A New Year, A New You

 My name is Shireen Sandoval and I’m a smart, strong, fierce, independent, beautiful woman. I’m a Video Vixen. I don’t have to apologize for it, either. In fact, I relish in it. I believe and trust in myself unequivocally because I am lifted by a sisterhood of women called the Vixen Army. (Now, could someone cue the music, please?)

I first met Janet Jones, a former Miami Heat dancer and the Commander-in-Chief of the Vixen Army, a few years ago when I was on assignment for Deco Drive. At the time, I was trying to fulfill a pipe dream of sorts: performing as a dancer in a Hip-Hop music video.

Actually, I would have settled for a flagrant, self-centered model-like cameo, whilst  walking down a Miami Beach catwalk half-naked with a tiger on a leash, but in true entertainment television style, my Executive Producer, Geoff Leval (yes, I’m outing him) decided the pursuit of my impending Vixen-hood would make for “good television.”

To make my cray-cray dream a reality, we enlisted the help of one of our youngest staff writers at the time, Eli Ferradas (who also happened to be a former Miami Heat dancer.) Eli, who was assigned to produce the story, hooked me up with Janet, who had just started her Video Vixen Workout class.

Janet was a retired professional dancer with mind-blowing experience and one helluva resume to boot. She had been wiggling, jiggling, twerking, popping and locking it (in major music videos, the awards circuit and live performances) way before Miley Cyrus ever came along. One day, Janet quit dancing and joined the corporate world.

Instead of finding a new career, though, she lost herself and became incredibly unhappy. She rebooted a few years later by teaching dance class to kids. Then one crazy night (as legend has it,) Janet and a group of her girlfriends went clubbing in Miami. They danced the night away and well, for the first time in a long time, Janet felt like herself again: sexy, fierce, strong and fulfilled. That’s how the Video Vixen Workout idea was born.

For the record, I didn’t just wake up one day and say: “I want to be a Video Vixen.” In fact, it was a dream I thought to be totally preposterous. I’d even go so far as to say it was pretty much unattainable for a girl like me: with no rhythm, no cardio ability and no time to spare (99 percent of my energy went to my career, the other one percent went to sleep.)

At the time, though, I found myself smack dab in the middle of this incredible underground rap movement in the Magic City. If I wasn’t on the set of some fabulous music video reporting on it, I was interviewing the likes of Rick Ross, T-Pain, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa and Drake about their music.

Eventually, I would go onto discover, meet and interview rapper, Ace Hood. What happened next surprised me. Despite the fact that his music wasn’t my usual taste, I fell deeply, profoundly and magically in love with it. I was drawn to his complex, inspiring, sometimes painfully raw lyrics. As crazy as it sounds, it stirred something deep inside my soul. Not only did I become his biggest fan, my iPod became a worshipping ground for Miami’s Hip-Hop insurgence, starring Ace Hood.

I loved everything about that particular music movement in the “305” and even though I was only half serious/half kidding about the Video Vixen thing, the pursuit of it was my way of saying, “I want to be a part of this.” What I didn’t realize at the time was, I was unknowingly looking for ways to empower myself, find strength and turn my life around.

I was at a personal crossroads: I had just endured the loss of my baby, my marriage was collapsing and as a result, I was suffering a debilitating health issue. I felt down, depressed, lost, invisible. There was a hole in my heart so big, so painful, I thought it might crack open and spill from my chest. The Hip-Hop music from that time gave me strength, but there was also that aforementioned stir inside of my soul I couldn’t explain. At least until I met Janet in her studio that day, with a few dozen of her dancers.

At first, I was horribly intimidated by the scenario. I mean Video Vixens are in a league of their own. If you’re a Miami woman, you know exactly what I’m talking about. They’re the flipping cream of the crop, the creme’ de la creme’. Their bodies are crazy fabulous and their moves? Well, put it this way: they put Jagger (as in Mick) to shame.

On the day we shot my Deco Drive story, their prowess was on full display. The atmosphere wasn’t what I expected, though. Instead of feeling awkward, scrawny and weak (like I had for the past year,) the Vixen Workout made me feel strong, sexy, coordinated and beautiful. The music, the dancing, the sisterhood: it was a cathartic rush I’ll never forget.

Not only did my Video Vixen story air, it was a big hit. I even got a bit part in one of Ace Hood’s music videos, but unfortunately my scene ended up getting cut. That’s show biz! After the hype of my Vixen graduation died down, I continued watching Janet from a journalistic distance. I knew in my heart of hearts she was different, special and great things awaited her. I’m not the Dalai Lama by any stretch of the imagination, but if she could make me feel such joy, confidence and a brief respite from my debilitating grief, she was in her own right, a healer.

It didn’t take long: Janet and her Vixen Workout did, indeed, catch on. Her message spread throughout the community like a raging, insatiable, fierce and awe-inspiring wildfire. Her Vixen Army expanded from Florida to New York, New Jersey and, most recently, Chicago and Los Angeles. She’s been featured in major magazines, newspapers, television networks and of course, on her favorite local evening entertainment show, Deco Drive. After all, I was one of her first graduates.

