Born into the world of entertainment, Deja Riley is a star in her own right. And if her last name sounds familiar, it is because she is the daughter of legendary producer and King of New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley. But rather than rely on her father's connections and last name, Deja chose to forge her own path into the entertainment industry. Going from dancing professionally with the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and the queen herself, Beyoncé, to now becoming one of the most sought-after MIRROR home fitness trainers, a lululemon global ambassador, and the creator of her own fitness brand, the Sweaty Smiles Squad.
In an exclusive with xoNecole, Deja opens up about her professional dance background, transitioning into a career in fitness, being an advocate for Black people in the fitness industry, and the importance of 'Deja Dailies' to her self-care routine.
xoNecole: Let's first get into your dance background. How long have you been a dancer and how did you begin dancing for some of our faves?
Deja Riley: Dancing is actually something that I've always done. My parents put me in dance at the age of three so it's always been a huge part of my life. Once I started competitively dancing at 12, I started taking it more seriously. When I moved to LA at the age of 19, my first dance job was working for Laurieann Gibson as her assistant. She was a huge mentor who gave me my first celebrity gig which was on Dancing with the Stars with Lady Gaga.
Since then, I have danced for Britney Spears, J.Lo, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, and the list goes on and on and on. So it's something that will always be a passion of mine. And I think that that is why I love dance fitness so much. It's because I get to incorporate both my passion for wellness and then my passion for dance as well.
xoN: What made you decide to transition into the health and fitness space?
DR: I've just always had this inclination to move my body. I love movement of all kinds. It varies from yoga to HIIT workouts. I love kickboxing. I love boxing. So at the age of 27 or 28, I was transitioning out of the dance industry. I remember being on the football field at Super Bowl 50, dancing behind Beyoncé with all of the glitz and glamour and lights. And I still felt small. I felt like I was not enough. And my mental health is important. So when I started feeling that way, I knew that it was time to shift. It was time to switch gears into something a lot more fulfilling for not just my body, but also my spirit and my mind.
It took six months to a year for me to fully make the transition. But I had already been working out a lot so I decided that I wanted to lean into fitness even more. At first, I was like, maybe I'll do some fitness modeling. Then I was like, maybe I'll go into personal training. And I landed in group fitness where I started my fitness journey as a leader.
"I remember being on the football field at Super Bowl 50, dancing behind Beyoncé with all of the glitz and glamour and lights. And I still felt small. I felt like I was not enough. And my mental health is important. So when I started feeling that way, I knew that it was time to shift."
xoN: As a Black woman in the fitness industry, what hurdles have you had to overcome?
DR: That's a great question. Representation is so important. Especially because when I was a little girl, I didn't have very many examples of that. But we have more today. And it is up to trainers like me and other, Black and brown women to continue to pave the way and show our young Black women that you can lead a healthy and happy life. I think that is part of my mission, as a trainer, as an advocate, as an activist. I take that responsibility very, very seriously. In terms of obstacles that I've had to conquer, it goes back to the very beginning of my journey as a dancer.
I was oftentimes faced with this idea of tokenism. Like there can only be one of us in the group, or there can only be one of us on the platform. And that's not true. Combating that narrative is so important. It's not competing, it's about sisterhood. When negotiating my contract for lululemon and MIRROR, I had to seek advice from other mentors in other industries because I didn't know anyone within our industry to help me navigate that. So now mentoring people that come after me is very important. I currently work with an organization called Fit For Us which advocates, supports, and continues to push the agenda forward for Black wellness and fitness professionals. That is near and dear to my heart.
I've done things like fireside chats, one-on-ones, and being transparent about fair wages and what other Black fitness professionals should look out for in their contracts. I think it is important that we continue to band together and teach those that come after us on progressing and pushing forward. And that's what I'm on a mission to continue to do.
"In terms of obstacles that I've had to conquer, it goes back to the very beginning of my journey as a dancer. I was oftentimes faced with this idea of tokenism. Like there can only be one of us in the group, or there can only be one of us on the platform. And that's not true. Combating that narrative is so important. It's not competing, it's about sisterhood."
xoN: As the daughter of super-producer Teddy Riley, what was that journey like making a name for yourself and not relying on your father?
