Practitioner Profile: For Manhattan Artist, Creativity Fuels Fitness Career
Having practiced and taught dance for more than 20 years, Uniqua Simmons sees it as more than art, more than exercise—though it’s both those things too. Dance is a way to enhance overall well-being, she says. There’s the sense of accomplishment and the mental workout that comes from learning different dances; the improved flexibility, vigor, strength, and balance that come from practicing them; and the socialization and stress release that makes them emotionally therapeutic.
As a certified fitness practitioner, Simmons teaches a wide variety of group and private classes—primarily dance, but also yoga, fitness and strength training, via Zoom or in person, with social distancing—to allow anyone to reap those varied benefits in a way feels exciting, safe and accessible.
“In the Dance Fitness classes, we can use hip scarves, fabric and hand scarves to enhance the dance experience,” she says. “Afya Afro Jazz is an open-level dance fitness class—a total mind and body workout using an eclectic fusion of African, ethnic and jazz dances, and often live drumming.”
Simmons’s prenatal-postnatal classes include Work Out With Mommy (W.O.W. Mommy), an open-level dance and fitness class that incorporates strength training, flexibility, and mindfulness breathing; and Mommy & Baby, for moms and their little ones, from newborn to 2 years old. She also offers open-level dance and fitness classes for families (Family Fitness); for seniors (with a seated-meditation closing); and for people with differences (Unique Differences).
“All classes use mindfulness breathing, yoga, and stretching,” she says.
Her menu of classes does include what we’d think of as “traditional” strength-training and body-conditioning classes, in which students use various weights, bands and isometric exercises to tone, strengthen and increase flexibility. But most of her classes are infused with creative touches that reflect her diverse experience as a professional artist.
In addition to being a performance artist, Simmons is a self-taught visual artist and teacher, as well as a jewelry artist who has designed for Eileen Fisher and been featured in the Brooklyn Museum, Gallery Vercon and Essence. She traces her love of the arts back to her childhood, saying she was drawn to them as a career even after training in a much more buttoned-down profession.
Born and raised in Harlem, Simmons was 10 years old when she began drawing and creating art. At age 17, she became an apprentice optician, and later in life she studied to be an optician. But the call of the arts was too strong to resist, she says. Ultimately, despite taking the coursework, she decided to forgo a degree in ophthalmic dispensing and instead follow her other loves: visual art and theater.
“While in the theater I became a choreographer,” Simmons says. “But I wanted to do more with movement and dance, so I went to different health clubs to teach dance as an alternative to the basic aerobic classes. I created a form of dance called Afro Jazz—which is now called Afya Afro Jazz—and became a certified fitness practitioner to also teach everybody and ability.”
In the years since, Simmons has taught at the New York Sports Club, Eastern Athletic, Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, Harlem YMCA, Westside YMCA and the Department of Education. She’s continued to practice, teach and learn through parenthood (two sons) and grandparenthood (two granddaughters). Among her specialties are her Dances for Healing and Peace.
“My life’s mission is to teach and use the arts, dance, fitness, and education for healing, peace, and self-empowerment for everyone,” she says.
For more information about group or private classes, including location information, contact Unique Simmons at 718-915-5357 or afy[email protected]
Group Fitness (including Family Fitness)
Dance Fitness (including Afya Afro Jazz and Unique Differences)
Prenatal-Postnatal Fitness (including W.O.W. Mommy and Mommy & Baby)
Dances for Healing and Peace
- NETA (National Exercise Trainers Association)
- Prenatal/Postnatal AFPA (American Fitness Professionals Association)
- AED (Automated External Defibrillator)
- Infant, Child and Adult CPR