Dani Iannone: Making fitness fun

Photos: Dani Iannone.

This is the time of year when we rise up out of our pandemic stupor and start dragging out the summer clothes, gasping as we try to get the zipper up on our 2019 fitting shorts. Okay, I may be projecting, but it is a good time to start thinking about health and wellness as we start entering the world of the living again. I mean, I’ve been out and about amongst people, but I had layers of material to cover any Covid pounds I may have put on. Fortunately, there are people out there who want to help. Optimal Sports Health Club is a gay owned and operated gym here in Center City. The welcoming staff will put you at ease and then put you to work. One of the newest members of the staff is fitness trainer Dani Iannone. A trained dancer, Iannone takes a holistic approach that encompasses body, mind and spirit. We caught up with Iannone between classes. With her quick laugh and enthusiastic energy, she might even convince this couch potato to come in for her Throwback Thursday classes where participants can shout out song requests. I have my playlist ready! 

I noticed that your area code is not from around here. Where do you hail from?

I’m from Northern New Jersey, just below New York City. 

I’m from North Jersey, what town? I was born in Passaic.

I’m from Elizabeth. I think you were a little further north than me. We were close to the Holland tunnel. I’m somewhat new to Philadelphia. I’ve only been here since the pandemic, but I love it. Even though they shut the city down two weeks after I got here and I was out of work for 6 months!

Are you from a big family? Small?

Very small, I’m an only child and my dad is the only one still alive in my family. Well, no, I have my dad’s two sisters, so my dad and two aunts. 

Thanksgiving dinners must be small. 

Yeah, it’s usually just me, my father and a couple of friends, or maybe my aunts and a few cousins. 

Mine is the opposite, my father had 8 kids in his family so I have about 25 cousins and lots of aunts and uncles. 

Oh God!

[Laughing] Yeah, it took me a long time to graduate to the big table, it was so full of elders! 

Yeah, my dad is an immigrant so most of the older members of the family were back in Italy and most of them have passed.

So you’re at least half Italian, was mom Italian as well?

Yes, she was.

What’s an Italian tradition, or what’s the most Italian thing about you?

I’m all about family. And I have a real passion for art and a zest for life. I’m pretty excited most times and just happy… happy to be here on the planet. I’m a pretty grateful person overall. 

I hear you, I’m of the mindset that if you get up and there’s clean running water coming out of your faucet, you’re doing better than a good portion of the world. How would your father describe you as a kid?

I think he’d say I was fun-loving, energetic and curious. 

Were you into sports, or dance, or gymnastics?

I did art, dance, and gymnastics since the time I was young; that’s what led me to fitness. 

Did you compete in gymnastics?

No, I did gymnastics, but dance was my passion. I grew up doing competitions in dance, and then was promoted to teaching the kids younger than me, and then I started choreographing for the studio I worked for, which was the Westminster Dance Studio. I was studying in NY and taking classes at the same time. 

What style of dance?

Mostly modern, some ballet, but mostly modern. I studied at Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham school.

You weren’t playing! 

Thanks, this is cool, talking to you. I was honored when Jeff asked me to do the interview. Especially since I’m new and don’t really know anyone. 

Now everyone will know you. 

[Laughing] Oh God, I don’t know if I want that, but okay. Just kidding, everybody is so sweet here! Honestly, Philly is so great. People actually say ‘Hi’ and ‘Good morning’ when you see them in the street and if they see you struggling with things, they’ll hold the door for you. Coming from NY/NJ I’m like wow, this is different. 

We are the city of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. 

It is, but you know what’s sad is that when you watch the news all you see is the negatives about the city. And I really hate that, because people are like, “Really, you moved there? It’s such trash.” And I’m like, “Why don’t you come visit and see; it’s really not what you see on the news”

I feel you. When my father got older and I’d visit him, he’d give me these dire warnings, “Be careful getting into your car, thieves will hide underneath it and cut your ankles and steal your car.” It was crazy until I realized that he was watching nothing but local news which was constantly reporting the extreme stories. I told him that though it may be something that happened once, it’s not part of the day-to-day living for most of us. 

Yes, It’s the same living in NJ and how they feel about going into NY. It’s like, come on, stop that. And it’s not just older people, I know a lot of younger people who have that same mentality, it’s bizarre to witness. When I was young my father lived in Manhattan and I was always going into the city to visit him or take classes from the time I was little. 

We moved to Radnor, which is a very wealthy area and most of my classmates had never gone into the city, never seen a play or gone to a museum. I was like, what are you doing with your life and your money? 

And when you did it everyone was like, “Woah, I can’t believe you went into the city by yourself!:

Photos: Dani Iannone.

I know, friend’s would say, “You are so fearless!” and I’d respond, “Yes, taking the R5 commuter train is death defying.” So after high school, what did you do next?

I went to college at Parsons School of Design where I studied art and design. My interest was in fashion, designer wear, costuming, all of it. I got a full scholarship but unfortunately, my freshman year, my mom passed away and I had to take a hiatus from school. When I regrouped and went back, I continued to dance while pursuing my education and I started writing. 