DR: I think what is often perceived by the public is that I got to where I am, because of my dad, and it's quite the opposite. We can never escape the name. My siblings and I work very hard. We all have different careers in different industries. And we all do our best to let our work and our character speak for themselves. My dad instilled in each one of us a very strong work ethic. So it was never an option to only lean on my last name. I always had to work for everything that I had.
When I was in the dance industry, I had to audition just like all of these other dancers and work for the job. My dad wasn't making phone calls to choreographers or artists for me to get the job. But I think that I do have the privilege and the honor of being able to get industry and career advice from somebody like him. He has paved the way for so many in the music industry, and I'm hoping to do the same in the fitness industry.
xoN: How do you prioritize yourself and approach self-care in your busy life and the different titles you juggle day-to-day?
DR: I make self-care a priority every day. I couldn't put out radiant, joyful energy in the world if I didn't start with me first. I use my 'Deja Dailies' -- my own internal assessment I roll through -- to set the tone for my day. I meditate first thing in the morning and take time to read and journal. I usually get into my favorite book of the month, read articles that challenge my brain or inspire me and then take time to journal and take into account feelings that I need to get out on paper and release.
I make it a priority to get nourishment into my body, which could be through food, music, or movement, so I find space to dance or run, or whatever I need that day to feed my soul. I make sure to intentionally set the pace of my days; even if that means going to bed early or waking up earlier, ultimately I do what's necessary to be my best self each day.
"I make self-care a priority every day. I couldn't put out radiant, joyful energy in the world if I didn't start with me first... I make it a priority to get nourishment into my body, which could be through food, music, or movement, so I find space to dance or run, or whatever I need that day to feed my soul."
xoN: What are some sustainable lifestyle changes that people can incorporate into their lives?
DR: So I'm going to give a little bit of motivational advice, and that is you have to do something that you love. If you don't find what resonates with your heart, you're eventually going to quit doing it. There are so many ways to move [your body]. Also, "Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can."
That's actually a quote from Arthur Ashe. I think we oftentimes forget that he, like many others, had to start somewhere too. So I go back to that phrase often. And if you get overwhelmed, from looking at the entire staircase, just focus on one step, focus on being present.
For more of Deja Riley, follow her on Instagram @dejariley.
Featured image courtesy of Deja Riley
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Y’all, I don’t know if now just happens to be a heavy season for this or perhaps it’s just me, but whether it’s been on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, or “X” (which we all know is still Twitter…LOL), have you noticed that a lot of people have been talking about the pain of going through a friendship break-up? I’ll be the first to raise my hand in this class and say that some of the ones that I’ve personally experienced over the course of my lifetime damn near took my breath away; especially when it comes to the unexpected levels of grief that oftentimes typically follow (check out “How To Heal From A Broken Friendship”).
When I write my next book (that’s currently slated for release in June of 2024; just in time for a big milestone), I’m going to share some of the things that personally caused me to go through the ending of some friendships. For now, I’m going to share a big one: friendship infidelity.
Yeah, I know — oftentimes, whenever the word “infidelity” is used, the main (if not only) thing that comes up in people’s minds is someone cheating on their partner. However, if you’ve read my content for a while now, you already know that an “occupational hazard” of mine is the fact that, as a writer, I’m pretty word-literal. Therefore, when it comes to infidelity, I’m aware that it’s got more than one meaning. And when it comes to friendship (or so-called friendships — check out “Ever Wonder If A Friend Is Just...Not That Into You?” and “7 Signs Your Friendship...Actually Isn't One”), yes, there is a definition that totally applies. Let’s discuss.
What Does Infidelity Literally Mean?Giphy
In order for this to “scratch any itch” that you might have about this particular topic, let’s get into the definition of infidelity that I was referring to. While yes, the most popular one is “marital disloyalty; adultery” (one day, we’ll have to talk about how the Bible doesn’t define adultery in the way that folks think it does (check out Matthew 19 sometime), another definition is “unfaithfulness; disloyalty.” While we’re at it, let me share a few synonyms for the word too: betrayal, falseness, inconstancy (bookmark that), deceit, double-dealing, fraud, breach of trust, violation, dishonesty, and false-heartedness.
