Deja Riley could have used her name to get her far as a dancer. The daughter of famed producer, singer, songwriter and New Jack Swing king Teddy Riley, the opportunity was there to use his connections to take herself to the next level. However, she ventured to Los Angeles on her own, doing the hard work solo to prove to herself that she could make it happen.
“I rely on both of my parents for a lot of things. They taught me kindness, how to respect people at all levels, determination, and drive. I think that was all I needed from them,” she tells ESSENCE. “It was watching my dad build his career from the very bottom that let me know that it was possible. I’m always up for a challenge, so it was a feat I was happy to take on.”
She would soon build her own connections that would catapult her in the dance world. She became the assistant to Laurieann “Boomkack” Gibson and through that relationship, had the chance to perform with Lady Gaga. From there, her career blossomed and she was able to dance alongside legends like Britney Spears and Beyoncé, performing with the star at the Super Bowl. Despite that success, the industry was hard. Finding a balance when it came to work, having a relationship with her husband, Jimmy Izydorczyk, and wanting to eventually start a family, proved difficult. Riley also mentions that moments of having to pick up and move at the drop of a hat, and many dancers (63 percent she says) reporting cash flow issues, made dance less and less desirable as a long-term career.
With all that in mind, she pivoted. She got into fitness, a career that would still allow her to flex that dancer muscle, but have more sustainability while simultaneously being able to help others.
“I wanted to transition into something that would allow me to still move my body, which is very important to me, but also be able to pour into people in a way that wasn’t done for me while living the dancer life,” she says. “Feel good fitness quickly became my niche and it’s a decision I’m so glad I made.”
Since making that decision, you may have seen Riley leading dancing and boxing workouts for POPSUGAR Fitness. These days, she has her own workout, the ‘Dance Out of the Box‘ series fusing shadowboxing and cardio with dance.
“I decided to combine my passion of dance with my other passion, boxing, also a full body workout, for two reasons. One, it’s efficient and you don’t end up overworking any one part of your body. Two, it made me happy. Period,” she says. “I didn’t want to be put in a box of being able to do only one kind of workout, so I did something that made me feel good, and the true secret to effective fitness is staying consistent. If you love something, you’re more likely to stick with it. It’s something I encourage all of my followers to do; follow their passion. I love dance and boxing, but you could love HIIT or pilates or swimming. Do what works for you.”
She is also one of the first Lululemon ambassador x MIRROR trainers available as part of the popular MIRROR home gym, the interactive mirror that turns into a personal trainer. In addition to that, she is on Lululemon’s advisory board as an inclusion, diversity, equity and action (IDEA) representative. Having that role, as a Black woman, is important to her. It’s just as important as her place as the director of culture for the organization Fit For Us. Both provide her with the chance to make a lasting impact on the fitness industry.
“I have a means to share my thoughts and ensure I’m doing my part in making sure there is equity and equality not just on a consumer and trainer level, but on an executive level,” she says. “Being a part of the advisory board and the director of culture for Fit For Us help me do just that.”
When Riley first got her start dancing on stage with and learning from the greats, she simply loved dance, wanted to move her body and felt it was the natural career path for her. She had the chance to not just dance but also choreograph and live what felt like the dream life. But by putting her well-being first and leaving dance for something that worked better for her and her lifestyle, she’s had the chance to make an impact in ways she never imagined she could. That includes by being a Black woman having success in a very white industry on her own terms.
“I am so proud to just provide representation. You never know something is possible until you see it done,” she says. “It’s not lost on me that I’m inspiring so many by just being who I am. Being the first dancer and only female boxer of color as a Lululemon ambassador, and only Black female trainer on the MIRROR full of tattoos and braids is meaningful. I know I’m breaking barriers and I can’t wait to see what comes next.”
Now that’s living the dream.