Today we’d like to introduce you to Shawna Whitlock.
Shawna, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m currently a Fitness/Dance Instructor based in North East Los Angeles. Really, my love for dance and fitness began when I was younger living in El Paso, TX. I was an only child who had the most magical imagination and loved to play and dream, envisioning a life that was bigger than I could ever hope for! I was raised by a woman who was very much the opposite, and at times I swore I might actually be invisible as that is how she made me feel. The only way I could feel joy was to lock myself in my room, blast music, and create dances or shows to get away from reality.
I’d pretend there was a world out there that loved me and kinda made it my mission not to let anyone feel unseen, unheard or unloved. I LOVED making people smile when I danced and laugh when I would talk. At first, I taught myself dance by watching the Disney Channel (MMC and KIDS INC) and MTV. Eventually, my grandmother put me in dance classes— this was my first experience of being seen! My dance teachers would compliment me and use me as an example… I was very shy, but very focused, and being a teacher now, I see how that not only makes a good student but also empowers them.
In 2001, I was terribly depressed and needed to just get out of El Paso, TX. I just had this aching desire to be something and someone more. I got accepted on a college internship program at Walt Disney World in Florida. I moved across the country not really knowing if I’d make it into entertainment department, or end up selling churros, but I had to audition. If I didn’t make it, I would work in the food or retail areas, which was still better than Texas!
I auditioned and got called into a room and thought I was in trouble, but they loved me. Such a surprise! I got cast in various parades and shows and spent three happy magical years there. I moved to Los Angeles in 2004. I had gotten that urge again, knowing there was something more. I wanted to be a comedian. It took me about three years to get the courage to do that. In 2006, I started teaching kids’ dance which was something I never thought I could do because I never finished school. I lucked out and got a really supportive boss.
I was able to let my creativity shine and kept getting amazing feedback about how gifted I was as a teacher. I really thought this was a side job, and my dream job was to create a show and tell my story. I had so much pain inside from my childhood, it was bursting to come out in the form of dark humor and tutus (it even got me disowned by my estranged family, so you know the jokes were good!). My “real” family didn’t like it either, and then I broke things off with them too because it turns out, the pain was way more than I ever anticipated…
My brain was really remarkable at compartmentalizing trauma, but it was done holding things together. So I took a break from comedy and telling strangers my story and started a healing journey that involves therapy and fitness. In the midst of all of the above, I had started teaching at a brand new studio in Silverlake called Pop Physique in 2007. It was such a new, fresh, exciting time. Back then, Silverlake was just coming up, and it was the first boutique studio I had experienced. I instantly fell in love and became an instructor.
Through the seven years I was there, I was a Master Instructor and Teacher Trainer. It’s interesting looking back at that time. Barre classes were new to so many— I don’t even think I realized how many people’s lives I’ve impacted or how big that scene was when it first started. I was so young, and my life outside of work was falling apart. I’m just beyond grateful for that time, even though the work environment was toxic. I look back and realize I really got to discover so much of what I’m capable of and how loved I was by clients.
So many opportunities in my life now, are from a connection from that place. When I left there, it was out of necessity for my own sanity and health. I created my own brand called YOUnicorn Fitness by Miz Shawna Fit, out of desire to teach again, which is a smorgasbord of all my careers combined: giving adults a space to get in touch with their inner child and using a narrative that is inspiring and motivating through humor and style. Currently, Younicorn Fitness has been on hiatus. I experienced a herniated disc, and had to have spine surgery. This was very difficult because I was out of work for six months.
This past year has been a trip because I got my dream jobs of all dream jobs and created six episodes of family-focused workouts called Get Moving with Disney family. They aired in March online, and I highly recommend checking them out! It was like my inner child was gifted the most magical honor to create movement inspired by Disney movies and bring families together through movement. This was a full circle healing moment for me. I also am an instructor at Equinox, and I have witnessed tremendous growth professionally.
The leadership I have received has been so rewarding, and I’ve been able to heal old wounds from past jobs through good bosses and challenging myself to grow in ways I never knew possible. I’ve gone back to school! I’m currently working towards a BA in Kinesiology. I got certified in Personal Training and Mat Pilates this year! This past year was insane, with my recovery from injury I had to give myself what I gave to others, and I needed help versus being the helper. Not fun and not comfortable.