Shireen Sandoval: Where did the concept for your Video Vixen class come from?
Janet Jones: I had spent my entire life dancing. I always felt that who I was on stage was “Janet Jones” and the time I spent in between was just filler. I am extremely shy by nature, introverted and reserved and have always felt much more comfortable performing for large crowds than with regular day to day interactions. I gave up dancing and anything dance-related for four years. During that time, I completely lost and abandoned myself. My entire life I had only known myself as “Janet Jones” the dancer. When I lost that part of myself, I felt like I had completely lost my identity. When I was able to get out of my black hole (as I like to call that time period,) I realized that my entire life because of dance, I had been able to tap into a part of myself that was a more confident, sexier, sassier me. In turn, I felt like I wanted to create something that would allow every woman to experience herself that way; that what they admired in the JLo’s & Beyonce’s of the world is something we have in all of us. I wanted to make sure that every woman felt visible, because I had lost the light in me when life made me feel invisible. It was also important for me to create an approachable option for fitness. Something fun that doesn’t feel like an additional chore.  

SS: What does being a part of the #VixenArmy mean?
JJ: #VixenArmy means that you are part of our sisterhood. If you’ve done a Vixen Workout, you are part of that army. The lowest lows of my life could have been avoided if I didn’t feel like a failure for not having it all together. Women feel like it’s not okay to admit it’s hard to be a woman. I feel like we put so much pressure on ourselves and feel like failures if we admit to hardships or not being able to juggle life seamlessly. It was important for me to create a place for that. You’re not only welcomed to an environment where you make yourself better, we come equipped with other woman sharing your same struggles who are all here for one another. It’s really so magical.  

SS: How does your Vixen Workout empower women and what is its ultimate message?
JJ: I think the Vixen Workout is what most women think they can’t do. That when they discover they can do it and are good at it and look good doing it…that creates power and confidence to take on different things. The Vixen motto is “Stay Hungry, Live Fierce.” Always strive to be the best version of you. Live ALIVE.

SS: You’ve become a role model for thousands of women across the country; what does that feel like and in turn, does it empower you?
JJ: It’s bizarre because I still cannot wrap my head around what I’ve created. Everything with Vixen has been so grassroots and 100% from the heart. The fact that we have reached so many women in so little time is just wild. I hope that they see themselves in me. I see myself in all of them and feel completely inspired everyday because of them. I feel my toughest life experiences were my biggest blessings and are now my most important messages. I feel like it’s my responsibility to continue helping women tap into their best selves.

SS: What do you hope to ultimately achieve by building women’s self esteem and self worth?
JJ: Social change. I believe that women are the answer to everything. A mentally healthy, happy woman is a better wife, mother, employee, everything.

SS: What is your dance background and where do you educate yourself, as far as dance technique and dance skills, to stay at the forefront of your game?
JJ: Although my career ironically ended up in Hip-Hop, I’m a classically trained dancer. I trained in ballet for 15 years, the Cecchetti method. Then I went on to study Modern dance techniques including Graham, Limon, Horton and Cunningham. I added Jazz and Lyrical training in my teens, but actually never took a Hip-Hop class until college. To stay at the forefront, I study young dancers to see what they’re doing in the studio, in the clubs, on the streets. I also look at the trends in live stage performances, focusing on artists who young people like. I take inspiration from all of those things.

SS: Tell me about your Vixen Workout fashion line.
JJ: Our Vixen Workout line has a cool urban street feel. I want women to feel cool wearing it and I want them to wear it outside of their workouts.

SS: Who is the best dancer on planet earth?
JJ: My all time favorite male dancer is Desmond Richardson. He could just stand still on stage and shatter the audience.

SS: If you could only dance to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
JJ: “Crazy In Love”by Bey (Beyonce). I never ever get tired of that song. It calls for powerful sexy movements and walks. I love a great sexy walk (smiling.)

SS: What is one of the most powerful moments in dance history?
JJ: Michael Jackson’s 1988 live Wembley performance changed my life.

SS: When did you know that you were a good dancer?
JJ: I guess when I never had trouble getting work as a dancer.

SS: What advice can you give women trying to make positive changes to herself physically, emotionally and spiritually to create “A New Year, A New You?”
JJ: You should be #1 on the priority list. We sometimes feel guilty for not prioritizing our husband, children, work over ourselves. We need to start thinking that we can only be good wives, mothers, workers if we are taken care of first.

When I approached Janet about doing this blog, it had been over two years since we had last spoken or seen one another. When we reconvened at her studio, it was an important moment for me. I had finally come full circle in my own quest for happiness and strength. I had changed and Janet had, too. It’s not everyday a person builds an army of love, compassion, goodness and sisterhood without being effected.

Before we posed for the blog photos, Janet styled me in her new Video Vixen Workout clothing line. When I couldn’t find the right outfit to make me feel voluptuously comfortable, she literally gave me the clothes off her back. The black leather jacket and flannel shirt are hers and the tank top is from her new line. As we stood in front of the camera to pose, there was just one thing missing (could someone cue the music, please?) and that’s why “A New Year, A New You,” will always be one of my favorite things.

Twitter @vixenworkout
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Styled by Janet Jones: from her Vixen Workout Clothing Line

Twitter @ShireenSandoval
IG @ShireenSandoval

photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Twitter @todp_photo
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Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
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Editor: Matthew Auerbach