Joanie Bayhack: “When you dance, you can’t think about anything else. That leads to self-confidence and mental health as well.”

Joanie Bayhack’s energy comes through clearly—even on the phone. The fitness advocate and instructor is clearly her own best advertisement for health and physical activity.

Bayhack, 65, was born in Portland, Ore., but spent most of her life in Chicago. For the past seven years, she has lived in Indian Wells half the year.

“As a child, my family used to come to the desert a lot, and there’s really no place more beautiful,” she says.

After high school, Bayhack majored in journalism at the University of Oregon. She spent time in Paris before her junior year of college; her dad admonished her to finish her degree.

“He was a prominent international attorney,” she says, “and he was brilliant and handsome. He had a short first marriage to the nurse who took care of him after he fell out a window. They had three kids. Then he fell in love with and married his secretary, who was only 19 at the time. They had three more kids. He was 55 when I was born. My dad loved all his children and worked hard so we could all get educated. He died in 1979.”

Bayhack says her mother was an interesting woman. “She was very bright and witty, and one of the top skiers in Oregon—an avid mountaineer, and very athletic. She was also very independent, with great style. She was a feminist, and I feel so fortunate with what I learned from her. She never finished college, so her strong message to me was to pursue lifelong learning and not be boring. She was my role model. She was always curious and went back to school, where she became fascinated with mortuary science, got a real estate license, and was always trying new things. She died in 2008.

“Another important childhood influence was the woman we knew as Auntie Wilma, who was hired to take care of us when we were young. She was loving and sweet, and I never heard her say a negative word about anyone.”

Bayhack has three daughters who live in Chicago: Taylor, Chloe and Romy.

“Their father was South African, so their names were taken from his culture,” she says. “I also have two grandchildren, and I’ve found that love is so different with grandchildren! I’ve now been with the same partner, Robert, for the past 13 years.”

One of Bayhack’s cherished memories as a young woman came when the producers of Animal House shot in Eugene, Ore., and were looking for extras.

“I signed up, and got to meet John Landis, the director,” she says. “I got to go to the premiere and met his publicist, which led to about 40 years of career for me, including with WTTW, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station in Chicago.”

Bayhack’s first job after college was in the magazine division of Playboy, where she learned how to pitch stories and how media works.

“I was exposed to the who’s-who in Chicago media—people like Phil Donahue, Ann Landers, and Oprah Winfrey. As a kid, I loved to write. I got a journal as a birthday gift when I was in about third-grade—and re-discovered it during the COVID pandemic. It was fascinating re-reading it.

“I started dancing in the sixth-grade. At ballet, I was the worst in the class. I just couldn’t remember the combinations. But I kept going, even through all my pregnancies.”

joanie bayhack

“My career includes working in both television and radio, and I ultimately became senior vice president of communications and corporate partnerships at WTTW.”

What led to Bayhack’s current passion for dance and physical fitness?

“I started dancing in the sixth-grade,” she says. “At ballet, I was the worst in the class. I just couldn’t remember the combinations. But I kept going, even through all my pregnancies. I took a class called ‘BeMoved’ in Chicago and found I could follow the movements lyrically, whether it was moving to gospel or Rat Pack music.”

Bayhack is certified as a “BeMoved” teacher; she teaches at the Joslyn Center and around her poolside in Indian Wells. She also teaches dance-fitness at the Braille Institute.

“I volunteer, because my greatest joy is giving others joy,” Bayhack says. “I feel so fortunate that I can do things that give me such a gratifying feeling. I love everyone who comes to my classes, and when it comes to the Braille participants, I admire those people so much—their energy and courage. I’ve had to learn how to teach intricate movements to people who can’t see, and thus don’t have the ease of copying what I’m doing. I have to think and speak in pictures. I actually love it when they don’t do it right, because it pushes me to describe things in new ways. I never want them to feel frustrated or inadequate, because I know what that feels like, from when I first started dancing.

“I’ve just been invited to teach a youth class, so I have to figure out what music to use. It means a lot to me to have the confidence to do new things, although I don’t want to fail, even though I know it’s OK. I want to be good at what I do. I’m my own worst critic.”

Bayhack is now back in school, studying criminal justice online.

“I’m thinking about what I want to accomplish next,” Bayhack says. “I believe you’re the architect of your own life, and as long as I can be productive, I know I’ll be happy.

“My fitness message to everyone is to realize the mind/body/soul connection to health, and thus to happiness, and to be more able to deal with life. When you dance, you can’t think about anything else. That leads to self-confidence and mental health as well. Find something you love to do in your living room, and as my mother used to say, ‘Never be boring.’”

Anita Rufus

Anita Rufus is an award-winning columnist and talk radio host, known as “The Lovable Liberal.” She has a law degree, a master’s in education, and was a business executive before committing herself...

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1 Comment

  1. This is a beautifully reported and written story. Readers, an interview goes both ways…the best stories surface when the reporter is quick, curious and perceptive. Anita nailed it. Thank you for sharing and reading my story…

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