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Former Beyoncé Dancer Deja Riley On Changing Her Career For Her Mental Health
Courtesy of Deja Riley

Former Beyoncé Dancer Deja Riley On Changing Her Career For Her Mental Health

"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."

BOSS UP

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."

lululemon

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."

lululemon

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."

lululemon

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

Five Things To Know Before Becoming A Dog Mom

This post is in partnership with Blue Buffalo.

So you’re thinking about becoming a dog mom? We love that for you! Having a happy, furry friend to greet you at the door each day, cuddle up on the couch with, and keep you in touch with the great outdoors is one of life’s greatest joys. And that’s before we get into all the cute puppy outfits there are to buy! But there are some key and non-negotiable things to know and consider before saying yes to bringing home a fur baby.

If having a pet is new to you, then naturally you might have tons of questions not only about how this new responsibility will transform your lifestyle, but also about how best to nurture your four-legged friend. Few things compare to the joy and companionship that a dog’s loyalty and love bring, but learning how to nurture and train them is a learning curve that requires equal parts preparation and patience. Once you find your rhythm, you and your furry new boo will form a bond that will add the brightest spark to your life.

If you ask any member of the canine crew you know, they’ll tell you they don't play about their babies! They’ll also probably give you a laundry list of things they wish they knew before bringing their new dog home for the first time. If you’re thinking about opening your doors to a new pup, there are a few things to prepare and assess. With the help of Blue Buffalo, a natural pet food brand trusted by millions of pet parents, we’ve rounded up five key things to know before joining the dog mom club.

1. Staying Active Is Key: Let’s keep it real — we all have days where we want nothing more than a 24-hour Netflix binge fest from the comfort of our couch. That’s especially true on a day where the weather is trash. We feel you on that. However, dog moms should make it a point to keep their pups active each day. Influencer Dynasti Hunt considers her Goldendoodle Aiden part of the family, and she loves to find creative ways to keep him moving rain or shine. “Aiden and I have realized the importance of staying active at home, even when the weather is bad outside,” says Dynasti, who loves spontaneous yoga and dance sessions with her adorable doggie.

2. Keep An Eye On Their Diets: Just like humans, our pals have to maintain a healthy, balanced diet in order to live long and quality lives. You might find it easy to tell what’s healthy to eat for yourself, but it can be a bit trickier to know the difference when it comes to pet food. Just because you see a product label with the words vegetarian, grain-free, or certified organic doesn’t automatically mean it’s the healthiest for your buddy at this particular stage in their life. Finding a trusted pet food brand like Blue Buffalo is key. They offer recipes for specific breed sizes, life stages, needs and preferences — this definitely comes in handy for picky eaters or dietary restrictions. For example, Aiden Da Doodle is allergic to chicken-based products, and thankfully BLUE allows Dynasti to choose from a variety of products that are formulated without chicken.

3: Use Treats Creatively: Are doggie treats the golden ticket to getting your pooch to act right? Yes, but they’re also good for so much more. Treats are great tools for positive reinforcement, whether you’re trying to potty train a young puppy or get them to learn tricks. Influencer Sauve Xavier, an Instagram comedian, who has gained over a million Instagram followers for his hilarious videos with his Dobermans Knox and Bear, says he plans clever scavenger hunts around his house as an incentive to keep his dogs active and challenged. Using BLUE Treats made with healthy ingredients, he’s able to dish out rewards without feeling guilty. Take it from the guy who can actually get his dog to help with chores.

4. Know That Planning Ahead Is Everything: If you are a first-time dog mom or thinking about becoming one, keeping your buddy on a schedule is going to be key. For example, potty-training puppies need to be walked every few hours so that you can keep the habit of going outside in and the possibility of them peeing on your precious rugs out. Most pets also need to be fed twice a day (morning and night.) What does this spell? Sacrifice. You’ll need to be present and arrive home in time to keep your dog’s routine going. So know that you won’t be able to indulge in spontaneous plans the way you might have before. This is most certainly a lifestyle change if you’re used to coming and going as you please, but the reward of raising a well-behaved pup is well worth it. You might also want to think about how you can recruit your partner, roommate, friends, or family to share in the responsibilities for those days when life happens and you’re ever in need of a little dog sitting help. You can also search the web for hired help if you’re in a pinch. Remember — it takes a village to raise a child (even a barking one)! Pro tip: Download the Buddies by Blue Buffalo app to get advice and tricks and plan for your pet parenthood adventures ahead.

5. Research Dog-Friendly Activities in Your Area: As you move about through life, you’ll find yourself looking for more and more dog-friendly places to go and things to do beyond just the local dog parks. Round up a list of bars, breweries, brunch spots, and shopping centers that welcome pups into their establishments. This will allow you to make the most of your days while being able to bring your pup along for the ride. It’ll also create opportunities for you to meet up with other dog moms and dads and arrange future play dates (or real dates with a fellow dog parent? Who knows)!

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