BLOOMINGTON — It was cloudy outside, but inside the multipurpose room at Four Seasons II, pop rock and hip-hop music was thumping and party lights were flashing.
"All of us are burning off our calories from Thanksgiving," a perspiring but smiling Shelley Loy said after the Friday morning, 80-minute WERQ dance fitness class.
"We call it 'The Black Friday Special,'" said certified instructor Karen Osborne of the normally 60-minute class that was 20 minutes longer for the day after Thanksgiving.
Yes, Black Friday was about more than shopping for Central Illinoisans.
Four Seasons Health Club II was packed. Among people working off their Thanksgiving meals were 45 women exercising to the music.
"I would be here anyway on a Friday," said Loy, 59, of Bloomington, who takes WERQ classes several times a week. "It's high energy, but it's a lot of fun and it's social."
But there was an extra benefit to being there to kick off the holiday season, she said, noting, "It's a good stress reliever."
"It gets your mood up," added Lisa Johnston, 46, of Normal, who was exercising beside her sister, Rachel Johnston, 42, of Bloomington.
"It's something fun we can do together — without the kids," Rachel Johnston said with a laugh.
"It's a mental and physical break from the stress of the holiday season," said Osborne. "It gives you a positive boost of energy. There will be a lot of dancing in the kitchen and down the aisles of Wal-Mart later today."
In the Four Seasons II lobby, four friends who met at a running club there two years ago were sticking to their commitments to run 2,016 miles this year and to run every day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.
Friday's run also was a reunion because Jen Heiman of Normal and Lisa Hernbrott and Sandra Sharp of Bloomington were joined again by Betsy Barkalow, who recently relocated from Bloomington to Ohio. She was back in Bloomington for Thanksgiving weekend.
"Running became therapy for us," Hernbrott said. "We're friends. We talk when we run."
At busy Eastland Mall in Bloomington, Saunemin natives Kindra and Lauren Pedersen — who live in Clinton, Iowa, and also returned to Central Illinois for Thanksgiving — were part of a group of eight relatives continuing their Black Friday shopping tradition. Their shopping cart was loaded with bags from several mall stores.
"We left Saunemin at 6 a.m. and arrived here about 7," Kindra Pedersen said.
"It's a tradition to start our Christmas shopping with family and then we usually end the day with cocktails," Pedersen added with a laugh.
"It's fun, family time," said Lauren, Kindra's daughter.
At Casey's Garden Shop, sisters Bonnie Ostling of Hudson and Maureen Peel of Bloomington were buying a grave pillow for an aunt who died in infancy.
"Our dad always decorated her grave," Ostling said. "Now we do it."
The sisters already had decorated graves of their parents, grandparents and Peel's husband at Park Hill Cemetery and were heading to Evergreen to decorate their aunt's grave.
"We always do it on Memorial Day and the day after Thanksgiving," Ostling said. "We're happy to decorate the graves."
"We have fun doing it, but it's poignant," Peel said.
"It's an important thing to do," Ostling said.
In downtown Bloomington, among people at the packed Pepsi Ice Center were Mike Oleniczak and his wife who were watching grandchildren ice skate while their sons and daughters-in-law were shopping.
"They love skating," Oleniczak said.
"It helps you to clear your mind of stuff when your're skating around," said Kira Oleniczak, 9. "But this is special because it's fun to do it with your family."
"We're thankful to spend time with our families," said Mike Oleniczak. "It's a joy and a blessing to be a part of something that your grandchildren enjoy."