Makeda Roney : On the Importance of Mentors and a Support System in Reaching your Dancing Goals

Jess : Welcome, Dancers! I’m here today with Makeda Roney to talk about what it means to her to be a “Whole Dancer”. We’ll get into her story in dance and how she maintains balance as a dancer.

To start out, Makeda why don’t you tell us a little bit about your journey in dance and how you got to where you are now.

Makeda : Yea, so my mom was a professional dancer and choreographer so I think I just kind of had it in my genes form the beginning. I started walking in a dance class apparently. Just being around dance all the time stirred that up inside of me then when I was 7 I asked my mom to take ballet class and I auditioned for Dance Theatre of Harlem Pre – professional program and I got in with a scholarship.

So, I started dancing at DTH. I was there for many years, until about high school. Then, I went to Walnut Hill for a year and a half to train some more at their boarding school and I went to School at Steps, the Ailey School, I moved to Chicago to dance at Joffrey Ballet and train at Hubbard Street and now I’m back in New York and I’m starting my first season with Nimbus Dance Works.

Through all of that I had a series of injuries so that is a big part of my path and my career. That’s how I got to where I am now.

J : That’s awesome, so how long have you been dancing professionally now?

M : This will actually be my first season dancing professionally. Once I graduated from HS I didn’t go to college, I decided I wanted to start my professional career but I just had so many injuries that I kind of had to put a pause on everything and I started working with a woman, her name is Marjorie Liebert and she does floor barre.

I kind of had to start from the ground up with my training again. So that kind of put me back in my professional career. So this is my first actual season

J : That’s so exciting, congratulations!! So, over the years how have you dealt with all these injuries?

M : From 8th grade all the way up to last year I’ve had a 6 year injury streak. Multiple different injuries and I’ve noticed that it came from my body being really underdeveloped and using wrong muscles to propel my movement.

My mentor and sister friend is Misty Copeland and she was dealing with her surgery, that’s when she found Marjorie Leibert and she is a floor barre and body health and wellness guru and I started working with her 4 years ago. Her practice in floor barre, really helped to propel me in a different way in my dancing and since working with her I haven’t had many injuries.

J : That’s amazing! It’s so important to find those people, not just mentors like Misty Copeland, which I’m sure many listeners will be jealous of! Also, finding those specialists who can support you, so it’s really awesome that you found her. So, what inspires you to dance?

M : Well, my heart inspires me to dance. I love it so much. So that would have to be my #1 thing. I really enjoy seeing dancers who are able to be human and genuine with their movement and where their movement comes from. That really inspires me when I see that in performance or class or dancers just walking down the street. And then people who love to live life and who just enjoy life. I’m really inspired by those people.

J : That’s awesome! I love that it’s your heart, that’s a really beautiful response and a good motivation to work and to bring what you have to dance and the studio. Really awesome. What is your eating routine like. What is your food plan or situation?

M : So, I’ve always eaten really healthy. My household has always been a healthy eating household. So that’s what I’ve grown up around. As I started getting into my own eating habits, I learned that gluten really diminishes my energy. So I stopped eating gluten. I don’t think I’m allergic to it but it really helps my energy to not eat gluten.

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I’m anemic so I eat red meat excluding pork, it helps my anemia and the circulation from my waist down. So I eat grass fed beef or buffalo, venison, and then I love dark chocolate. I eat twice a day when I’m running around with a snack. Then, when I’m not as busy I’ll have it three times a day. I love to put kale in everything I eat and I love to have a carb, a vegetable – usually kale and then a meat like chicken or an egg even.

That seems to really help my energy and blood sugar levels to last throughout the day. When I want something sweet I’ll have fruit or dried fruit or dark chocolate.

J : It really helps growing up in a healthy household puts you ahead of the curve to start out but it sounds like you’ve really done some investigative work to find out what works for your personal body which is something we really encourage at The Whole Dancer so it’s really great to hear that. What did it take for you to get there? Were you just paying attention and trying to notice what was working?

M : When I was at boarding school at Walnut Hill, I was injured for the whole year there which really sucked but I had time to dive into food. Being in a boarding school, the food was better than most food but it wasn’t as healthy as when I was growing up eating so I took that for granted and when I was at Walnut Hill I noticed I was gaining a lot of weight not only because I wasn’t dancing but because the food there just wasn’t giving me what I needed so I started to dive into the health and food thing and from there on I’ve just learned to notice what my body likes and doesn’t like.

