10/09/2012 02:19 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2012

Crunch, Lisa and Me

South Beach change shows up in new towers below Fifth, David's Café and Rancho Grande's demise, burgeoning Midtown and Brickell nightlife, and model shoots gone cold. Some South Beach institutions thrive: Joe's Stone Crab, Le Sandwicherie, Ted's Hideaway, Club Deuce, Ocean Drive magazine and Lisa Gaylord's Sweatshop class.

When I moved to Miami 12 years ago, I was a "Crunch rat," spending hours there. The 90-minute Saturday morning Sweatshop class was the highlight. Instructor Lisa Gaylord was a tough-love tri-athlete. Her legendary status meant people said, "Are you going to Lisa?" not "Are you going to Sweatshop?" After a long hiatus I returned to the class. South Beach had changed. I'd changed. Had the South Beach institution changed?

Much hadn't. Men and women in small colorful sports tops, short shorts and the latest neon sneaker technology stretch, groove, run, jump, grunt and perform free movements to hip-hop hits. Total weight over BMI recommended for 75 attendees was seven pounds, combined. Double-decade patrons who know each song's notes and moves are still in front, jostling for position to admire their outfits and firm abs in the mirror. A fist fight nearly broke out once over the coveted spot near Lisa, who stopped it, but the ladies swapped more insults in the locker room. On the left side lesbians rule. In the middle gay men reign. The back left is Brazilian/Argentine. The middle back suits air-conditioning fans. Newbies start in the back right. A fresh-faced blonde is still in the front row, though not the same one. As "Dazed and Confused" pointed out, as we get older high school girls don't age. Straight men are rare as Cracker Jack prizes. Lisa's girlfriend always got prime real estate.

Lisa, front, center and silent, starts to move and the class follows. For a newbie, who is in charge is not immediately apparent. Lisa isn't on stage, she moves with us. She doesn't scream, "Burn that chocolate cake!" like a shrill ex-cheerleader. When she gets close to you, you feel energy, magnetism, a surge that trumps sexual orientation, a spark like the famed Bill Clinton aura, though hers is rawer. She is blonde, thin and muscular with ripped abs, arms and legs. She wears colorful, edgy workout clothes and sports a few tattoos, a small cross, a skeleton bandana and a necklace. She tells us, "You're all my girlfriend."

After the class stretches to hip-hop beats, she starts on arms, lunges and squats. When I was a regular, I often arrived halfway through class due to a late Mynt night (it hurts to admit that) or snuggling with my then-boyfriend. Now I just prayed that I could make it through. Lisa puts on Rihanna's "We Found Love in a Hopeless Place." We kick our legs and move our arms back and forth. Knees go up, brows furrow and sweat starts dripping. Lisa yells, "To the front" and we move together toward the mirror like a colorful, fit flash mob; then the ambush retreats. We travel to the front, to the back and no one trips. When the music switches to a loud dance beat, we change step to a cha-cha, and a tall thin man thrusts his arm up and yells, "Woohoo! Yeah!" Someone across the room catcalls, "Uh huh!" Pink sports tops turn fuchsia with sweat.

Lisa yells, "Right side." We dance, skip, jog and sprint in a circle to the right. Some run backwards or pass on the inside; others jog slowly, risking Lisa's mockery. A few break into the circle's middle and do "Rocky Balboa stairs." It's the modern version of the roller rink, including cruising. The circle's fringes have a few pregnant women, a man thrusting his knees to his chin like an overzealous marching band captain and a "Richard Simmons on Red Bull."

Lisa lowers the music and yells, "How are you all doing?" Only a few enthusiasts holler back. "Come on, bee-aches!" Lisa roars. "Did you all party too much last night? Eat dairy?!" A louder scream erupts. No one wants an extra ab work-out. Lisa's tough football-coach style earns a friendly principal's love because she cares about us. Our burning muscles prove it.

A few walk out and Lisa shouts, "Where are you going?" She turns down the music and bellows, "Come on, cheating dogs, who wants results? I want to see you move." We run faster. Make-up and fake eyelashes drip. Out a window in the back, the Sony clock counts down the remaining sweltering minutes. If we make it through class, we can relax at Soho Beach House all afternoon.

What's different now? Twelve years ago Crunch was the only gym in town. Now South Beach's snootiest, the most surgically enhanced and orange-tanned, have moved to Equinox and Cross Fit. Pitbull plays from an Ipad, just like everywhere else in Miami. A sticker on the class door says, "Tell your friends you're here. Check in on Facebook." Lisa's own Facebook career listing: "Ass-Whooper." Fifty Shades of Grey devices hang from the ceiling for the flying-yoga class. Paleo and gluten-free replaced the South Beach Diet. The bodies still impress, but the class energy is more about a good sweaty positive workout than a smaller waistline. Or maybe it always was and my attitude and priorities changed. As a Crunch Rat, I had a serious corporate job but got my thrills through drama, clubs and knowing local doormen. Now I'm in TV marketing and prefer my drama onscreen. Lisa treats me more like an old friend than an unruly student. She's less gruff and her twinkling eye seems to say, "Welcome back and good luck making it through."

Twelve years ago my friends and I would lunch after class at World Resources (also gone) or go on a boat. The boat invite was always, "Join us and bring some hot girlfriends." In class now I get a text: "Want to go on a boat? Can you be ready in 30 minutes? Lots of single guys. Europeans, mostly Swedes." I passed because I've promised to babysit a friend's kids. I don't get those boat invites much anymore. The Crunch energy sprung into the universe must have stirred it up. Many friends found love in Rihanna's (debatably) "hopeless place" that is South Beach and moved on. I haven't yet, but Lisa's class with its endorphins and magnetism feels like love. I made it through the full class triumphant and excited to see that 12 years later I still can. The years in South Beach must have been good for me.