Unleash Your Self Expression With Ailey Extension’s New Summer Program

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Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino

Memorial Day weekend is upon us and with summer just around the corner, I’ve become inspired to search for more meaningful experiences rather than my usual, yet beloved, fitness-goals-saboteurs: BBQs and happy-hours. What’s a New York City libations and foodie adventurer to do?  Explore Ailey Extension’s upcoming dance schedule to not just stay in shape – mentally and physically – but also have a blast in the process.

I recently participated in Ailey Extension’s dynamic fitness class event catering to all fitness levels. First, I took Hip-Hop Cardio, a class designed for beginners with no former dance experience. It’s goal: to up your cardio game by at least 100, challenge your coordination, and assault your sweat glands into submission. Sound extreme? Not really. The class will make you feel energized and emboldened. Thoughts of joining Beyoncé’s dance troupe will cross your mind. It doesn’t hurt that the instructor, Matthew Johnson Harris, is a big fan of the acclaimed pop star and features her music throughout his classes. DSMC chatted with Matthew to learn more about his love of dance.

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Matthew Johnson Harris, Photo: Courtesy of Ailey Extension

DSMC: What inspired you to become a dance instructor? 

Matthew Johnson Harris: I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past. Moving activates endorphins that can literally make you feel happier. Dance and fitness are a natural antidepressant and I love to share that joy with the world.

DSMC: You are a multi-hyphenated force. What are you most passionate about, dancing, teaching or activism?

Matthew Johnson Harris: Activism is at the center of everything I do. Outside of volunteering and fundraising for multiple organizations – I’ve been teaching a free class every Friday in Harlem to promote health and fitness. We should use all of our gifts to inspire change.

Check out the Harlem hospital class here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QwTwTBOmq_0

DSMC: What’s the one piece of advice you offer novices to dance? And, when did you start collaborating with the Ailey Extension?

Matthew Johnson Harris: There is no way you can mess up. Give whatever your best effort is and just keep moving.  I created the Hip-Hop Cardio Class for Ailey Extension in March and it’s been the greatest experience.

My second favorite class of the day to exceed my expectations: Beginner Hip-Hop with Jonathan Lee. While Mathew’s interpretation of Hip-Hop was a little more relaxed and liberal with the movements, Jonathan was very precise with his dance steps. We’re talking focused choreography here! He had a Bob Fosse-esque quality to him that the class gravitated to and obediently mimicked his instructions. At the end of the class, I felt as if I really mastered some modern Hip-Hop moves and was ready for a dance-off . Okay, perhaps I was getting ahead of myself, but Jonathan has the capacity to get his students to push themselves and reach choreographic bliss. DSMC chatted with Jonathan to get the scoop on his motivation for dance.

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Jonathan Lee, Photo: Courtesy of Ailey Extension

DSMC: What are your earliest memories of wanting to become a choreographer and what inspired you

Jonathan Lee: My earliest memories of wanting to become a choreographer began early in my training. Whenever my teachers allowed me to freestyle, I was able to put my stamp of movement into the piece. Also working with some great choreographers that inspired me as well.

DSMC: Where do you see the evolution of dance going in the next few years?

Jonathan Lee: In my opinion, dance will evolve to become more of a fusion of various styles. I believe a dancer will need to be more versatile in many styles rather than just proficient in just one style.

DSMC: What piece of advice would you give students new to dance and or choreography?

Jonathan Lee: My advice to young dancers would be to really hone your craft. Always be open to new things because dance is evolving. To train in various styles and techniques, learn from many teachers. To young choreographers, I would say: what do you have to say with your movement? Make sure your choreography makes a statement.

DSMC: How long have you been an Ailey Extension dance instructor?

Jonathan Lee: I am one of the original instructors at the Extension. I’ve been there since the Extension began 14 years ago.

What was next on my dance agenda? Afro’Dance with instructor Angel Kaba. When Angel turned on the music everyone in the class was instantly transported to the electric and carefree sounds from The Congo, Ivory Coast, and Angola. With a mixture of African influences and street dance, this class challenges students to loosen their hips and move the rest of their bodies to the flow of the thumping beats. The cultural, social and free-spirited vibes of the class is contagious and dance students at any level will enjoy it tremendously. DSMC spoke to Angel, who now calls New York home, about her dance career.

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Angel Kaba, Photo: Courtesy of Angel Kaba

DSMC: What or whom inspired you to become a dance instructor?

Angel Kaba: My mother was a traditional Caribbean dancer from Martinique (French West Indies). She moved to Europe, Luxembourg specifically to be a professional dancer. When she had me, she brought me to concerts with her. My first concert was “KASSAV.” I ended up going on stage and dancing with the band. I was 4 years old. So my mother decided to find a dance class for me and I started dancing ballet at the age of 6. Teaching came pretty early in my life. At 16 I was teaching Hip-Hop for kids in my neighborhood. I love helping people feel happy and good about themselves. Music is also a big part of my inspiration. I always say: I don’t do choreography, I make people dance!

