The Prancercise Lady Copes With the Dark Side of Internet Fame

Though the conditions were far from ideal, Joanna Rohrback just had to Prancercise®. Sure, it was too humid outside. Yes, the location — a casino parking lot in Pompano Beach — was anything but bucolic. And of course, there wasn't any music. But Rohrback had an easy fix.

She popped open the trunk of her lima-bean-colored sedan, plunged a pair of thin and veiny arms inside, and withdrew what at first appeared to be a belt but was really much more. Tied onto its leather band was a small speaker and a Walkman cassette player. Wrapping the contraption around her size-five waist, the 60-year-old pushed play and declared it time to Prancercise®.

The Bee Gees song "Jive Talkin'" squeaked out of the speaker. Hearing this, the Prancercise® lady — the most famous pop YouTube sensation of this minute — broke into a toothy grin and began to trot, swinging her arms as though swimming the butterfly stroke.

A gray-haired gentleman ambling toward the Isle of Capri Casino on this overcast afternoon in June espied Rohrback galloping across the parking lot in spandex, two-pound anklets, and a neon-green shirt emblazoned with a cantering horse and nudged his stooped wife. They both pointed and laughed.

"Embarrassed?" asked Rohrback, who's amassed a cult following thanks to the revealing tightness of her spandex. "If my camel toe doesn't embarrass me, why would this? I'm not embarrassed at all!"

Though Prancercise® has been decades in the making, it only exploded into the national consciousness in late May after a video of Rohrback went viral. For several frantic days, the exercise, which mimics a horse's gait and is "induced by elation," clogged America's media outlets, teleporting this South Florida woman to instant fame.

During that wild ride, Rohrback taught Al Roker to Prancercise® on the Today Show. She netted write-ups in Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, and New York magazine. She starred in John Mayer's new music video. Her YouTube clip shot from 500 views in mid-May to 7.3 million — more than any track on Kanye West's new album, Yeezus.

The reasons behind this incredible trajectory are simple and complex. The simple first: Rohrback is captivating. She has glass-blue eyes and tragically beautiful features, like a Charles Bukowski character or a Cindy Sherman photograph. She speaks in a reedy twang that immediately distinguishes her as a native New Yorker. She exclusively wears spandex and ankle weights that at first are strange to behold but then become an ordinary extension of her being.

Then there's Prancercise®, quite possibly the most sincerely honest, if ridiculous, exercise ever notched into the annals of fitness.

The other reasons are more subtle. Five years ago, we would never have known Rohrback or Prancercise®, and her sudden emergence represents a new age of celebrity. YouTube fame can befall any person at any time, make him or her a champion or a fool, and turn lives topsy-turvy. It's unpredictable. It's dangerous. The wolves on the internet can turn on you.

Rohrback has waited her entire life for this taste of celebrity and wants more of it, but that pursuit is at odds with her personality. An intensely private person, Rohrback doesn't want anyone to know anything about her beyond Prancercise®. Not where she shoots her videos, what car she drives, or how she makes her money. Threatening "legal repercussions," she declines to specify where she lives beyond "the Coral Springs area."

So can this shy person withstand the full monty of internet fame? Will it suck her up and spit her into a pool of one-hit wonders? Will anyone remember Prancercise® in six weeks?

Rohrback thinks they will. In fact, she's sure of it.

"Let me tell you what I see when I see this," says Rohrback, overlooking the horse tracks at the Isle of Capri. "I don't see people enslaving horses running them around the track. I see 100 people Prancercising to Motown in unison. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Wow, just imagine. It can really happen."

Ten days after the video went viral, a humid afternoon arrived. Careening across a sun-splattered park on Lyons Road in Coconut Creek, Rohrback glowed from excessive Prancercise®. There was a tattooed, short-haired British cameraman named Jay Morris nearby, filming her fluttering arms. Morris had flown in from London the night before to interview Rohrback for a British television show called Rude Tube. He can't stop telling the 101-pound woman how perfect and fabulous she is.

Rohrback shrugged, coyly cocked her head, and looked pleased. "Really, you think so?" she murmured, dozens of tiny wrinkles around her mouth crinkling. "Thank you."

"You're doing great, Jo!" Rohrback's gray-haired friend Sharon Schwartz bellowed from her perch at a nearby picnic table. "I'm heavier-set and have a bad ankle," lamented Schwartz. "I can't Prancercise®. I could never do what Joanna does. Just look at how cute she looks."

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Terrence McCoy