Dancer trades corporate gig for fitness passion

Dwight Holt was nearing the end of his workout one summer day in 2014 when he noticed someone mimicking his rhythmic fitness moves. When he shuffled to the left, she shuffled to the left. When he hopped two steps backward, she hopped two steps backward.

“I caught her peeping at me. I didn’t have to turn around to look, because I saw her in the mirror. Everything that I did, she would do,” he remembers.

After a few rounds of follow-the-leader, the woman approached him. It was Oscar-winning actress and comedian Mo’Nique, and she had an unbelievable proposition.

“She said, ‘I’m in Atlanta filming a movie. For the rest of the time that I’m here, could you meet me and help me keep my exercise up?’” he recalls.

Holt agreed to the offer without hesitation.

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For fitness instructor Dwight Holt, Dance Your Pounds Off isn’t just about weight loss. He says, “Dance Your Pounds Off is about dancing off any insecurities, financial problems or relationship issues. Whatever you’re going through, it’s about releasing that weight off your shoulders.” HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

After putting his dance career on the back burner for a 9-to-5 banking job about a year before, he was in desperate need of a creative outlet. And this was the break he was yearning for.

When the entertainer relocated to Atlanta permanently, she recruited Holt to be her full-time instructor. Combining African dance and basic gym moves with bounce and hip-hop music, they were literally dancing the star’s pounds off.

“That’s where my company Dance Your Pounds Off came from. I started introducing the concept to the public,” Holt says. “I learned that it’s not all weight. Dance Your Pounds Off is about dancing off any insecurities, financial problems or relationship issues. Whatever you’re going through, it’s about releasing that weight off your shoulders.”

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His collaboration with Mo’Nique, whose Instagram posts of their drills have been watched by thousands, has garnered national attention. She’s attributed much of her 100-pound weight loss to Holt during appearances on “The Real,” “The Insider,” “TMZ” and “The Preachers.”

Although Holt didn’t predict his career path, he was a natural. After all, he’d been grooving to beats since he was a boy.

At age 5, the Tennessee native was invited to showcase his talents at the Atlanta Battle of the Bands after excitedly running onto the football field to imitate the drum majors.

“I went out there with a tux for everybody at the Georgia Dome. That was my first time in front of a large crowd,” he says.

He began to train professionally at his performing arts high school in Tennessee, learning everything from ballet to modern to lyrical.

Pretty soon, he found his niche in African movement and brought his skills to Morehouse College, where he joined Ashietu, an African drum and dance ministry at the HBCU, and became the go-to choreographer on campus for major functions.

“It became my heart. Every motion has a meaning and story. That’s why dancing is so beautiful,” he says.

Dwight Holt, celebrity dance fitness instructor, teaches his class at Rhythma Studios recently. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

But even though he had a clear passion for it, he didn’t pick it as his major.

“I chose business. I figured I could learn that since I already had the dance background. I could merge them together, and it would be perfect. But I didn’t understand that whenever you go in a route that’s not really what you know, it’s a little harder,” he explains.

When graduation season rolled around, Holt didn’t have enough credits to snag his degree. He took a year off with the intention of returning, “but life had other plans.” Instead, he landed a position at Chase. For more than three years, he climbed his way up the ladder, earning two promotions, which he turned down at first.

“It was cool, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he admits. “I wasn’t recognizing myself. I was there physically, but I couldn’t see my soul. I can honestly say I wasn’t happy. I have ‘dreamer’ tattooed on my forearm, but that aspect of my life was missing.”

About a year after launching his finance career, he had his chance encounter with Mo’Nique.

When Holt found himself juggling both gigs, something had to give. Two days after training for a new role he received after finally accepting his promotion at Chase, he got into a car accident.

“At that moment, I realized I couldn’t go back. That was the day that I quit. I thought, ‘If this is my last day, there’s no way I’m ending it here at Chase,’” he says.

Dwight Holt, celebrity dance fitness instructor, encourages his student Diana Marcelin at Rhythma Studios at a session in May. Holt’s work with Oscar-winning actress Mo’Nique garnered national attention. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Since resigning, he’s thrown himself into his new profession completely, adding his viral treadmill routine videos to the mix. His classes, which initially had about 10 attendees, have tripled in size. He’s gone from hosting one lesson a week to up to five, and in the future, he hopes to open his own studio.

But Dance Your Pounds Off isn’t just for Atlantans. He’s in the process of producing DVDs, and he’s taken the show on the road, traveling to Nashville, St. Petersburg, Fla., St. Louis and later New Orleans for a special event at this year’s Essence Festival in June.

Since coaching Mo’Nique, he’s added other prominent figures to the list such as Amber Riley and Jazmine Sullivan. But everyone is an A-lister in his eyes.

“When people ask me what artists I have worked with, I name people from my sessions. Those are the people that shine,” he gushes. “I see the impact of doing what I love. It changes lives, so there’s no stopping me.”

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