DSMC: You mentioned growing up in Belgium, what influences did you grow up with there?

Angel Kaba: Belgium colonized Congo (formerly Zaire). There is a lot of Congolese in Belgium. Even though I didn’t grow up with my father, who is Congolese, I was still surrounded by my culture a lot, music, food, hairstyle, fashion and gossip. Belgium is a small country with a lot of talent, very interesting! We speak basically 4 languages: French, Dutch, English and German. Brussels, where I was born, is very well situated in Europe, so I had access to a lot of cities like Paris, Amsterdam, London, Madrid, Prague…. I traveled a lot and that opened my mind and heart.

Belgium is my country, but my roots are from Africa. I learned everything I know from Belgium especially dance, theater and music. Belgium taught me and New York made me. In Belgium I was able to understand who I was. In the U.S. I learned how to be free by being myself.

DSMC: How long have you been an Ailey Extension instructor and what piece of advice do you give aspiring dance students?

Angel Kaba: Very interesting question. I knew of Alvin Ailey since I was I child, my mother told me about him and his legacy. It was in 2012, when I met my mentor Robin Dunn, and got the experience – taking classes and performing with the Ailey Extension community. I became an official Ailey Extension instructor as of May 2019! I started to teach my Afro’ Dance class, just a few weeks ago!

To my students, I would say something like: Hello, and welcome to my world. I’m Angel Kaba, and I help you express yourself through movement and music. Yes, that’s right; I teach you dance moves through rhythmic and afro-dance choreographies but most importantly, I help you express your deepest self without using a word. I help you go deep into your soul to find the light that only you have. I strongly believe that everybody is great at something and I also believe that dancing is a vehicle to tap into that gift. And I would add, beginners are more than welcome with my French accent, Let’s dance!! Voilà!

I’ve been going to the Ailey Extension for a over a year now, and every time I try their new roster of classes I become more motivated to stick to my fitness goals – and guess what, I suspect you will to if you sign up. Each of these instructors have different teaching methods, yet will inspire you to dance like you’re up for your next audition. Check them out!

This summer Ailey Extension promises to get New Yorkers moving with the return of NYC Dance Week, June 13 – June 22, not to be left behind, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Lincoln Center engagement will run from June 12 – June 16. The annual citywide festival offers over 25 free dance and fitness classes for adults of all experience levels. To view Ailey Extension’s complete NYC Dance schedule, visit www.aileyextension.com/nycdanceweek. New students must present a downloadable NYC Dance Week voucher for all classes at The Ailey Studios, available here.

Coffee Deprivation And Fitness & Nutrition Insights At The LACTAID® x Flywheel Event In NYC

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I’m of the sweeter is better mentality when it comes to coffee. I recently attempted to forego coffee for a week to determine why my beverage of choice doesn’t always agree with me. I made it through 4 days – hey, I’m not patting myself on the back, but it’s a start for someone who worships coffee and creamer. After a few days of skipping my regular coffee and sweet additive (in its defense – it’s gluten and preservative-free), I noticed that I felt less tired and my stomach didn’t bloat. What prompted me to make this change? I recently attended the LACTAID® x Flywheel event in New York City. Before I challenged myself to this new indoor cycling experience and went sans coffee, I had a chance to chat with Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, MS, RD., a registered dietician and fertility specialist at TLB Nutrition http://www.tracylockwoodnutrition.com. Tracy was on hand on behalf of LACTAID® to provide facts and dispel myths about lactose sugar and food sensitivities vs. allergies.

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Photo: Courtesy of Tracy Lockwood Beckerman

DSMC: Can exercise help individuals with dairy and other food sensitivities? Is there any existing data?

Tracy Lockwood Beckerman  There is no evidence that exercising can combat dairy and food sensitivities.

 

DSMC: What are some common misconceptions about food sensitivities you encounter?

Tracy Lockwood Beckerman:  People often overlook food sensitivities because they think it’s normal to have symptoms of bloating, indigestion or headaches after eating certain foods. However, it’s abnormal to experience these crippling symptoms. I advise clients to consider removing it for a period of time to assess if the symptoms do resolve themselves. If you observe that lactose is the issue, I recommend that people who have an intolerance to dairy introduce LACTAID® products so they are gaining the benefits of real dairy, without suffering the consequences.

DSMC: What’s are the most common experiences your clients or individuals that have incorporated LACTAID® products into their diets have?