Okay, so now do you see how it is totally appropriate to use the word “infidelity” in the realm of friendship if someone has been unfaithful or disloyal to you in any of these ways (that inconstancy one is a mutha!)? Do you also get that there is a huge possibility that, even if you don’t want to admit it to yourself, there are times when you’ve committed some form of infidelity when it comes to one or more of the friends in your life?
Because be real — have you never breached their trust? Have you always been consistent? To violate is to treat someone or something with disrespect. Have you never done that before? Only your ego would tell you that you’ve been a perfect friend — and the ego lies.
That said and with the meanings of a different kind of infidelity established, let’s now talk about how to approach this type of experience…because it ain’t easy.
When It Comes to Faithfulness in Your Friendships, What Should Your Expectations Be?Giphy
As far as having my own accounts, I don’t do social media (still trying to decide if I will, a little bit, around my book release) — and it has been peace, wonderful peace, to live that way. This means that it’s pretty rare that I’ll read comments via any of the platforms I write for (also peaceful). Oh, but a few years ago, when I penned “Why I Prefer My Friends To NOT Be Friends With Each Other,” I did tiptoe out a bit, and boy, some folks were disgruntled with me, chile. I was called petty, problematic, and a host of other stuff.
Uh-huh first, I don’t get how you can be mad at me about what works for me and my life (being controlling manifests in all sorts of cryptic ways) and secondly, time and experience have taught me that it’s a boundary that has served me extremely well. One of the reasons is that, since friendship infidelity is a very real thing, my lines not crossing helps to keep people from betraying my confidence or double-dealing in a way that may not even be intentional.
An example? Say that I have two friends and I tell one of them something in confidence. Then she tells the other friend, assuming that I already had because she thought that the other friend and I had similar discussions. This would be a non-issue if I hadn’t brought them together in the first place.
Another example is, one of my closest friends has some people who I like a lot who live in Nashville (my friend doesn’t). Sometimes, when she comes into town, we’ll all hang out. I don’t do it outside of that, though, because there are things that she shares with me about them on occasion (from a getting a different perspective to make certain decisions angle; especially since I’m a life coach) that I don’t want to make her or them feel awkward about (even if it’s just due to somewhat of a shift in my energy). Plus, everyone just needs to have their own people. This ain’t high school; everyone doesn’t have to be in the same cliques.
If one of my friends wants to vent about me…I don’t care if/when they are talking to someone who I don’t even know…because I’m not friends with that person… because I don’t expect anything from a complete stranger. So again, this type of boundary has served me extremely well over the years — and my friends agree. It has made “faithfulness” so much easier for all parties involved because again, lines don’t cross and things don’t get messy.
Okay. I’ll give you one more example that has to do with one of my male friends and his personal friendship-related preference. Due to his high-profile profession, he doesn’t like to be discussed at all, not even casually (really). He doesn’t want me to bring his name up and, when someone else does, he prefers that I keep the conversation down to an absolute minimum, no matter what the topic is. For him, it works for his close friendships to be somewhat private, so that people don’t know who they can go to in order to get in touch with him or to receive any intel that he hasn’t directly shared — professionally or personally.
Some people may call that “paranoid.” For him, it’s safe to move that way. And so, as his friend, it’s not my job to try and talk him out of his standard. If I value our friendship, I simply need to honor his request — plain and simple. To do otherwise would be an act of unfaithfulness (especially if I agreed to what he asked me to do and then switched up on him).
So, when it comes to you, what are your expectations? What do you need — actually require — of your own friends? Have you stated those things? Because you should never assume that your definition of what a friend should be is exactly the same as someone else’s. Next, have you made it abundantly clear to them that if those expectations are not honored, you will feel some level of betrayal? If you haven’t, you should because, although most of us can agree that a partner sleeping with someone other than their own spouse is a form of infidelity, friendship infidelity isn’t quite so black and white.
