Jlife magazine recently had the pleasure of catching up with dancer and celebrity fitness trainer Ilyse Baker to get the “skinny” on all things fitness related. Here are just a few of her pearls of fitness and dance wisdom.
Jlife: Well, this is a great time of year to be interviewing you. We’re coming off the New Year and everyone is recommitted to their fitness regimes. So this is great.
Ilyse Baker: Yes, it is a great time to be chatting as people are always more motivated in the start of a new year and seeking something new and different for their workouts. I believe that anytime of year is a good time to focus on your fitness. It is about a life journey and not a quick fix. Spring is now here, soon it will be summer which means bikini body season so we know that people will be on their game (especially in LA and in Orange County)!
Jlife: How old were you when he first started dancing?
Ilyse: I was three when I first started dancing. My sister is four years older than I am and I used to go to her dance classes with her. I was told that as a kid when I would go with her I would never be able to sit still. I was already in the dance circle and I believe my parents thought I would fall into it as well. When I was 14 months old—just learning to walk—my family and I were hit by a drunk driver and we got into a really bad car accident. It threw me out of my car seat and under my dad’s front seat. I broke my leg and to this day one of my legs is shorter than the other inside. The doctors told my parents that they weren’t sure that I would ever walk again. My parents had the attitude of, “that is not going to be the case we will do whatever we need to do.”
So after I got out of my cast and I went to a lot of physical therapy. I made very good progress and the doctors said, “Put her in some type of activity where she will stay very active.” That was around the age of three. Actually, around that time my mom signed me up for gymnastics and I only lasted a month as I did not care for it. So she put me in dance and after that I never stopped. I’m in love with it.
Jlife: Do you have a favorite style of dance that you like the most?
Ilyse: I’ve been trained in all styles of dance. Lyrical jazz is my go-to favorite style of dance. It’s a very emotional side of dancing and has always been the best way for me to express myself. With the connection to the music and movement, I have always been able to release the worries of the day and also feel like I am on cloud nine.
Jlife: How did you develop your style of dance for the different programs you have created?
Ilyse: I grew up dancing all my life. When I was 10 years old, I started assisting my dance teachers as I also found a love in choreographing and teaching dance. By my senior year of high school I was teaching and choreographing for our dance company. It’s something I have always been passionate about. I knew at a young age that dance would remain in my life always. I majored in dance in college and from there moved to New York City to start auditioning. I ended up dancing professionally on tour in a couple shows. When I came out to Los Angeles I was fortunate enough to have some money saved up from professional dancing so I didn’t have to get a job right away. Instead, I was able to get myself into every dance class with the top choreographers and the right auditions to make a name for myself. Once I got settled in LA, I started working for a woman in the fitness industry and for fun (plus a great workout) I would take her fitness classes. One day she asked me, “Why don’t you get into fitness because you’re athletic and have a lot of energy, you already know how to teach, yada, yada, yada…”
So I ended up getting my fitness training certification and I started teaching in gyms to regular people who had never danced before (or for whom it had been a while). As I saw the craze for dance with the popular dance Reality TV shows on and Zumba becoming so popular, I knew that I needed to create my very own format. Then, Dancinerate® was born. My students would go crazy over all the dance styles that they saw all the celebrities dong on TV. With my version of dance and choreography background, I realized it’s not one style, it is teaching people every style no matter what the level is. I believe that if people can experience all styles of dance they are only going to become a better dancer and more fit as well.
Jlife: How do you motivate new students who might be nervous and intimidated? It is normal to be nervous and/or intimidated the first time you try anything new. You have to literally strut in with the “right” foot and turn off all negative voices in your head. Remember that this is something new so it is ok if you do not get every step in the first class. It is all about progression and not perfection. The more you come to class the easier and better you will get. And if you are new or a long time Dancinerate® goer, you are guaranteed to become smarter as that is exactly what dance does for your brain. Studies have shown that dance does this because you are thinking so much and you are putting movements together with your body. I love when people come in feeling one way and then by the end of class they literally dance out feeling so much better. They just completely express themselves through movement and let all the worries of the day go away. It is their time to be selfish and SHINE! It is amazing!
Jlife: Do you believe that anybody can start dancing with your program they don’t need a background of dance?
Ilyse: YES, anybody can do this program, Dancinerate®! Like I mentioned before, yes, dance is intimidating—especially if you never danced before—but I break down the choreography move by move and I don’t move on until everybody gets it. If you get four steps out of eight steps in class it’s still a success because every single class that you take, you are going to get better. It’s like riding a bike for the first time. You’re going to fall. It’s the same thing with dance because it is something new. Change is scary, but I believe that change is the best thing that you can do as that is when you see and get results. Another huge benefit of this program is the people that are in each one. You literally can be in a class with a 20-year-old on one side and a 78-year-old on the other. What you create is a community. Everybody gets along and everybody is friends. They come to their dance class and they go out with her dance friends for coffee afterwards. It’s not just coming to the gym and getting on a treadmill. It so much more than that.
