Working with Jacquelyn Umof on the POPFLEX photoshoot was an absolute joy! Being around someone who brought so much light and positivity into the room made it feel like we weren't even working. She is incredible athlete who left us in awe with every yoga pose she struck. She is more than just your average yogi though...Jacquelyn is certified in Barre, Pilates, Reformer Pilates, Yoga, Spinning, and Personal Training. She originally started her career as a professional ballerina, then went on to become an NBA dancer for the Lakers.
Get to know to Jacquelyn in this inspiring interview about dance dreams, body image, and loving yourself!
Why do you love dance?
My parents took my sisters and I to musicals and shows at least 5 times a year growing up. Every time I would watch people on stage I would be in awe of the dancers. The way they moved, their bodies - they looked so strong, confident, and happy - I knew I just had to be one of them one day. I remember I saw Phantom of the Opera, and after the show they were selling the ballerina's old pointe shoes. They looked beautiful, and exactly as you would image. Soft pink, a little battered, worn in, silk laces. They were beautiful, I thought. The ballerinas made a special appearance after the show to greet the guests, and they all signed the shoes I purchased. I couldn't believe it! I went home, put the shoes on, and wore them around my room - even though I had no idea how to really stand on pointe! I was holding onto my dressers and wall walking around pretending to be a ballerina. I mimicked their statuesque attitude and flowy feminine arms as best I could. Needless to say I begged my mom for ballet classes, and the rest is history. :)
Wow, that is a beautiful story!
Haha isn'y it? Dancing has been a gift to me. It's given me experiences that I've never even knew were possible as a child. It's given me the confidence to feel good in my own skin, and has taken me around the world. I encourage every young girl to find a hobby their truly passionate about. It makes life so much more interesting. :)
So many young girls get into dance, which is wonderful! But we hear about eating disorders, an obsession with looking a certain way, and constant competition to try to stay on top. How did you deal with the pressure?
This is a tricky question, because in the beginning dance made me very self-conscious about my body. Going to ballet class meant dancing and staring at yourself in front of the mirror for 2.5 hours in a leotard and pink tights, and your hair in a bun. There's no hiding your body underneath baggy sweaters or sweats, or even behind your hair. Your body is out there for everyone to see and judge.
In the beginning part of my ballet career in high school I obsessed with my body. I had to have every part of it perfect. Or, in my mind, I felt like I wouldn't get the good roles or the attention I wanted from my teachers, or the respect from my peers. I would go to ballet summer camps and eat just enough to get me through the day, and nothing more. I lost my period, and became anemic. I was beginning to go down a dangerous body dysmorphia path.
I went to college, and gained some weight naturally from eating fast-food with my peers and just being a regular college girl. I was still dancing as a cheerleader for USC, but not having to wear a tiny leotard everyday made eating a burger every now and then seem ok, but I didn't feel comfortable in my skin anymore. I thought that since I wasn't a rail anymore that I wasn't as attractive as I could be.
Then I went on to be a Clipper Girl and Laker Girl, and I knew that just eating minimally to get by wasn't going to cut it. When I would diet (and by diet I mean just cut calories), I would be exhausted. I remember thinking maybe I'll just eat less and not workout - because I was just too tired from "dieting". Your body just doesn't work like it does when you're 16, and I knew something had to change.
Fast forward to today, where I drink Bulletproof butter coffee everyday, and I've never loved my body more. I started to eat healthy fats, grass-fed butter, oils, and realized that I wasn't giving my body the basic nutrients I needed in order to feel my best. And now that 's what I'm after - performing at the peak of my mental capacity and physical potential. I was so afraid that eating too much meant gaining weight - and not being able to do what I love most - dance - but I was so wrong. Eating healthy fats didn't make me gain weight, and I think my body is stronger than it ever has been. It's a mental paradigm shift, and I'm so grateful that I went through it because you can't live the rest of your life by starving yourself to stay thin. It's not how life was meant to be lived. I'm a super healthy eater, but I definitely let myself eat pizza and Cinnabon rolls - I mean, how could I not?!
We appreciate your honesty because a lot of people keep this hush hush. Would you mind sharing the relationship you have with your body?
I struggle with body image everyday. It's something I have to keep in check. I still look at girls on instagram, or in magazine and wish so much that I were taller, had smaller arms, had skinnier legs, tinnier waist, wasn't so muscle-y, etc. I thought that having a certain body type and physique was ideal and nothing else mattered. But like I said above, I've learned to love my body because it is amazing and it can do amazing things and my muscles have a purpose. My muscles can do handstands, and back-handsprings, and can mountain climb, and surf, and run, and swing a tennis racket, and cha-cha, and ski and anything else I want it to do! Life is so fun when you look at your body like an incredible instrument that you can ride around in and have fun with. I give my body loving thoughts everyday, and I respect it and honor it, and it shows me respect in return.
Now we see that yogi-talk emerging! Tell us, how did you get into yoga?
Dance classes were not always accessible, and I was desperately looking for something that was just as challenging physically, but also had the mind/body element to it, and that it was something I could do everyday. I remember my forearms and hands were really sore my first few yoga classes from the plank work and handstand practice. I realized that as a dancer, you rarely put your hands on the ground, and you rarely put weight on your hands if you do. Yoga made me realize how weak my upper body was, and I dove into the handstand journey head-first and was so thrilled to learn a new skill and make my body move in a whole new way.
You are so multi-talented! Finally, we'd love to know what inspires you.
Ronda Rousey's "DNB" video struck a chord with me. I've always thought my body had a purpose beyond aesthetics and she put into words what I've always thought (with a few more f-bombs than I would've used, lol). As I've gotten older I pride my athleticism and skills more than the physical aesthetics of my body. I've realized now that at the end of the day, what hooked me to ballet was the feeling of being strong and skillful, not just looking slim and toned. If that's all I was after I probably would've quit a long time ago because ballet is not easy!! That's why I love Ronda's video so much. I love how much she loves her body, and it made me love her body too just hearing her talk about it! And it reminded me that I need to love my body no matter what anyone else thinks. Lately I've been working on my pull-ups, and I'm really getting a lot stronger, but I noticed that my arms were getting bigger. And at first I didn't like it and thought maybe I shouldn't do pull-ups, and then I asked myself, why? Who am I making my arms small and skinny for? I have to remind myself that my goal and purpose for being in the gym is to stay healthy, and to stay strong - not to please anyone else.
See more of her on actionjacquelyn.com