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Meet Lionel Araya of Motion Fit and LA Dance Connection

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lionel Araya.

Lionel, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Growing up in Los Angeles in my late teens while other people were attending church, my church was Soul Train with the Reverend Don Cornelius. I started hip hop and street dancing then and became interested in other forms of dance at age 22 because of a girl. Coming from a Latin background (my family is of Costa Rican descent), I learned Salsa before street dancing.

I had a big crush on the dancer Terri Fink who made me believe at age 22 that it wasn’t too late for me to pursue dance as a profession. I began attending classes at Joe Tremaine’s studio and became a scholarship student there. Joe was an incredible mentor who introduced me to a world of possibilities. Thanks to him, I met top of the line teachers in Jazz including Doug Caldwell, Jackie Sleight and Eric Ellis. I did a scholarship program followed by a work/study program for about five years. I continued my training with classes and met a ballet teacher via Joe’s studio named Sallie Whalen. She mentored me for three years. My first professional performance was on TV’s Star Search with four Filipina sisters. I continued working with the sisters and training while doing gigs here and there.

I had the privilege of performing and choreographing with a hip hop dance group called The Groovaloos which included me, Joanie and Bradley Rapier and Alison Faulk. The experience broadened my skills and I am especially grateful to Bradley who was a mentor for me in this genre.

I then was booked for an international Power Rangers tour. The tour was 1 1/2 years, covering the U.S. East Coast, Europe, Mexico and Australia. A highlight was performing at Radio City Music Hall in NYC and sometimes we did four shows a day.

After the tour, I came back home to Los Angeles and decided to take a trip to the Philippines. What was a one month vacation ended up being a one year career and life-altering experience. From the Philippines, I went to Singapore to teach a one month workshop that turned into a 14 years stay. In Singapore, I worked for two companies – Dance Circle Studios and Jitterbug Swingapore. After my time there, I opened up my own dance company, L.A. Dance Connection LLP in 2003. We had a brick and mortar studio for three years and then we morphed into a dance consultancy, working with universities and private institutions. The business continues to this day with my wonderful business partner Yenny Widjaja who is based there.

While in Singapore, I met Marcel Daane and Ursula Pong, a married couple who introduced me to the world of exercise science and its relation to fitness. I missed my home country and moved back to Los Angeles in 2012.

Marcel introduced me to a system of fitness that enhanced my dancing skills. I realized that dancers were not treating themselves as the athletes they are in their craft and I wanted to them to experience the same increased performance that I felt. This inspired me to create a dance specific cross-training program called Motion Fit which is now running in two universities in Singapore.

As time passed and I made new friends and acquaintances in L.A., it became clear that people of all varieties could benefit from this kind of fitness, not just dancers — athletes, people recovering from injuries, those new to fitness or those who were looking for something different. Motion Fit coaching was born and today I work with individuals and groups of all ages and fitness levels. The coaching is beyond pure physical training and nutrition, it’s examining old belief systems and revising to enable transformation and growth in all areas.

In recent years, I have also launched L.A. Dance Connection in California where I offer private, semi-private and group Salsa dance classes. We also do occasional special events to introduce people to this style of dance. My method of teaching is focused on those who think they can’t dance or that they have two left feet. It’s low stress and confidence and community building. My motto is – Dance, Laugh, Sleep — Let’s Eat!

I love connecting with people and connecting them to each other and food. That is my “high” – watching others relate to each other helps me learn from them. By providing the tools to get my clients to become intrinsically motivated, they begin to transform, which fuels my desire to continue evoking change in my own life.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It took a while to build a successful business in Singapore and then when I moved back to California, I had to start from scratch. Back in L.A. I was known as a dancer and choreographer so it was a challenge to move into fitness coaching.

My intention was to focus more on fitness and cross-training for dancers. I didn’t possess a strong business acumen which was a hurdle. With patience and support of my mother and friends, I have been able to build something which brings me joy.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
My specialty is functional based movement coaching, choreographing and teaching dance.

I am proud of the fact that my work with my clients is beyond getting physically ripped. It’s about learning to deal with life’s challenges and how to keep on the path and stay the course with life’s curveballs. My clients are my biggest agents, others see the change in them which isn’t all just external and they ask what they are doing. I offer consults for people to talk about their goals when they are ready.

I find the low-key approach method with people is most effective. I am not an advocate of rapid weight loss. It’s about making long term life changes bit by bit. I don’t believe in deprivation, I enjoy my food and often eat out with clients and encourage them to enjoy food and learn moderation.

What were you like growing up?
I was shy and introverted. At age eight, I had a life-changing experience thanks to David Carradine in Kung Fu. I started martial arts when I was 13. I did Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do and Hawaiian Kenpo. Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon was a huge influence as well.

I came out of my shell a bit when I started to dance in high school.

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