Jlife: What would you say about the old saying “leave it all on the dance floor?”
Ilyse: I always say this to my students as it is my motivational way of telling them “You’ve got this! Work it! Own it! Let it go!” The saying became so popular for me that I added it to my line of shirts.
Jlife: What are some of your other favorite sayings from this clothing line?
Ilyse: One of my go-to’s is “You’ll Thank ME Later®.” When I am teaching I use my energetic and motivating personality to challenge people to step out of their comfort zones. Dance has always been my savior getting me through many hardships in my life and I have seen the same thing happen for many of my students. So if everyone can take the leap in stepping out of “their” comfort zones then I know … You’ll Thank ME Later®! My second favorite saying is “take the chance and don’t fear it.” A lot of people make excuses when it comes to fitness for so many reasons however what is the worst that can happen? You make a mistake or you’re on the wrong foot? No worries, take a second and pick it back up! You got this … just go for it!
Jlife: What are some of the most important lessons you can pass on regarding staying physically fit?
Ilyse: Do your research first as there is so much information out there to be able to find something that works for you. Then turn off the negative voices in your head and get rid of the excuses. If you can get over the excuses : I don’t have time; I have to prepare dinner; or the kids need me… you can fit something in. Even if you only have 10 minutes. Obviously it’s better to do more than that, but if you can only do 10 minutes at least you did something versus not doing anything at all.
Jlife: What’s your advice for somebody who is just starting up a fitness program again?
Ilyse: Somebody that is just getting into it or is just getting back into it after a long time… well first give yourself a pat on the back that you have taken the first step. You have put yourself in a position where you’re going to start your healthy lifestyle and that’s the first step. Keep a calendar on your refrigerator that lists your workouts for the week. This way you can see it and keep yourself accountable. Also, try grabbing a friend to work out with and know that if you cancel on them you’re letting them down as well as yourself so this will also keep you accountable. Just take this new journey one step at a time. You don’t have to go into the gym and burn 500 calories or see results tomorrow. This is something you want to stick with for the rest of your life. Mix it up and try new things because the more you try, the more you will find what works for you. And finally don’t make working out a chore. Do something that you enjoy.
Jlife: What was the inspiration behind I. Love. Your. Sexy. Everything (ILYSE)?
Ilyse: Branding is everything! A lot of people have complimented me on my name because the spelling is unique and it’s a different type of name. One day I was literally sitting at my desk wondering if my name could spell anything as an acronym. “I Love Your Sexy Everything®” had a nice ring to it and was well fitted for my brand. I want people to always feel sexy and confident.
Jlife: Can you tell me more about your work with at-risk youths?
Ilyse: One of my students works at an at-risk high school and she felt that the kids from her class would really benefit from something like this. The first time I went it was a 30-minute lesson and we literally cleared the desks away from the center of the room. The next time we went outside during their lunch hour and danced outside. These kids were incredible! Part of the experience was challenging because these kids were dealing with some tragedies and hardships. However, having patience and seeing the difference that I was making in their lives reminded me that I was doing a mitzvah. Hearing them say, “Oh my gosh, we never thought we would do something like this and we can dance” was the best feeling and I was giving back.
Jlife: Did you grow up Jewish?
Ilyse: Yes, I grew up as a conservative Jewish girl in South Jersey, I was bat mitzvah’d and very involved in the Jewish community. Here in Los Angeles I go to Sinai Temple. My sister is on the board there and my husband and I enjoy services there. In fact, I just got married last June and we had a nice Jewish wedding. So I’m really Ilyse Cohen, but I still use just Ilyse Baker for work.
Jlife: Did you dance the Hora at your wedding?
Ilyse: Of course are you kidding? Both my husband and I love the Hora! My husband is South African and I learned that their Hora is very, very long! When we were planning the wedding and going through all the music with the band, my husband said, “We’re going to work in our hour-long Hora right? I laughed and my response was “we will make it a bit shorter, Love and definitely have a good set. It was so fun and then surprise … his South African buddies pulled out some of their traditions! He was lifted up and thrown around on a sheet. It was an exciting Hora! All the Jewish traditions makes being Jewish so beautiful!
Jlife: Did you have a favorite part of your wedding?
Ilyse: My favorite part of my wedding was our first look. We decided not to see or talk to each other 24 hours before the wedding. The suspense leading up to our first look was priceless. Me, being with the women in the kabbalat panim and him being with the men at his tisch where he then marched down to see me for the first time. When he was revealed to me it was the absolute best moment (to date) of my life. I will never forget it. The whole day was memorable and amazing, but our first look stands out the most to me.
For more information on Ilyse and all the fitness programs and products she has to offer please visit: http://ilysebaker.com/.
Tracey Armstrong Gorsky is a contributing editor to Jlife magazine.