It’s a practice. It takes years.

J : It does. And it also constantly evolves so you have to stay in tune and pay attention to how things might change. How about cross – training? What’s your cross – training routine like?

M : Cross – training is so important for me. It’s helped keep my injuries at bay and I’ve learned that through my 10th grade year at Walnut Hill. I had so many revelations during that year. So I’ll go to the gym and I’ll do the elliptical and then weight training because my body is naturally really week and one of my injuries was due to underdeveloped calves. So I like to do weight training and the cardio.

I do flow yoga, Vinyasa, because it helps me to find the core strength inside of movement. I used to do Bikram yoga but I find that the flow yoga really helps me the most. And then, I do floor barre everyday with Marjorie and her approach to floor barre using the correct muscles in ballet movement specifically but dancing in general really helps me. So between those things I am pretty strong and then every now and then I’ll take a HIIT class, or I’m open to other types of fitness classes because I love to just be fit and cross training. Use different muscles.

J : What are some of your biggest interests or inspirations outside of dance?

M : People who love life and enjoy life is a big inspiration outside the studio. Being around those types of people. Also, I’m a Virgo so I love organization and plans and cleanliness so that really inspires me to live every day which inspires me to dance every day. That’s a hard one!

J : That’s great though, I think that’s awesome. Having routines and doing things that give you personal satisfaction is so important. How do you find balance in your life?

M : Meditation is one thing I just started getting into this year. It really helps to keep me present in every day. It helps to keep me balanced on busy days. When I’m living on season schedule, I really have to give myself time to just do me and schedule that time.

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I have to have time every day to just watch Hulu or lay around or listen to music and just do things that have nothing to do with dancing because I can get really inside of my head and so just doing things that gets me out of my head and having me time is so important and it’s actually really counter productive for me to just work, work, work so having balance in my life is so important I’ve learned throughout the years.

J : that’s good. That’s one that takes time to learn and I think you’re smart in even scheduling that in. That’s something I suggest as well because sometimes if you don’t schedule it in it doesn’t happen.

M : It’s not to be human you know, so I have to constantly remind myself that it’s ok to take the time to calm…

J : Stay sane!

M : Yes, stay sane!

J : What does being a “Whole Dancer” mean to you?

M : A whole dancer is someone who is really interested in the quality of their life and the way that helps to manifest his or her dance career. What you eat, what you do, the way you interact with others. Being interested in that and going through those motions as a dancer is so important to be whole.

Then, someone who is really smart about their mind, body and spirit and able to do what they need despite the pushing of others and your circumstances to keep your mind, body and spirit healthy.

J : Essential things I think to be whole as a dancer and as a person. Any advice that you would give to younger dancers or aspiring dancers?

M : That’s always a really hard one because there are so many things. But, I would have to say that if you really love dance, to just go for it, despite what other teachers or people or anybody is saying around you. There’s always going to be challenging obstacles coming your way so you just have to really work hard, stay focused, be smart and don’t let the obstacles stay in your way.

Keep you eye on what you love and want to do and it will happen. It’s also important to not be afraid to be human in dancing and everyday life. A lot of dancers feel like they’re dancers and they need to hold a certain idea of what a dancer is but being human is what’s so important in those dancers who make it far.

J : That’s really sage advice. It’s inevitable as a dancer, you’re going to get negative feedback from someone, teachers have said nasty things to me over the years and if I had let each of those comments really stop me, I wouldn’t have gone as far as I did so I think you’re really right about that. And then I love too, just to be human because it brings a lot to your dancing and your life to acknowledge that about yourself and to let yourself ‘be’. Any final thoughts? Anything else you wanted to throw out there?

M : I guess, my injury streak that I had, it pushed me to do this social media blog that I have called Curl Girl Fit. It’s soon to be a web blog and I’d love to just let people know that they can follow me on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook.

J : That’s awesome, so right now you’re on instagram, twitter and facebook and there’s a blog coming soon. That’s awesome, so exciting, thanks so much for sharing and thank you for doing this, Makeda.

M : No problem, I’m so excited about this!

Makeda Roney – Mindful, Fit Dancer on being “Whole”
  • Good Stuff!
    Love the bit about cross-training!
    Thanks, CurlGirlFit & TWD

    • So glad you liked it, George! I’m so excited to share Makeda’s insights and those of other dancers. I think it’s so inspiring to hear what’s working for others!