Tracy Lockwood Beckerman: Since LACTAID® is 100% real dairy minus the lactose, people don’t worry about experiencing gas, bloating or diarrhea after eating dairy because they aren’t exposing their bodies to lactose. Therefore, they are able to carry on their day without stomach issues and enjoy the moments that follow.

DSMC: What are some basic facts people should know about food sensitivities and allergies?

Tracy Lockwood Beckerman: There is a big difference between food sensitivity and intolerances versus a food allergy. A food allergy is an often severe physical reaction in the body upon exposure to that food source and may require need immediate medical assistance or medication in order to treat. A food sensitivity and intolerance are a more mild physical reaction that is often resolved within a few hours without any medical intervention. You can feel the symptoms of food sensitivities and intolerances in the forms of headaches, acne, brain fog, bloat, or acid reflux. If you want to learn more about your food sensitivities or intolerances, you can do an IGG test which tests 98 foods and can give you a road map for what’s going on internally. If you are curious about learning more about food sensitivities, talk to a registered dietitian-nutritionist who can educate and teach you how to handle certain foods.

DSMC: Does age or having a sedentary lifestyle contribute to food sensitivities? Particularly becoming lactose intolerant?

Tracy Lockwood Beckerman  Having a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t correlate to becoming lactose intolerant. However, as we age, our ability to digest lactose diminishes due to declining amount and ability of the enzyme, lactase, to properly break down lactose. So it is quite common to become lactose sensitive, as we get older. Older women still need vitamin D and calcium to maintain their bone health – which is why I often recommend LACTAID® to older women to reap the nutritional benefits of real dairy without suffering the consequences.

 

I was happy to undergo this coffee and coffee/creamer purge after chatting with Tracy, but first I was going to Flywheel it! I have friends that rave about indoor cycling and boutique workout classes and felt compelled to try out this trendy cycling class. My first impression: it’s small enough to cater to individual class participants, they provide you with a bike – make the necessary adjustments for your height, and strap in your feet with bikes shoes in your size. I liked that; a little handholding is always welcomed by me.

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Photo: Courtesy of Emily Fayette

Furthermore, the instructor who led the class, Emily Fayette – a seasoned fitness trainer and health coach made the class enjoyable. I didn’t clock-watch once, whereas at other gyms, I become antsy and can’t wait for cycling classes to end – either they’re too fast or the instructors drone on about achieving Lance Armstrong-type euphoria, pre-scandal, of course! It was Throwback Thursday at this particular Flywheel class, and Emily played oldies from the 80s, 90s, and 00s that got the class pumped. She routinely checked in to make sure everyone – either stepped up the pace or took a breather, complementing everyone’s efforts all throughout. Added bonuses; she added arms to the workout and promised a variety of LACTAID® smoothies would be waiting for us after class. I chatted with Emily about her fitness motivation, her Flywheel instructor gig and what led to the collaboration with LACTAID®.

DSMC: What inspired you to get into fitness? What are some of your earliest recollections of becoming fit and immersing yourself in the fitness world?

Emily Fayette: Growing up I played soccer, basketball and lacrosse. I always love being part of a team. I’m a huge community person. In college I played lacrosse for the first year, but I wasn’t sure if the sport was for me, so I started running marathons and half marathons while studying to be a teacher. Education was huge for me. After I finished school, I moved to New York City. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in the classroom – but I knew I wanted to educate in some way or fashion. I knew I had a passion for fitness and landed a role as a Managing Director for My Gym – kids fitness centers in New York. I loved it, but I ended up getting stuck behind a desk and wasn’t doing fitness. Then I began teaching cycling and boot camps outside of that 9-to-5 job. I realized I live in a city where this is possible. I can do adult fitness – teach these classes and feel amazing myself – before and after. I started doing more adult fitness, became a trainer and a health coach.

DSMC: As a health coach and self-described foodie, what misconceptions do you frequently hear about fitness and nutrition?

Emily Fayette: There are so many fads that come and go. I’m part of a wellness community. As I health coach, I can’t give out nutrition plans and we hired a dietician. What I’ve learned through her is that every single person has an ideal diet for themselves. Testing out foods. Making sure it feels right for them. I don’t ever want to consider myself a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based person. I’m Emily and I found these foods that make me feel amazing all the time. As a health coach, I don’t give out nutrition plans. I rely on learning lifestyle changes. It’s not the fact that you – should or shouldn’t – eat certain things. It’s about seeing the patterns in your life. I had this client that ate French fries all the time and I didn’t suggest removing this thing that she loved, instead I told her to treat it as a special item, create small little habits, have these fries once a week and not everyday – maybe consume it once every other week. I’m all about making these small little habit changes in your lifestyle that ultimately becomes changes in your overall healthy lifestyle. Most diets don’t work for the long term. You have to want a healthy lifestyle. You can have a friend that goes on a diet loses 30 lbs., is killing it, but you don’t know if the weight is going to stay off. They may have different body than you. You have to test out what will work for your body and stick with what’s right for you – whether it’s incorporating new foods into your diet or a new fitness routine.