When I finished school, I was still a little lost and ended up taking a job as a personal assistant for a wealthy Greek family. I did that for a little while but soon realized that it wasn’t for me. I’m not the person to sit behind a desk in an office and do the same things at the same time every day. 9 to 5 was not for me. I missed dance, I missed performing and missed having control of my schedule and doing what I liked to do, and that’s why I started doing fitness. I already knew a lot of anatomy and how to move from dancing my whole life but I started studying health and fitness and getting my certifications. I started at Manhattan Plaza Health Club and then went to Equinox in the Village, which is the gayest gym. I trained a lot of people from the community, celebrities, all sorts of people and then eventually I branched off and started my own thing and also worked for several boutique gyms. Lots of stuff on my journey, I’ve been doing this now for 20 years and now it’s nice being here in Philly. 

Well, we’re glad to have you. 

Thanks, I’ve always loved coming here and I’m glad that I live here now. The people are not pretentious, and the place where I work, The Optimal Gym, is great, the owners Jeff and his husband Yul are good people. Everybody that works there is cool. I’m there every day. I currently instruct 7 classes a week: Cardio Kickboxing, Indoor Cycling, Power Circuit-HIIT, Bootcamp, and Pilates, a different one each day. I also do private and virtual training. My actual business name is Fit Body Integration which I started in 2004 with the intention of making fitness available to everyone in EVERY community. I know I’m only one person and I can’t change the world by myself, but I can be accessible and approachable to anyone who is interested in fitness and healthy living. My goal is to get people to enjoy working and have fun when they meet me in the gym! 

What advice do you have for people getting back in shape after being sedentary for so long?

Get into any class where mobility and range of motion are figured into the workouts. I’ve worked for all the top gyms. Sometimes even the best leave the basics out. Get with a great coach who understands movement and looks at your body in motion. Core stability is key. That is the foundation for moving forward in movement and muscle development.

Nice! So now that you’re here, what are your top three things to do in Philly outside of the gym?

Well, I can tell you that the last thing that I posted on my Instagram feed was for Korshak Bagels. I love that place! I love those bagels! It took me a while to find a bagel in Philly that I actually liked, and that place is my move. The other thing I like is to go down near the bridge, by, I think it’s the Cherry Street Pier. I like just sitting there, it’s a really nice, peaceful spot. And I like my apartment a lot!

Can I ask how your mother died?

My mom passed away from lung cancer because she was a smoker. I think one of the things that keeps me on the path to wellness is that I don’t want to be like that, you know. I want to be different than what I saw from my elders, their habits and addictions. 

Any bad habits that you’ve broken?

Ironically, and I hate to say this, but when I was in high school I was auditioning as a dancer, and at that time all of the teachers at Broadway Dance Center and Ailey were all smokers. You’re going to laugh but when I went to audition for Tisch School of the arts, every single person on the judge and jury panel were all smoking! That was just part of a dancer’s life, coffee and cigarettes. It was such a weird juxtaposition, super fit dancers doing something so unhealthy. I had to learn that it was bad for you, and now I make it part of my job to teach people that sugar is not healthy, alcohol is not healthy, smoking is not healthy. I try to encourage a different way of living; I don’t know, that stuff killed my mom, so I’m passionate about it. 

Yeah, I’ve been friends with a lot of dancers and it shocked me at first how many of them smoked, I guess in part, it’s a weight control measure. 

It was. That was the mindset then, but fortunately it’s been changing. 

So when you’re not teaching what do you like to do for fun?

I enjoy just relaxing, I enjoy taking pictures. I try to get out and do more photography. I try to take my own advice and do a little meditation, do a little yoga, and hang out with my loved ones. 

What are some of the things you do to support the community?

I’ve done a number of Pride rides, I like to highlight gay artists and to celebrate the community by doing charity rides and events to raise money. 

Name two of your favorite celebrity clients?

Jodie Foster and Gloria Steinem. 

Ever have a paranormal experience?

I actually read tarot and do astrology in my spare time. I’ve always loved outer space. 

Any furry friends?

Yes, Celeste D Kat and Milan, who are both rescue cats, and Skylos, the blind dog. 

Do you play any instruments?

The flute, clarinet, oboe… 

Wow, you’re a multi-talented artist. What song always makes you happy? 

No THING always makes me happy, but… I’m all about every lyric in Lizzo’s song, “About Damn Time”! I really believe music is a big motivator and I’m always curating playlists for my classes, especially my Cycling classes and theme events. Folks can follow me on Spotify

Cool. What motivates you to do what you do? 

What made me want to help folks via fitness was the joy I always felt as a dancer that I missed so much when I stopped dancing. After my Mom passed, so many things changed for me. I was very young and had to navigate a lot of heavy challenges, with little guidance on my own. It was heavy. I discovered I was not happy sitting still or fitting myself into a sedentary 9-5 lifestyle. My life force literally is movement and physical in nature, that’s ordained. I can’t control that. So I guess it was about reconciliation. I couldn’t continue dance, but I could transform my gifts into something else and find a different way to do what I love. 

“I understand that you have a mantra that you use to motivate.” 

Yes, Positivity + Passion + Patience = Excellence!

For more info go to: www.bodybydani.net and www.optimalsporthealthclubs.com/.

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