The 32 year-old Camden, New Jersey native, who got his start dancing for the likes of Mariah Carey and Elephant Man, already had a # 1 fitness DVD with ‘Hip Hop Abs’ long before he decided to do a more intensive aerobic plan. With the success of ‘Insanity,’ Shaun T, born Shaun Thompson, has the potential to become one of the most recognizable names in the fitness arena.
BlackVoices.com sat down with the reinvented fitness guru to find out just how insane he is about working up a sweat.
BlackVoices.com: A lot of people don’t know that you got your start in choreography. Was that an experience that helped you transition into fitness?
Shaun T: When I was in college, I changed my major to sports science, and we had to teach an aerobic class. After that the gym asked me to get on the [aerobic] schedule. That’s kind of how I got started, and once I got to L.A., I was a dancer and did a lot of work with Nike. It really blossomed from there.
BV: How did you decide that you wanted to be a dancer for celebrities?
ST: When I got to L.A., I had an agent so I just went to a million auditions with the exception of Mariah Carey, who picked me as a dancer just off of my picture.
BV: Are you serious? Mariah picked you off of your picture and had never seen you dance?
ST: My agent said, “Do you want to dance for Mariah?” and I said, “Yeah. When is the audition?” Then she told me, “She picked you off your picture.” When I tell you I loved working with her…she kept it so real.
BV: How do you feel about Mariah and Nick expecting their first baby?
ST: That baby is going to be cute. I think it’s amazing when you have two talented people; he’s really funny and she can sing. When two happy people have a baby, it’s going to be amazing.
BV: Having worked on choreography for ‘Bring it On: All or Nothing’ do you think you’d do movies again?
ST: If the opportunity came up, I’d choreograph something tomorrow. Fitness is my life, it’s a lifestyle, but dance is my passion. I go to three to four dance classes every week. I would choreograph in a heartbeat.
BV: Is working out really fun for you? Tell the truth.
ST: You have no idea. You know how people like to go out on Friday and go to happy hour and kick it with their friends. When I wake up in the morning, that’s the same feeling I have. I think, “I can’t wait to see how far I can push myself today.” I just want to lead by example and for everyone to be healthy and fit.
BV: Have you always had a strong interest in fitness?
ST: I started playing sports at 5 years old and that was my foundation. I played football and basketball, track and field, and in college, I gained a whole lot of weight. I didn’t do the freshman 15, I did the freshman 50. Then l I looked in the mirror one day and I said, “This is out of control and you need to pull it together quick.” I had the natural talent of teaching aerobics and just had a crazy passion for it.
BV: What was the process for developing ‘Insanity?’
ST: It was much easier than people might assume. The company wanted to do a really intense workout. At first, they said, “No, you’re a dancer,” but I asked them to let me tape something for them and I went in. I gave it to the company, and that was the beginning. But the rest was grueling because I had to develop a total of 15 workouts with that intensity. One workout takes days because you have to do it all day, every day.
BV: Were you worried that the name ‘Insanity’ would scare off a large market of consumers?
ST: I’m so over the, “You can lose this much weight in this many days” [commercials], and I wanted to keep it real. You’re going to have to do the work to get the results but with the test group, they would be like, “Oh my God, this is Insane. I hate you,” but the next day, they would want to go harder. You know you’re working so hard, you’re going to get the results.
BV: Why did you decide ‘Insanity’ was going to be such a hard-core workout? What was the inspiration behind it?
ST: It was inspired by my track and field training. I knew that feeling of being in the best shape when I am working that hard because there is no time for excuses. The one thing I hate is when people say, “I didn’t have a good workout today.” I wanted to create something where you’re never going to say that. You know you worked hard [with ‘Insanity’] without spending two hours at the gym. You still get the results.
BV: How does it compare to other workouts?
ST: I remember Beach Body did a survey to its customers, and ‘Insanity’ got the highest score. It’s created to push you and inspire you. I think of every way to help this person keep it moving. There’s nothing selfish about ‘Insanity.’ It’s not about me. It’s about the people at home who want to change their body and get healthy, and I think that’s what makes it stand apart.
BV: How did you connect with Beach Body, the producers of your workout tape?
ST: My fitness class at Equinox is very popular, and they came and took that and asked if I wanted to do a test tape. Then after they saw it, they said, “Let’s get started today.” I was 25 and hungry and at that age. I didn’t have any fear.
BV: What’s your next fitness program?
ST: I just finished a program called ‘Asylum’ because I had to take it a step forward. With ‘Insanity,’ it is based off max integral training and your best. I took all of that and made ‘Asylum’ really sports-specific. There’s a workout called Game Day, where you are doing all these different sports. You’re using your agility and speed. It’s really for the person who wants the athletic body and mentality.
BV: Do you have any VIP clients?
ST: No, I have a hectic schedule. I don’t want to be like, “Oh, I’ll see you in two weeks.” It’s so fun to see people change their body and get happy. They change their clothes and their personality changes. I remember training this one guy, and two months later I remember him saying, “I got this girls number.” It’s fun to see somebody’s confidence go through the roof.
BV: What do you think is the biggest success story in terms of changing someone’s life through your training or workout DVDs?
ST: With ‘Hip Hop Abs,’ this lady called up and said she lost 35 pounds, and I said, “What do you like most about it?” She said, “Well, I’m in a wheelchair so I do everything from my wheelchair and can still move.” That’s the craziest story I have ever heard. She’s in a wheelchair and still lost 35 pounds.
BV: Is there any one person that you want to work out with and use ‘Insanity?’
ST: Janet Jackson. I would die, die, die if I could train her.
BV: What about Oprah Winfrey? She always get frustrated with workout plans.
ST: I would love to meet Oprah because she is a black woman, and her weight fluctuates up and down. I would train her just so that black people can see there’s a woman in her fifties and she can still look like how she looks in her thirties because she works hard. She’s such an influential person in the black community. It would be crazy for people to see that, and if she mentioned that Shaun T helped her, I wouldn’t go against that.
BV: Have you seen the figures on how well ‘Insanity’ has been doing?
ST: I don’t know how many units we’ve sold, but my paycheck is cute (laughs). I’m playing. ‘Insanity’ just won best fitness infomercial of the year, and we have a brand-new infomercial coming out.
BV: What’s your advice for someone who cannot afford ‘Insanity’ or a gym membership?
ST: Don’t drink your calories if you’re trying to lose weight, try to drink water and you will save money, too. If you love carbohydrates, eat them in the morning so you have time to burn them off. I just tell people the most simple thing is to walk and don’t take the elevator. Go online. With YouTube, you can get exercises you can do anywhere in your house. If you can’t afford it, you can find workouts online and 30 minutes a day can really change your life.
BV: Where do you see yourself in five years?
ST: In five years, I see myself being the face of fitness. I want to walk down the street and people see me, want to go home and work out, especially people in the black community.
Shaun T’s ‘Insanity’ is in stores now. His next DVD series, ‘Asylum,’ will be release early 2011.
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