DSMC: With the popularity of Flywheel and other boutique studios opening up around the city, what advice can you give newbies to indoor cycling, how not to get discouraged if they’re not great at the sport right away?

Emily Fayette: What I love about Flywheel is that it’s a very inclusive environment. That’s part of our mission statement – you are part of a team. Any time I meet someone new and it’s their first time, I make sure they feel comfortable. Before every single class, I go over everything that’s about to happen. I encourage them to try everything three times, have a ton of fun and listen to their body – if you need to take a break, take a break, you shouldn’t be afraid or discouraged – this is a new thing for your body. It all starts with the vibe of the studio – of Flywheel; we try to keep it motivational.

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Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino

DSMC: How did the collaboration with LACTAID® come about?

 Emily Fayette: I haven’t been eating, drinking dairy for years just because of the way it made feel – and it stems from the need to drink and eat things that make me feel good; I know I need a lot of energy throughout the day. I would get terrible stomachaches. I took it out of my diet, knowing I would lose out on a lot of nutrition. When I found out Flywheel and LACTAID® were partnering, they reached out to me, knowing I didn’t eat dairy. Before I put my name to something, I had to make sure the products made feel good. I’m a firm believer of that. They sent me their ice cream and milk products and now I substitute back in dairy – it’s real dairy without the lactose. It doesn’t make me feel sick, makes me feel good. I created the Chocolate PB&J And Oats Smoothie. I love to have it post-workout, gives me my protein. I feel lucky I found LACTAID® through Flywheel because I don’t know if I would’ve found them otherwise.

DSMC: What emerging fitness trends do you foresee in the near future the public will be gravitating to?

Emily Fayette: I think at-home experiences. We see waves of boutique being big, at-home being big. It does go up and down throughout the years. You think Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda – that was a ton of at-home workouts. At Flywheel, we have the at-home bike now and I’m one of the instructors on that platform. Bringing the Flywheel experience you had for instance – bringing that into people’s homes so they can feel they are part of the experience at their own time and leisure – is the goal.

DSMC: What’s on the horizon for Emily Fayette? What do you see yourself doing in the next couple of years?

Emily Fayette: I want to continue what I’m doing in a bigger way. The Flywheel at-home platform allows me to do that. As we continue to sell bikes, there will be more people I can inspire – bring my energy and positivity to. My girlfriend, Sherica Holmon and I created a wellness company called Elevate Together, a community of people, with a Facebook page, that feel safe to share recipes, workouts, and questions. We have a dietician that can lay down the law on what fads – we can and shouldn’t – follow. It’s a matter of being around a ton of people that want to find their healthiest lifestyle. Social media is a blessing and a curse. We get to see what everyone’s up to in the world, but also get down on ourselves if we don’t look like a certain person or celebrity. We see someone that’s doing a diet/fad and think, if I try this, I’m going to look like that. That’s not the case. Granted, I used to be someone that followed that mindset. I’m very happy that I’ve found within myself, ways to make me happy and find my healthiest lifestyle. Within the last year, I’ve readjusted my mantra to: eat to live and not live to eat. I used to live for my next meal. I thought: Can I eat that today or should I? Now, I create my own little diet  that works for me and I fuel my body to live my life. I’m not worried anymore about counting calories or macros. And if using my and other people’s experiences I’ve helped, to assist others in finding their happy place and make significant healthy lifestyle changes, is very rewarding to me.

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Photo: Courtesy of Emily Fayette, From L to R, Sherica Holmon and Emily Fayette

The 277 billion health and wellness industry with an emphasis on mind and body is projected to be the next trillion-dollar industry. With so many products and services to choose from – what do you do? Experiment, experiment and experiment some more. Don’t be afraid to try a new class, whether it requires equipment or not. Trainers and instructors are more than happy to lend a hand and give you background and member testimonials on a particular fitness class or equipment. Most gyms will give you a one-day or one-week pass to see if it’s a good fit for you; gyms and fitness classes, like foods, are so varied, it’s inevitable that they can subscribe to one-size fits all categorizations and false expectations.

After I tried the smoothies at the LACTAID® x Flywheel event, I was content and surprised the ingredients were filling. I didn’t need to have dinner as it was already past 7:30pm EST. And usually I’m ravenous after any workout. I still need coffee and I still need creamer, but instead of going cold turkey with them, I’m going to opt for LACTAID® lactose-free and other products to substitute my dairy intake. Stay tuned!

To learn more about LACTAID® products, click here. To schedule a visit to Flywheel Sports and take a cycling class, click here: