Teyana Taylor has been dancing all her life. “I’ve been dancing since I was in the womb,” 26-year-old Taylor tells SELF. “My mom used to tell me… I used to kick on beat.”
Millions of us saw Taylor’s moves in action for the first time last August, when Kanye West’s Fade music video premiered at the 2016 Video Music Awards. In the video, Taylor dances solo while wearing a thong and a sports bra, showing off her incredible strength and truly enviable rhythm. Google searches for “Teyana Taylor” skyrocketed by over 100x after the premiere (her 2007 single “Google Me” was clearly on point).
But Taylor, wife to Cleveland Cavaliers player Iman Shumpert and mom to 13-month-old Iman Tayla Shumpert Jr. (AKA Junie) has been working (and dancing) her ass off for over a decade. She was signed to Pharrell’s Star Trak Entertainment imprint in 2007, and her 16th birthday party was featured in an episode of MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16” shortly afterwards. In 2012, she signed with Kanye West’s label, GOOD Music. Over the course of her music career, she has released one studio album, one compilation album, one EP, two mixtapes, and eight singles. She’s collaborated with stars like Kanye, Trey Songz, John Legend, and Missy Elliott. She helped choreograph for Beyoncé’s “Ring the Alarm” music video. She designed and released sneakers with Reebok. And there’s so much more to come.
Taylor describes Fade as a “very dope experience,” saying: “It’s something that I worked very hard for, something that I deserved.” She apparently only had three weeks to prepare before filming, and didn’t see the final product until the video’s worldwide premiere. “I watched it like 68 times before I actually liked it, to be like ‘yeah…I guess it’s good,'” she recalls.
Being self-critical is something Taylor has always struggled with. “I think I’m critical about anything I am passionate about,” she says. “When you’ve been doing it for so long, and you’re underrated and you’re not really getting that acknowledgement, you are hard on yourself…I have to put my all into everything, so I overthink everything.”
One thing she loves about Fade‘s success is the attention it brings to dance as an art form and a workout method. “Dance makes me feel sexy,” she says. “It makes me feel alive… Dance can be very emotional, very passionate, very intense. And that’s what I love about it.”
Many Fade fans were fixated on Taylor’s jaw-dropping physique as well as her talent. She’s been open about the fact that she doesn’t like traditional workouts, and isn’t one for healthy eating. “My diet sucks,” she told Vogue. “I eat pizza, fried chicken, macaroni; I don’t eat vegetables. But I dance!” She says that dancing all day every day is how she gets exercise, and she sometimes gets frustrated with people who fixate on her body. “It’s crazy because everybody says ‘OMG I want your body, how do you stay so small?'” she says. “[But] like the same ways people try to lose weight, there are people trying to gain weight. My whole life, I’ve always had issues gaining weight.”
Taylor says that stress causes her to lose weight quickly, and that she deals with some insecurities about her body like any other person—especially after having a baby. “My favorite part [of my body] used to be my breasts, but now my breasts belong to Junie,” she says. “She probably sucked out every ounce of milk… I had to pump, because she didn’t want to work for the milk…so now I just deal with little mommy insecurities. Whenever I look super busty, ladies, that ain’t nothing but a little double-sided tape [and a] push-up bra. We all have flaws… you gotta embrace it.”
And Taylor has totally embraced the way her body has changed since becoming a mom. She went into labor early and gave birth to her daughter at home in December 2015. In an Instagram post about the birth, Taylor wrote that she didn’t know she was in labor until she felt the baby’s head. After two 10-count pushes, Taylor delivered the couple’s daughter into Shumpert’s bare hands—and he tied the baby’s umbilical cord with a pair of red headphones. Fade premiered when Junie was just a few months old, and Taylor says that seeing what her body could do so soon after childbirth was a great experience.
“You’re gonna have a little sag down there, and there’s nothing wrong with a little sag. I think today, we forget what real beauty is…I appreciate it because this sag is from me birthing and feeding my child, my seed that is a part of me. I appreciate every stretch mark, every sag. One boob is bigger than the other…but it is what it is. I love my body and I love the place that I’m in. And I think dance and happiness and movement and family and love is what makes me love my body.”
She cautions everyone to stop judging other people, and comparing themselves unfavorably to others. She’s also tired of negative comments people have made about her body, trying to “bring [her] down.”
“I just want everybody to know that we’re all human, we all have to give birth, there’s always that time of the month, we all get our hearts broken, we all find love again,” she says. “We all have the same insecurities. Whether it’s losing weight or gaining weight—we all feel like ‘oh, my eyebrows look crazy today!’ or ‘my hair is thinning!’ or whatever it is. But we have to remember that nothing is impossible.”
When she’s feeling down, Taylor is often inspired by her now-13-month-old daughter. She says that parenthood has made her more mature and emotional, and that her daughter’s completely fearless attitude is a source of motivation in her own life. “Everything and anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and I get that from my daughter. Nothing is impossible to her.” Parenthood has also changed how she looks at her own work: Taylor always has her daughter in mind. She says: “This is who I do it for now. This is not about me any more. So my grind is different, my hustle is different.”
Her latest hustle: Fade 2 Fit, a dance workout program launching in February. The program features a 90-day course that starts at a beginner level and gets progressively more intense with each passing month. After the initial 90-day workout series, they’ll add more content every month from Teyana, other celebrities, and famous trainers. “I think dance is just fitness, and that’s the reality of it,” she says.
And if you’re intimidated, don’t be. Taylor says you don’t need to be a dancer to follow the program—and that she totally understands feeling daunted by the whole idea.
“A secret of mine, that I’ve never said to anyone—it’s crazy, because the same thing people feel about dancing being intimidating is the same thing I feel when I see people in the gym doing all these fancy tricks…you make it look so easy, and I can barely do one pull-up.”
Yep, even someone as badass as Teyana Taylor feels intimidated sometimes, so she’s got your back.
“All you need is a little guidance and someone to show you,” she says. “And that’s what I’m here for—to help you do it.”
Additional reporting by Rebecca Sinn.
Stylist: Kate Sebbah; Hair: Lacy Redway at The Wall Group; Makeup: Asami Taguchi for Giorgio Armani Beauty; Nails: Manicure by Dawn Sterling at MAM-NYC for Dior Vernis; Set Design: Nick Des Jardins at Mary Howard