciate that securing said wig with a multi-colored headband that resembles a backyard hammock might provide some much needed ballast). I particularly love the moments when she turns around and you have an opportunity to study the rear structure of her wig and the closure of said headband which, come to think of it, also resembles a child’s diaper. So the wig is, in essence, diapered onto to her head with a headband that is masquerading as a bow. The whole wig, hammock, diaper, bow, construct is extremely gripping. But wait…there’s more!
3. The marginalized step champion who is actually leading the class: Gay Gasper leads the video and I enjoy the fact that fully half her energy is redirected from leading the class to reminding the viewer that it’s LaToya’s show, despite the star’s aforementioned lack of aptitude. Every other comment out of Gays’s mouth concerns the star, as in: “watch LaToya on this” (as if that would clarify anything); or “this is what LaToya calls the ‘temptation’ step,” to which a perplexed LaToya breathlessly giggles, “Oh, really?”; or, my favorite, “now watch LaToya if you want to get a little funky!” Well I did watch LaToya but I’m sad to say nothing remotely funky ever happened. Lies! My fantasy is that the director pulled Gay Gasper aside before filming began in order to emphasize the absolute importance of keeping the focus on LaToya no matter what! I can hear him saying, “now I know you’re the national step champion, Gay, but it’s LaToya that’s gonna get these tapes to fly off the shelf, so please keep her involved at all times and remind the viewer constantly about her so she doesn’t have a tantrum and pop her wig!” LaToya meekly tries to assert herself by uttering occasional affirmations in that otherworldly Jackson stage-whisper thing, but usually ends up drowned out by Gay, who has that commanding, masculine step-teacher bark — the equivalent of Peter Potamus’ Hippo Hurricane Holler—all of which creates a caffeinated crash of cacophonous cross-talk. It’s divine and goes perfectly with….
4…. The music. If anyone knows who sings the video’s featured song, Work That Sucka To Death, please let me know as it is brilliantly infectious and only improves with repeated listenings. (I should probably confess here that I know what I’m talking about, having watched this video at least thirty times.) I also love the the incidental music, especially the cool-down theme, which has the dated appeal of Giorgio Moroder’s film scores like Top Gun and American Gigolo with the benefit of not having to deal with Tom Cruise or Lauren Hutton.
5. The dialogue: LaToya speaking isn’t much better than LaToya stepping, which is to say, “I defy you to turn away!” Watching her fumble around the simple copy gives me chills of pleasure and puts a smile on my face big as her wig. She freely admits in her child-woman whisper that she is “just a beginner herself,” and you really do believe her. She quickly adds the optimistic fillip: “the fat is just burning off and the muscle tones are coming there, they’re not there yet, but they’re coming.” I admire her modesty, though it seems like a mistake to undermine the one unassailable selling point of the video: bitch has a slammin’ body! I also love that she refers to her muscle tones, perhaps drawing an unconscious connection between two things for which she has no ability whatsoever: singing and movement.
From the “timing-is-everything” department: The video was released in 1993, by Peter Pan Industries a full five to ten years after the market for this kind of product had begun to atrophy, ensuring that the only real fans would be crazy queens like me.
So I just have to know, what’s your favorite celebrity exercise video?? Please turn me on to anything especially awful that I should be aware of!
By the way, if all this steppin’ has gotten you hungry, I’ve unearthed what appears to be an absolutely awful recipe for something called LaToya’s Creamy Apple Dessert. This from a fitness guru? Anyway, since LaToya and her meatball was the original inspiration for my Eating With The Stars feature, why not throw on a huge wig and step right up to the stove for a very special installment of Eating With The Stars?
LaToya Jackson’s Creamy Apple Dessert
1/4 Cup walnuts
1/4 cup butter
1 (19 ounce) can apple pie filling
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup sour cream
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a 9 x 9 baking dish, place the butter and melt it in the oven.
Remove the dish from the oven and stir the graham cracker crumbs into the melted butter until well-mixed, then press the buttered crumbs with a spoon into an even layer on the bottom of the dish.
In a medium bowl, mix together the condensed milk sour cream and lemon juice
Spread the creamy mixture evenly over the crumbs in the baking dish
Spoon the pie filling evenly over the creamy layer.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until set.
In a small dish, mix together the nuts and cinnamon; sprinkle over the pie filling.
Serve the dessert warm or cold and refrigerate the leftovers.
Portrait of LaToya by Jason Mecier
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“Do it Debbie’s Way!” A Tribute to the Unsinkable Miss Reynolds and Her Superb Multimedia Exercise Program!
Feel Good, Look Great! Exercise Along with Debbie Drake, Epic Records, 1963