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Dance steps to better health

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Dance steps to better health

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Onya West may have been born and raised in the United States but she has never forgotten her West Indian roots. At 33, though she can boast of living in Trinidad and Barbados during her formative years, the Harrison College alumna has carved out a thriving business through her love of soca and a desire to keep fit and eat right.
Some would say that the idea behind SocaMotion, a fitness routine that encompasses soca music and choreographed moves, was a natural fit for a girl who loves everything Caribbean. But she might say that she just stumbled on it as a way to keep fit and stay connected at the same time.
“In 2010 I was a Caribbean food blogger and I was already overweight,” Onya revealed. “When I went looking for soca aerobics classes in New York they were really difficult to find. I wanted to create a fitness series that took advantage of the diverse activities of Carnival and the different kinds of soca to create a fitness model that changes with the seasons and gets you moving and keeps you moving throughout the year.”
From her time spent in Trinidad and Barbados, Onya knew that when it came time for Carnival and Crop Over people would hit the gym to get in shape but once the festivities passed so too did the desire for exercise.
But Onya’s desire to start SocaMotion had as much to do with herself as it did her desire to help others and introduce them to the music and food she grew up around.
“I was 236 pounds before,” she said. “Now that I’m 62 pounds lighter, I am at a size that I’m comfortable with right now. I actually follow the Soca Slimdown for maintenance.”
For Onya this foray into health, fitness and eating right is a natural extension of her background and stint as a food blogger.
“When it first started off as a balance to my eating, it evolved into a model that encourages active living throughout the year,” she said. “The Soca Slimdown evolved from that desire to encourage people to see Caribbean food as a healthy option that can be modified. First it was the food blog, then it went to SocaMotion then Soca Slimdown.”
The workouts Onya designed as part of SocaMotion provide a good workout including lots of sweating to soca music. She’s also using social media as a way to spread her product around the globe.
“It’s definitely catching on in Brooklyn and Manhattan and we have satellite classes in Queens, the Bronx and we have a satellite instructor in North Carolina. We’ve also recently held classes in Trinidad and Barbados,” Onya told EASY.
“I think waving the flag catches people’s eyes and the different approach to soca aerobics. Soca makes you jump up and wave and people know that usually tuckers them out, but there is a diversity of classes. We do a walking class called Soca Savannah.”
The inspiration for that class actually grew out of her time in Trinidad and Barbados.
“When I was growing up in the Caribbean, really Trinidad and Barbados, there was no gym,” she recalled. “I lived near the Savannah [so] you walked around the Savannah. Basically Soca Savannah is a walking class that does choreographed steps so you’re not just turning on the music and walking, it’s actually choreographed walking.”
For Onya though this project is a reflection of her life coming full circle.
A former medical student, she never completed her studies because she was trapped in an abusive marriage with a cycle of domestic violence and admits that it sapped her desire to enhance her life.
“That experience derailed me from the path I wanted to take,” she said.
“In order to become a victim of domestic violence you have to subdue yourself. I was so far down that I felt like I lost the essence of who I was and now I am finding my way back. I think the [main thing] that contributed to where I am now was reminding [myself] that I don’t have to give up my power for anyone.”
Always an avid lover of the sciences, she is now using that scientific background in the way she’s designing her classes and the eating plan that goes along with it.
“I would like SocaMotion to grow into a lifestyle community and a lifestyle concept,” she said. “I would like it to showcase the fun that you can have in fitness. I would love it to be a lifestyle [about] tasty eating that spreads worldwide and celebrates Caribbean culture through music and movement and food. My dream for SocaMotion is for the nucleus in New York to grow and spread worldwide taking advantage of online communication.”
Along with that she has one other goal which is to eventually finish medical school.
“I still have the love and the passion for it,” she said, smiling. “I’ve always been an unconventional scientist. When I was at Brown University I [pursued] my major in traditional Caribbean medicine. I will return to it [but] right now I’m just looking for the funding.”