Les Mills: Fitness 10, Morality 0

In the recent release of the Les Mills Step Aerobics version #84, track #9, Madonna asks to be spanked, hit, tied up, in a perky dance number.

Millions of women will take Step class to this music. It  has no place in an international aerobics program where people attend to get healthy. And, the Mills team – a group promoting fitness worldwide –  knew there would be a problem using the song and went ahead anyway. But more on that in a moment.

I was taking step class the other day when the song came on. As I listened I felt like someone hit me in the stomach. I ran out of the room in a panic and vomited. As a child of violence, and as a woman who suffered domestic violence, I am quite sensitive to anything publically promoting hitting and spanking women (what people do in private is private).

Thankfully, with a whole lotta therapy for a whole lotta years, I was able to not only survive and learn to trust and love again, but I eventually thrived.

There are millions of women in the world who are not so fortunate: they are either dead, disfigured, raped, limbless, or in jail. But whatever sort of violence is practiced leaves a woman with limited choices: the world becomes a very unsafe place.


Why would a company with a brand based on fitness and health choose to promote violence? With millions of songs in the world, there was no other music?

I contacted the Les Mills rep for Texas, Eleanor Hisey who seemed supportive at first. She sent an email directly to Jackie Mills – the granddaughter of the founder Les – and said that an offended customer wanted to speak. I dutifully emailed the whole Mills team my complaint.

Jackie contacted me and told me they had actually sent out a secondary song in case some people were offended. Excuse me? You planned for a problem because you knew there might be an issue – and went ahead with it anyway? Seriously? It wasn’t even an error?

I later discovered that on the Instructor’s training CD, Mark Nu (the Mills choreogragpher) stopped the tape just before the song and announced that there was an alternate track should some folks be offended. And with that, he smacked one of the other instructors on the butt and started up the music: there was no explanation as to why some folks might be offended. In fact, throughout our communication, they have refused to name the implications of the music.

Why would they risk their brand, their reputation, and (most importantly) the prossibility that folks would object or be hurt, for one song? Are they getting paid by the record producers to push the song? Really Dudes? Is it a money thing? Or are you just immoral?

Both Jackie and Eleanor decided to send out a note to the gyms in the Texas region and tell the instructors there was an alternate track for folks who might be offended. Here is a copy of the note Eleanor sent:

Just a reminder! on BODYSTEP #84 there is an alternate track for Track #9, Hanky Panky (Speed Step). Track #12, Nitty Gritty, provides a choice of a different song – with the same choreography.

This alternate was provided prior to publishing. Philip Mills, CEO and Owner of Les Mills International explained the companies vision as follows, “We are a good company who is trying to do good things in the world. We motivate people to exercise by using, amongst other things, popular music to accompany it. We have a song selection policy that excludes anything that discriminates on the basis of race, religion or sexuality [but obviously does not exclude violence. sdm]… we offer alternative songs, which we did here.”

Sincerely yours,

Eleanor Hisey l Director of Customer Services

[Note: My own part of Texas, headed up by Tanya McKenzie, did the right thing and removed the track from all of the gyms.]


Why aren’t they sending out a note suggesting they not use the track at all because they were in error and that song might harm folks?

This is not a solution. That means that the offended people must have the gumption to complain…. and those who might be offended would be survivors of violence who don’t have a great history of bucking the system. So they either leave/quit the gym, or stop coming to class…. possibly after having a panic attack like I did.

Jackie Mills sent me an apology when I told her I’d write a blog. Her apology basically said she was sorry I was upset and they make sure to be sensitive to race, sexual orientation, and gender. Again, as per above, she omitted violence.


I ask that each of you send this note to your friends to send to their friends who work out and take Les Mills programs. Make them stop using the Madonna song, track #9 on release #84 of Step Aerobics, and switch to the alternate track (#13).

If they don’t have the morality to care about violence to women, maybe we can remind them that the world does not condone it. And maybe if it doesn’t make moral sense, it might at least take dollars and cents from their pockets. They have an international brand. Apparently, they don’t mind tarnishing it. But I’m happy to make sure it’s not so bright in the future.

Please consider letting the Mills group know of your displeasure:

Phillip Mills – philip.mills@lesmills.com
Bryan Orourke – bryan@fitmarc.com
Maureen O’Rourke – maureen@fitmarc.com
Jackie Mills – jackie.mills@lesmills.com
Eleanor Hisey – eleanor@fitmarc.com


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