"When I consider health, I don't just consider physical health or what you eat, I consider mental and emotional wellness as well."
It's the time of year when New Year's resolutions start to fall by the wayside. But while the wait time for an open treadmill at the gym gets shorter, Phoenix Jackson's commitment to exercise and healthy living is growing stronger. Jackson (BSBA '08) is so dedicated that the busy mom, mentor and marketing CEO started an inner-city health initiative in her "spare time."
Denver-based Dance to Live offers free African dance sessions and holistic health seminars to anyone who wants to learn, have fun and get healthy. Jackson started Dance to Live last fall with a weekly hourlong African dance fitness session set to live African drumming.
Five years ago, Jackson became enamored with African dance after watching performances by African dance groups in Denver. She says she saw herself making up new steps in her head to the beat of the drums.
"I just kept wanting to get out of my seat and join in," she says. "I was like, 'I can do that, I can do that move!'"
Jackson has since choreographed for and performed with African dance ensembles at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and the Heritage African Drum and Dance Ensemble.
"It's just something I grasped onto easily, I guess," says Jackson, who had no prior dance experience. "I love it."
Jackson describes African dance as a free-form movement that is less structured than other types of dance, but highly expressive and effective for weight loss since dancers can burn 700–900 calories in a 60-minute session, she says.
"It's not like ballet, where a lot of it is structured and you have to be moving in a certain way," she says. "The expression is larger — you move your body and your muscles more, so it allows for more toning. We're not putting a focus on how you need to move or 'you need to get these steps right'; it's about fitness. I've had ladies who have lost 10, 20, 30 pounds, and they're feeling really good."
When Jackson saw how the Dance to Live participants were having fun and getting fit, she expanded the program to include holistic health promotion. Dance to Live now includes seminars taught every other month by health professionals on topics including stress reduction, body scanning, nutrition and skin care.
"When I consider health, I don't just consider physical health or what you eat, I consider mental and emotional wellness as well," Jackson says. "To me, it's about pushing ideas for more holistic living, starting with having them dance and have fun, then pumping them with information."
Jackson likens Dance to Live to first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign.
"It's about 'get the women healthy, get the household healthy, get the children healthy,' starting with the women, because a lot of us do run the nutrition and the health in our homes," Jackson says.
Dance to Live received a grant from the Denver Foundation to cover the cost of the dance studio space Jackson rents at the Clayton Campus in east Denver. She is considering applying for nonprofit status so she can raise funds to help cover costs, but for now, Jackson, the drummers and the health professionals all volunteer their time and talents.
"A lot of women can't afford to pay $10 a class," she explains, "so I wanted to make it free and attract individuals in the community who otherwise would not even think to look at anything healthy. I didn't want to make it inaccessible to anyone."
Jackson also set up an area at the studio where children can play and eat healthy snacks so their mothers don't have to arrange for childcare to attend class.
Jackson will expand Dance to Live to Los Angeles this spring. She also hopes to bring the program into other inner-city communities — specifically in Denver, Atlanta and her hometown of Little Rock, Ark. — and she wants to speak to officials at Let's Move to learn ways to integrate her program into these neighborhoods.
"The trend I've seen, and what a lot of naturopathic doctors have stated, is that a lot of the more downtrodden or lower-income neighborhoods tend to have vastly unhealthy lifestyles," Jackson says. "It's a cultural thing, and I want to be able to touch them. I want to sit down and figure out how I can reach this group of individuals who would definitely benefit from this."
The 26-year-old also is producing a fitness DVD, Dance to Live: African Dance and Fitness for Beginners, which will be sold on her website starting in April.
While at DU, Jackson was a Daniels Scholar and earned the Daniels College of Business' Entrepreneur of the Year award for her efforts starting her own marketing firm, Nation Marketing Group (formerly Qenu World LLC), her junior year, just after the birth of her son.
To learn more about Jackson's endeavors, visit www.phoenixjackson.com.