If you want your friend(s) to be faithful — “true to one's word, promises, vows, etc.,” “steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant” — you need to be upfront with them about what they are vowing to do…what you want them to be constant in? Because, again, how you might roll as a friend may be something different to/for them.
Come to think of it, love languages in friendships is a good example of this. One of my close friends is a quality time person; I’m not. On the other hand, I am a words of affirmation person; she isn’t. She used to think that it was a given that I should want to hang out at least once a month and I used to get irritated that she wasn’t big on words. When we had a talk about our individual expectations, we found a “middle ground” and that made things so much easier…on both sides. Indeed, in order to be faithful (or unfaithful), you first gotta know what you’ve agreed to be faithful to. It’s not fair to expect someone to honor you and what you bring to a friendship if you’re not communicating your expectations on the front end.
So, what should your expectations in your friendships be? That, I can’t answer for you, because even when it comes to across-the-board traits like support, availability, and communication, honestly, even those are gonna manifest differently for different people.
All I’m saying is make sure that you share what your expectations are as you listen to theirs as well. That way, you both can move forward in your friendship knowing what you have mutually agreed to actually be faithful to.
What Should You Do If a Friend “Cheats on You”?Giphy
Okay, so what if, after you have established what you need/expect from your friend, they are unfaithful or disloyal? That’s kind of a loaded question because there are a lot of different ways that this box can get checked. For instance, I once had a friend who kept trying to put me in touch with someone who I knew was unsafe (on a lot of levels). She kept asking and I kept telling her “no.” One day, she called me and then handed that person the phone — she was disloyal because she dishonored my boundary.
Back in the day, I used to write devotionals and I shared the story (sans her name) in it. All of a sudden, she thought that she was the victim (gaslighting friends are something else). So wait — you put me in harm’s way and I need to apologize to you for it? If her identity was obvious (I didn’t even say “she”), I get it — it wasn’t. She just felt guilty and didn’t want to take accountability. As a result, she weaponized our friendship by going ghost for like a year and then tried to come back as if nothing had ever happened. Chile.
For me, there was no coming back. The way she handled that, on a few different levels, was emotionally draining and I honestly didn’t have the stamina for it. So, I ended the relationship officially. Years later, we saw each other and made our peace. I’m fine with it being just that (check out “Why I Don't 'Cut People Off' Anymore, I Release Them Instead”).
That’s kind of an extreme example. Still, the reason why I brought it up is because I wanted you to see how I handled one form of friendship infidelity: I thought about what happened, I pondered what I was getting (and not getting) from the friendship, I thought about how she handles things when she is in the wrong and I focused on what would be the benefits and challenges of keeping her in my life. The conclusion that I came to is I care enough about her that we’re not rolling our eyes in the mall or sucking our teeth whenever one of our names comes up to the other yet I don’t want her to continue walking closely to me in my journey. I’m good.
For you, it might be a bit different. What if one of your friends betrays you in some way? Is it fair to take a “one-and-done” approach? I dunno. Is that how you would want your friends to handle you? Do you want to feel like, no matter what, after you make one mistake (or poor choice; not everything is a mistake…some things are intentional), there’s no coming back? If so, you might not want to have relationships at all because humans are fallible, INCLUDING YOU. You might as well settle in with that fact now or you’re about to be triggered, irritated, or angry for most of your life, chile.
What Should You Do If YOU’RE the One Who Cheats?Giphy
Over the weekend, I watched a movie where a woman cheated during a long-distance relationship and then claimed that her boyfriend was “punishing her” because he wasn’t over it a month later. The first thing that came to my mind? A lack of accountability. Why? Because I’m pretty sure that if the shoe had been on the other foot, she wouldn’t be all rainbows and sunshine four weeks later…either.
Being that I grew up in an environment (pretty much everywhere, including church) where folks absolutely sucked at taking personal responsibility for their actions without trying to make excuses, using justifications, deflecting, or gaslighting, I am almost violent about making sure that I don’t follow suit. And because I’ve had times when I’ve violated someone’s boundaries (I used to be more controlling than I should’ve ever been) and/or betrayed their trust (just because I’m basically an open book, that doesn’t mean that I should assume that everyone is the same way) — I’ve had to learn how to take full ownership for my actions. Then, if the person is open to accepting my apology, I would take things up a notch by making amends (check out “Heads Up: It's NOT An Apology If An Amends Isn't Made”).
