Like the cycling bonanza of the early aughts, dance cardio exploded onto the fitness scene with high energy—and high calorie burn opportunities. With such a deluge, some options quickly fizzled out, while others proved absolute staples. Anna Kaiser’s version at her eponymous company, AKT, is one of the latter. A disciple (as many dance cardio mavens are) of Tracy Anderson, Kaiser created a niche by offering an environment that’s friendly (instead of ugh, overwhelming) taught by engaging, knowledgeable instructors.
Jonathan Tylicki was taken with these exact aspects when he auditioned two years ago, and he was snatched up by the fitness industry soon after. A former dancer who has done everything including don a full unitard in a production of Cats, the Cleveland-born instructor is happy in his new home, where he’s found stability and substance. SBS chats with him to find out how to enjoy all those jumping jacks and grapevines, plus how he brought his stage presence into the studio.
SBS: You were a dancer before you became a fitness expert. How did that transition happen?
JT: As a kid, I did some sports, but I fell in love with dance when my cousin introduced me to it. I stopped for a while in high school and college, but in my last year before graduating, I started taking class again. Then, I started working as a professional dancer when I was 21, and I continued for about 10 years.
In 2013, I saw an ad to audition for Anna. She only hires dancers, whether they are headed toward a career transition or to have additional work. At that point AKT wasn’t even open yet: It was their first big call. I didn’t go, but I took note because I loved how athletic it looked. The next year I went to the audition and took my first AKT workout. It was intense, fun, and, for me, challenging in new ways. That’s what made me love it. Then, learning more about the actual styles of workouts and the way we train brought me to appreciate it more. Now, the fitness world offers me a lot of stability, which is exactly what I was looking for. Fortunately, it’s also fast-paced and exciting, not to mention, it’s an opportunity to still be creative and dance every day.
SBS: What makes AKT special in the dance cardio expanse?
JT: We work in all planes of motion and aren’t limited to one style. We do have dance cardio—and it’s one of our most popular classes—but we also offer non-dance options that incorporate cardio, toning and interval work. We want it to be a one-stop shop. Our studio encompasses everything, and our classes pull from different areas like Pilates, yoga, dance, weight training and so on.
For example, if you want a great strength-based class, I would try 4Play. It’s a circuit training interval class that offers lightning speed 30-second rounds of exercises in different circuits while mixing in cardio intervals. And, there’s no dance. Or, you can try AKTOne, which is geared toward muscle burn out and creating a long lean body by using Pilates, yoga, barre and strength exercises without cardio.
Or, if you’re looking to lose weight, I would recommend our Sweat Dream class, which is interval training. You mix six minutes of cardio and six minutes of strength, including upper body, lower body, core work and resistance bands suspended from the ceiling. There are props like boxes that you step on and off of, so it’s intense!
SBS: What aspects of being a performer have you brought to fitness with you? What stage habits have you left out of the studio?
JT: Being a performer, you know how to make things exciting when you’re onstage. So essentially, each class is a type of performance where I’m trying to encourage people to push harder in cardio. I’m looking to make it a unique, exciting experience each session, just like a show is.
On the other hand, in class, students respond to you being real. So it’s not about making it through, putting a smile on for no reason or staying in character whether you’re happy or sad. You have to acknowledge that at times, this is hard, and we can do this together.
SBS: What’s your advice for dance cardio newbies?
JT: I think of dance cardio as an extension of traditional cardio movements. So if you can do a jumping jack to the beat, then you can do dance cardio. You’re just taking the basics and adding style! We’re making them more fun and functional. So give yourself time to pick up the steps. Let yourself go. You don’t have to be perfect. Break it down each time, and every time you go to a class, choose one thing to work on. Maybe at first you just want to do a step-touch well, and then next time, you can pick something else.
At AKT, we offer an intro level to dance cardio called AKTease. That’s great for beginners because it’s very repetitive and the choreography is simplified. You get to learn the vocabulary and style, so if you can attend one of those classes, that’s a great start. Or, try a private session! Finally, remember, the only person that’s going to be watching you with any form of judgment…is you.
SBS: What’s the benefit of going to a group fitness class versus working out in the gym?
JT: The classes offer more intensity and the chance to push yourself more.
This is a challenge in a different way than just lifting weights. Typically, when you do that at the gym, you’re doing the same exercises over and over. You can reach a plateau and then get frustrated. But the fitness class is ever changing, so if you come multiple times in a week, you can get better.
SBS: What are your favorite nutrition tips?
JT: We have a nutritionist who works with our clients, and often the suggestions include ideas like eating smaller meals throughout the day to keep your energy steady versus eating a big meal and crashing afterward. That’s helpful. Then, it’s largely about keeping things simpler. People think cooking or meal prep has to be hard, but it’s often just combining two things for a healthy option.
Jonathan’s NYC Favorites:
Healthy Restaurant: Candle 79
Splurge Restaurant: Adrienne’s Pizzabar
Bar: The Smith
Midday Snack: Banana
Treat: Chocolate chip cookie
Calming Activity: Meditation with Meditation Studio App
Additional Fitness Studio: SLT
Fitness Apparel: Lululemon
Fitness Shoes: Nike
Jonathan’s SBS Mantra: Be You. At the end of the day, who else can you be?!