My name is Layla Halenka and I was born in Phoenix, Arizona. I am 32 years old and married with three beautiful girls. I have a strong passion for my family, expressing creativity through movement and connecting with others through movement. I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada when I was 4, so my memories of living in Phoenix are hazy at best. What I do remember, was being sick. At a young age, I was diagnosed with several food & pollen allergies along with asthma, which I remember put me in the hospital, pretty routinely, for the first few years of my life. My asthma was so severe that even vigorous outdoor play with friends was often too much for my little body to handle. I specifically remember doctors telling my parents that playing sports would not be an option for me in the future. (Spoiler alert, I am now a fitness instructor, so take that, doc!)
I felt a connection to music and movement as early as I can remember. It could have to do with the fact that both of my parents are musically inclined. They can both sing and play multiple instruments. They were even in a band (The Wrecking Crew) while my mom was pregnant with me. They always encouraged the creative side of me and supported whatever I wanted to do to express that. My parents are both very talented, artistic and passionate but definitely struggled with some demons in themselves as well as in their marriage. I used movement as an outlet from the turmoil in my home.
I moved to Las Vegas with my parents, my older sister and older brother. Yes, I am the baby of the family and was definitely treated as such. After a few months of living there, some of my symptoms started to subside (turns out there is pollen in Arizona I’m severely allergic to). I was now a happy six year old kid, who loved to play, dance and do gymnastics! I was healthy and had plenty of friends at school and in my neighborhood. We lived in a cul-de-sac in a beautiful custom-built home where I had a Betty Boop bedroom with a hot pink bed to match. I loved to put together dances in my room. If you stayed the night at my house, you better believe we were making up a routine to a Mariah Carey song.
Living in Vegas meant I was exposed to so many entertaining live shows that I fell in love with. I admired showgirls like Jubilee and dreamed of being one, on stage with those big beautiful sparkly feathers.
I competed in gymnastics for a short time but didn’t do the same in dance. I am naturally not a competitive person, so for me to compete in dance seemed uncomfortable. I didn’t really want to follow steps or choreography. I just wanted to move my body and do my own thing, so I stopped taking dance classes but continued gymnastics until we moved back to Arizona. But this time, we wouldn’t be moving back to the big city of Phoenix, we moved to a small town, in the mountains. (Can you say, culture shock?)
We moved to Prescott, Arizona when I was 10. At the time, this was devastating to me. I had everything I wanted in Las Vegas. We moved so suddenly and with very little. My 10-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening or why. Turns out, my dad got into some trouble, lost his job and a lot of money. So, we moved from a beautiful home in Las Vegas to the Apache Motel in Prescott, Arizona. After living there for about a month, my parents purchased a manufactured home in Prescott Valley, where I resided until 17. It’s worth noting that coming back Arizona caused my allergies to rear its ugly head again.
I started a new school in a new place with very visible eczema on my face, arms, and legs. I’m sure you can imagine how this went since kids can be totally brutal. I had a couple friends but not many. I am forever grateful for the few that were nice to me right away. During recess, I would show off my gymnastics skills on the field and on the bars. Kids started recognizing me for that instead of “the girl with scabs all over her” and for that I was also grateful. Movement saved me a few times in my life, this being one.
My love for creativity and moving my body continued but living in a small town with parents struggling financially didn’t make it easy for me to find a studio. Once I started middle school, cheerleading was an option so I started that as soon as I could. It seemed perfect for me because it was a mix of the two skills I had… tumbling and dance! (Side note… I also was in band and played the flute.) I continued cheer through middle school and even attended a camp before high school to prep for the “big leagues”. Once I got into high school, though, I unfortunately focused more on my social life and other distractions, so I didn’t try out for the team. I was once again trying to escape and distract myself from the turmoil in my home and in myself but this time, I abandoned my love for movement in the process.
Years went by with some trauma, but plenty of growth, and I found myself happily married to the man of my dreams with three of the cutest little girls ever. Life was good but something in me was missing; I had just given birth to my 3rd child and desperately wanted to feel like me again. I felt like my body wasn’t mine anymore. I felt disconnected with it in all aspects and also disconnected with my social life. I made the decision to do something about it and attended a fitness class at a gym. The class infused dance with yoga and I immediately fell in love. I knew after my very first class that my body, mind and soul craved movement and needed it to heal. The spark in me was lit and there was no ignoring it. Not only that but I also formed beautiful, lasting friendships. I continued going to class and quickly got certified in that format. Within 8 months, I was teaching.
I fell in love with watching the beauty of seeing people (mostly women) connect with their bodies. I can see it, but more importantly, I can feel it. It’s hard to describe but it’s a feeling that never gets old, it actually gets better. I taught this yoga format that was infused with dance for about 4 years. During that time, I received my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Certification, got accepted into their master trainee program and dabbled in creating my own formats. My passion grew in my practice and had me craving more of the dance cardio sections of the format. I felt my creativity spark in these sections. In the beginning of 2019, the format I was teaching was taken off the schedule, which meant I had the chance to teach something different. This is when EmBody dance fitness was born.
EmBody is my fourth baby. It’s the choreography I was forcing my friends to do during sleepovers when I was 8 (yes, Mariah Carey songs and all). It’s routines and ideas I now force my kids to do with me. It’s the part of me that was healed though movement and wants to help heal others in this way. It’s a work in progress and evolving all the time. My hope is to keep sharing my passion by guiding others to connect with their bodies through movement. Booty shakes and all! No judgment or shame for the way they’re moving… just love, support and a safe space to express themselves.
Movement is the medicine.
Layla Halenka www.movementmama.com