If you’re not sure what an "amends" is, basically, when you’ve done something that has offended someone or caused them some type of harm if you’re truly remorseful, it’s not enough to flippantly toss a “my bad” in their direction. No, when you really get the magnitude of what has transpired — and if you want to restore the damage that was caused — you need to be intentional about doing something that will help with the healing process. This can happen with a simple, “What can I do to make things better?” People who apologize and then ask something along those lines show that they really get what they did; not only that but they are displaying that they want to humble themselves enough to help the person they hurt to “recover” in any way that they can.
So, if you are the one who was unfaithful or disloyal — own it, address it, apologize (without any unnecessary extra-ness, make amends, and then give your friend space to heal…however they need to do so. Infidelity hurts in any kind of relationship dynamic yet when two people — BOTH INDIVIDUALS — really want to make things work, they can come back from it. Oftentimes better than they were before.
How to Heal from Friendship InfidelityGiphy
It really can’t be said enough that humans are fallible. In fact, it is my belief, that if more of us said that as a mantra, five times a day, we’d probably be a lot more merciful than we tend to be. Because since none of us are perfect — INCLUDING OURSELVES — it really is pretty ridiculous to expect to be in relationships with folks and have them never disappoint you (where they do that at?!). The reality is sometimes a friend may be disloyal — not in a malicious or redundant kind of way (another message, another time) but just…they didn’t meet your requirements, they hurt your feelings (even if not intentionally) or they simply made a poor decision. Just like you have before — and at some point, will again.
Yes, it can hurt; trust me, I’ve been there. At the same time, you can heal from the pain and your friendship can survive too. The key is to really process the character of your friend, the track record of your friend, and if the benefits far outweigh the challenges with them. If everything is on the upswing, talk to your friend about how you are feeling, pay close attention to how they respond (if there is remorse, compassion, and patience), and then make the decision that you want to move forward. And then move in a way that shows that you’ve learned from it all.
For instance, say that you told one of your friends something in confidence and they repeated it. After getting context, if it was reckless chatter, healing begins with forgiving them, them trying to make things right and then you easing into sharing anything else. No, it’s not about keeping the door shut forever — it’s more like, telling them something that you don’t really mind if it gets out. If it does, although that’s not a big deal, you will now see that yapping is a pattern for them and so, although you like having them in your life, being a “confidant space” is not where they need to be — at least not for quite some time.
And what if, in your opinion, there is no coming back from friendship infidelity? How do you heal from that? Well, you need to grieve it like you would grieve anything else. Go through the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The key is to not stay stuck; especially in anger. Because really, how is that gonna help or change anything?
I’ve gone through some acts of extreme infidelity that took me a while to move to acceptance — really accepting that it happened and fully accepting that I had to let the relationship go. Yet once I got there, healing was waiting for me. Because I wasn’t beating myself up trying to read someone else’s mind or motive or exhausting myself by wishing things were different. No one can change the past. Even accepting that can restore you to some pretty unexpected levels.
This is the kind of topic that I really could write an entire book about. For now, I just hope that this article provides some clarity that, if you wonder if unfaithfulness is a real thing as far as friendship is concerned, it most certainly is. It’s also not automatically unforgivable either.
Last example: I’ve got a friend of decades who prioritized a woman that he barely knew over our friendship. Meaning, she was threatened by me being around and so he did whatever to make her happy even at the expense of what we agreed to do and be to each other, as friends. Friendship infidelity. He has since apologized and I told him what I am a firm believer in: the apology needs to breathe. I need to take some time, he needs to take some time and, in time, either we will still see value in our dynamic or, because an apology was made and then accepted, peace will always remain between us.
Infidelity is something that none of us want to experience — oh, but we probably will. When it comes to your friendships, perhaps you’ve got a (better) grasp on how to handle it.
Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end. Live long enough, chile, for better or for worse, you will know about both. I can almost guarantee it.
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