LA Celebrity Trainer ‘JJ’ Johnson On Moving to Mérida

JJ Johnson on the Progreso beach in Yucatán for Yucatán Magazine
Jennifer Johnson, known to almost everyone as JJ, keeps fit and inspires others to do the same. Moving to Mérida gave her access to much better avocados, as well! Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

How did a celebrity trainer like Jennifer “JJ Dancer” Johnson uproot herself from a place like Los Angeles and make the move to Mérida? Anyone who’s met JJ knows the answer.  

Because she willed it. With that much energy, optimism, and infectious drive, JJ gets what JJ works for.  

And what she’s got is a global brand, Bangin’ Body, which is based in Mérida.  

A certified personal trainer, vegan activist, and professional dancer/choreographer, JJ is a definite “it girl” of hip-hop dance cardio workouts.  

Bangin’ Body is not just the name of her workout studio; it’s a one-of-a-kind, cutting-edge fitness program and the culmination of her 30 years of experience as a professional dancer.  

She has sculpted the bodies of some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Magazines such as Cosmopolitan, People, Self, Shape, and Women’s Health, as well as Entertainment Tonight and E! News, have all featured Jennifer’s fitness program.  

As a professional dancer and choreographer, JJ has performed and toured the world with artists such as Beyoncé, Pitbull, and Carlos Santana. JJ has also been featured in music videos, national commercials, films, and television shows, including “Dancing with the Stars” and the MTV Video Music Awards. One of her favorite celebrity experiences was training Jessica Alba and choreographing her dance routines for “Sin City 2” and “Dear Eleanor.” 

JJ Johnson at Bangin' Bodies studio in Mérida, Yucatán
Jennifer “JJ” Johnson stands back as cameraman Irán Sánchez and boxing instructor José Rito Ruacho prepare to film a workout routine for Bangin’ Body. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

A portable business

She has become location-independent while scaling the business. Thanks to her online platform, JJ’s clients are all over the world. Official JJ Dancer / Bangin’ Body trainers are across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, and France. She also has in-person classes in her exclusive red-and-black studio — equal parts workout space and content studio — in the Alcalá Martín neighborhood. It’s a stone’s throw from the Salvador Alvarado stadium, a facility she adores.

What’s different after moving to Mérida? Her clients like to emphasize dance in their workout routines, JJ says. That suits her just fine because that taps into her roots as someone who has been dancing since she was 4. 

JJ began her professional career at age 8, performing with the Chicago City Ballet and Ruth Paige Ballet. She attended Howard University, majoring in psychology. Throughout her college years, she was the captain of the NBA Wizards Dance Team. Meanwhile, she also toured with the USO to help entertain troops and, in 2003, moved to Los Angeles to further pursue her career as a dancer.  

Bangin' Bodies studio in Mérida Yucatán with jj-johnson-in-merida
A live class at Bangin’ Body in Mérida. Photo: Courtesy

Flash forward to 2020: JJ and her husband, Sam, left Los Angeles for Mérida two months before the pandemic hit. Sam’s career allows him to work anywhere there’s Wi-Fi.  

Shortly thereafter, JJ was inspired to finally create the dance and fitness platform that she had been dreaming of for years — This led her to build the Bangin’ Body Studio for filming dance and fitness classes as well as continuing to see private clients on Zoom.  

Once COVID restrictions were lifted, JJ opened the Bangin’ Body Studio to the public. She taught daily dance and fitness classes and shared her celebrity training secrets with her new community.  

She added new trainers to the Bangin’ Body Brigade — and expanded into yoga, boxing, HIIT, and dance classes that feature African, hip-hop, and salsa moves. She says the studio has become “somewhat of a community hub” for expats and locals. Engaging further with Yucatán, JJ was also featured in the Mérida Carnaval parade’s first-ever expat contingent, and she’s participated in community events such as International Dance Day and Vegan Fest. 

Most recently, JJ and Sam have acquired a property in the Centro to facilitate Bangin’ Body retreats. JJ also plans several future health-and-wellness events with Mérida’s City Hall. 

A vegan in Mérida 

Aside from physical activity, JJ personally makes deliberate food choices.  

“I’ve been a vegan for 15 years. And before that, I was a vegetarian. So I haven’t had meat since 2000,” JJ says. Sites like Happy Cow have helped her find restaurants with vegan options. It’s worked out beautifully.  

“Even places that aren’t vegan restaurants have vegan options that are so delicious,” JJ says. “The markets have all kinds of beautiful vegetables, beans and quinoa and grains and all kinds of things that I would not have thought I would have liked.” 

Despite her lean physique, JJ admits, “I eat like a big man!” Since nutritious foods here are abundant, she gets to indulge. 

Mamey trees in her backyard were a revelation. Avocados are fresh, and the mangoes are “the best I’ve ever had.”

Since she’s highly active, every meal has protein, especially the açaí bowl — with vegan protein powder, greens, flax seeds, and berries — that helps her start her days. (The recipe appears at the bottom of this story.) Lunch might be quinoa and beans with sautéed spinach and carrots. A large kale salad at night aids digestion. 

But she stresses that everyone has different needs and no one diet regime suits everyone.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed the thing you have to do is listen to your body,” JJ advises.

Instagram: @banginbodyonline, @iamjjdancer
Facebook: /banginbodyonline

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