I now see myself with so much compassion. I’ve done really well, considering the life I’ve been dealt. So much of what I do is embracing all parts of you, the good, the bad, the ugly. This is how to be truly authentic. Once I embraced my pain, I started to shine. That’s what being a YOUNICORN is all about!
Has it been a smooth road?
It has been far from smooth. The transition from Master teacher Shawna at Pop Physique to Miz Shawna Fit was tough. I had a massive following there,and starting my own class with no money to back me up for marketing or renting space to teach was challenging. I had to really face some demons. My confidence was crushed, but I learned a lot. I’m still figuring things out. I was finally on a roll for about a 2.5 years of building a consistent following for my Sunday mornings at the Sweat Spot, but my injury put everything on hold.
I honestly was thinking this is it, this must be a sign that I should stop teaching. I thought following your passion should not be this hard and painful. Thankfully, there was a glimmer of light and hope, before the injury, that helped me see that things were working! The job from Disney as well as a project for Nickelodeon both came to me, like magic! This fitness journey has been very confusing because my vision was: I would become successful independently on my own with Younicorn Fitness. Yet, these corporations are seeing me and valuing my uniqueness. You’d think that would be great and easy, but it’s brought up very heavy identity demons I had to face.
I had this old identity that nobody saw me or valued my work, but I’m learning that’s far from true. I really don’t know how people receive what I do. I think I know, but I really have no idea. So I just keep showing up and doing my thing and learning to trust. School has helped this too. I keep thinking I’m failing and then I get A’s… My perception of myself is way off. I’m sure a lot of people can relate.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Younicorn Fitness by Miz Shawna Fit story. Tell us more about the business.
I created a brand that is all about being yourself. Your most unique self is what most of us strive for, yet it can be terrifying. We all want to be happy and joyful yet, doing so is incredibly vulnerable. We all want to be more, do more and yet maybe we don’t have the courage to stand out, or we are are afraid to speak up and do what we want for a million and one reasons.
I wanted a class that involved dancing and strength training, along with this message because my journey to authenticity has been far from easy. I wanted a class to be challenging yet fun, where student challenged mentally and physically, where they leaving feeling younger and renewed. I also love breaking the rules, adding elements of all methods of fitness I’m trained in. We will dance, we may do barre work, HIIT, Play Freeze, or Pilates, or maybe all!
We burn calories, build muscle and push ourselves past our limits. You won’t forget the class even if it’s not for you! YOUnicorn Fitness is about allowing yourself to be open enough to play and learn not to take yourself so seriously. As adults, our lives are so damn serious! I love exploring imagination. It can be very liberating to be in a workout class and have full permission, for example; to crawl on the floor like a cat and be told to meow!
No one will think you are weird. I’ve found through speaking up and letting myself be seen in the world, it might feel as silly and uncomfortable as this. The silly portion of class can sometimes be the hardest for some, and that’s ok, it just means you need to play more as an adult! There is zero pressure around me. My intent in my approach to fitness is to remind clients of their own power and strength wherever they are at in their lives.
My proudest moments have been witnessing clients find their voice, follow their heart, go for what they believe in. I’ve also gotten messages from people saying I’ve helped them take action to better their mental health and that is a huge one for me. Getting help takes so much courage and if I have a small part in bettering someone’s life like that, WOW.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The fitness industry has blown up in the past ten years. The competition is thick, and it’s constantly evolving. I believe that people will constantly be in search of something that resonates with where they are at in their life. That’s really the beauty of having so many choices! I do think, at the end of the day people, want convenience and results.
So for me, who is like “the little engine that could,” my hope is that something magical opens up where I can get a wider audience and share my work with the world in a bigger way. I do see a big shift towards holistic self-care, emotional and physical well-being. This is helping me feel validated as I’ve always been very open about my journey.
Society seems to more accepting these days of women sharing their sexual assault stories, we still have a long way to go, BUT we’ve definitely made progress. I feel a new wave of women discovering their power, and I’m here for it! I’m an incest survivor, so getting my body strong physically has improved my mental health tremendously.
Younicorn Fitness & PonySweat Collab Event
Date: Saturday – 3/2
Where: The Sweat Spot – 3327 Sunset Blvd 90026
Check out Social Media and/or Website for more details.
- Website: MizShawnaFit.com
- Instagram: @MizShawnaFit
- Facebook: @MizShawnaFit
- Twitter: @MizShawnaFit