Today, July 27, is National Dance Day and what better way to celebrate than to highlight our own fitness instructor Johari Mayfield, who is an accomplished dancer in her own right. She’ll be performing a personal one-woman piece this September in our theater, Recovery. Julie Gayer Kris, 14 Street Y’s Director of Customer Experience & Fitness Instructor, interviewed Johari to learn more about her journey, connection to our community, and the healing power of dance.
When was the first time you taught here, what did you teach, and what was your first impression of the 14Y?
I taught an Afro-Cardio fitness class in 2016. My impression was that it was big and inclusive—with four floors and so many different people from all over the world…families, the word “welcome” everywhere in different languages.
How did you find the 14Y different than a traditional dance studio or fitness studio?
The 14th Street Y is different because of the intergenerational vibe. When I walk in, I see strollers parked in the lobby and an art gallery. I walk into the gym and there might be a grandmother working out or a young person training for the Special Olympics. I love that all people are welcome at different stages of life and are given opportunities to learn and grow.
How did you come to find fitness as a passion and a career path? We’ve talked before about injury and the impact of dancing and the word “carousel.”
Like many artists, I do other things in order to make ends meet. Fitness was an easy path for me as a dancer because it’s also physical. It became challenging because of the wear and tear on my joints as a group fitness instructor in addition to dancing. My chiropractor encouraged me to try personal training.
And within the context of injury as an older dancer now who is starting over in a few different respects, I’m much more empathetic and able to meet my clients and students where they are because I understand what it feels like to be a beginner.
Let’s talk about “carousel”, and the work that you will present about recovery from addiction. What was your experience with addiction and recovery?
Diet pills and exercising for hours to stay thin were my onramp into addiction. As an African American who studied ballet primarily in adolescence and early adulthood, I never fit the mold, so to speak. That was the beginning of the self-loathing. Although I had other opportunities to dance different styles as I got older, those seeds of self-hatred were planted. Never good enough. More, more, more was always the answer Then I began taking other substances so that I could numb my pain after spinning out of control, like on a merry go round. I tried doing more to be seen and become more competitive in the dance world and fitness industry. Liking myself was never a consideration.
In recovery, I have friends from all walks of life who can relate to not feeling a part of something. Some are artists, some are not—I’ve met ex cops, stay at home moms, transgender men and women, students, veterans, etc. It feels wonderful to relate and identify with others.
Tell us more about your current work and how that intersects with where you are now in your life and career.
Recovery is a snap shot of the work I’m actually doing in my recovery program. I’m in a new emotional and spiritual space where I want to be truthful on stage so that others can also feel safe to live in their truth. I’m working diligently to create work that is both personal and universal. You don’t have to be African American, a dancer or a woman to get where I’m coming from. I think that we’re living in an age where it’s so easy to be different without seeing where we may connect and identify as human beings with shared experiences.
Is there anything else you feel is important to share with your audience? Why do you feel this work is important and what is the message behind your work?
Connection. I’ve struggled my entire life and career to fully connect with myself and others. In recovery, connection with others can be life-saving, because some people don’t survive. In 2016, my friend overdosed and died. Before her passing, I remember going to her house and seeing bottles of prescription drugs all over. I didn’t think to ask or follow up. We had just become friends. Was it my business? Prescription drugs are legal. A lot of questions still swirl in my mind. A lot of “what ifs.” In hindsight, I know I can’t control anyone’s actions or bring my friend back. But now I ask how people are doing, go out for coffee—creating connections can be bridges back to life. Plus, you never know what people are through. One example of this connection is in Ivy’s Aerobics in the Gym class. I have never seen a group of people come together like that. Rain, sleet, snow or shine. The ladies are waiting to be in class. They show up for themselves and each other. It’s simultaneously empowering and comforting to witness. At the end of the day, what do we have anyway?
A little more about Johari:
Johari Mayfield joined the 14th Street Y in 2016 as part of the Fitness Pop-Up program. Sheila Kaminsky, Barre/Sit and Be Fit Instructor and fellow choreographer, recommended Johari as a great fit for the 14Y! Johari’s Afro Cardio Dance Jam gained popularity, and she has continued teaching family-friendly classes at Pause/Play events, and has since joined the ongoing fitness class schedule with Lunch Crunch Bootcamp (Fridays 11:30 AM–12:15 PM) and Sunday HIITs (Sundays 9:00–9:50 AM), as well as being a personal trainer. Johari brings warmth, sensitivity, intelligence and a celebratory spirit to everything she does here at the 14Y and beyond. We are so thankful she is a part of the 14Y team and our community!
Johari Mayfield Dance
September 9 – 15
Blending movement and technology “Recovery” unpacks the container of addiction through the lens of a woman struggling with substance abuse. Where does she belong in a world where legalized drugs and alcohol are so readily accessible? Is she good or evil? The urge to explain and define the addict, society and recovery is cracked open and explored in this hybrid work.
Johari Mayfield | Choreographer
Milica Paranosic | Composer