Fulfilling your dreams doesn’t just come to you on a silver platter. You will have to face a lot of difficulties and a lot of negativity along the way. That was the case with choreographer, fitness trainer, and dancer Manu Fernández Barrio. Manu is a German-born professional dancer and LA’s top choreographer and dance cardio fitness instructor. He started dancing jazz/modern when he was 4 years old and transitioned into hip hop at the age of 13. In this episode, Manu chats with host Dani Behr about moving from his little German village to the big city of LA, coming out of the closet, working with Taylor Swift, and his dream to get everyone into dance fitness and dancing to their goal weight!
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Dance Fitness: Dancing Your Way To Your Weight Goal With Manu Fernández Barrio
Dancer and Choreographer MANU
Please welcome Manu.
I like that you are the one named man like Madonna, Cher and Ariana.
I have two last names and people always mix those up. It’s simpler for me to keep my first name.
Manu is not a common name. You’re the only Manu I know.
Before I even get started into your life, first of all, your last name is Fernandez Barrio. You were born and raised in Germany. That is not a German name.
It is not. I was born and raised in Germany. Dad is Spanish and mom is German. I don’t speak a word of Spanish, which is sad.
It’s unfortunate since you live in California.
It could give me a lot of help here.
Did mom never speak Spanish to you as a child? That’s unusual because most Europeans know at least two languages, and some know 3 or 4.
I honestly don’t know how that happened. I asked my parents why they never taught me. I feel I got screwed over. There was no real answer from them. It’s like a mystery that happened there.
You have to ask for a refund or something. How long have you been at LA Dancefit?
A couple of years.
I’ve been going for about several years. A friend of mine introduced me to the place. I’m one of those people who love to dance. I don’t feel like I’m doing a workout. I don’t feel like it’s exercise. I do one hour of dancing. I feel like I’m in a night club. For me, it’s dependent on the teacher and the music if I enjoy the hour and whether I even show up or not. There are certain teachers and certain choreographers that I already know it’s going to annoy me. I get irritated. There’s something about the way that they teach or the music they use that throws me off.
You’re the first teacher that’s come along, the first choreographer where I know for one full hour, I’m 110% in it. I go into the zone. I’m sure you’ve noticed that if I go into the zone, I go all out. I utilize every minute of the class to get a full workout. What makes you different? How does that help with the music choices? Is it music you love or do you already know that certain music gets people going and keeps them there for the entire hour? An hour is quite a long time to keep people’s attention.
I’m all about emotional connection and feeling the music. Whatever makes me feel something, I use in class because when I feel something, the whole room is going to feel it. It translates to everybody else. I feel I’m giving people that gateway into a song. They see me feeling it and performing it, they get into it too. They know what it’s about, they see me interpreting it. That’s what makes people get into it intensely.
You are one of the few choreographers that do the class with us. There are a lot of teachers that show what to do and then stand there and watch. You do the entire routine with us. People need that. They need to feel as well. It’s an exercise class at the end of the day. We’re not in a nightclub where we’ve got a few bevies in us, somewhere a little bit Mary. We’re there at 8:00, 9:00 in the morning. It’s a hardcore intensive cardio workout. If the teacher doesn’t give all the energy, it throws everybody off.Dancing from the heart makes every artist, singer, dancer, and actor bring out their best. Click To Tweet
How many students going to get into the workout and going to see how hard they need to go if I don’t go hard. I set the example for you guys to push through and to go harder and to challenge yourself.
Were you always into dance? Did it happen by accident? When did you come from Germany? Give us a little bit of a back story.
I started dancing when I was four and I started dancing modern and jazz. I started dancing hip hop when I was thirteen, I started teaching kids when I was thirteen. I started traveling to LA to train at Millennium, at Debbie Reynolds Movement Lifestyle, all his dance studios. I fell in love with the city. I decided I needed to move over here. I won my Green Card in a lottery. I moved here 2013 and auditioned castings, I was signed with an agency. I danced for Taylor Swift, Arcade Fire. I did jobs for Beachbody, Chevrolet, and all these commercials. For me, it was also temporary and I needed something, I wanted to build something. I wanted to build my career. I stumbled into dance fitness and it exploded for me. It took off like nothing before. I knew it was the right thing for me to do.
Were you one of those kids that started at age four, were you naturally good? Did you have to learn to be good?
I had to learn, but I always had a good hearing for music and I was always into music. I’d remember myself sitting in front of my tape recorder or CD player and listening to music for hours and singing and dancing. That’s how I spent days. I didn’t eat or hang out with people. I was a loner kid in my room. Dancing, that was always my thing. Music is everything.
You’ve got swagger. There are a lot of dancers who were great and fabulous but they don’t have any swagger. You’ve got that little swag. Did you have the swagger as a kid? Were you dancing in front of the mirror or in front of your parents and they’re like, “That kid is good. He’s got swag?” Not that they would use that verbiage, but you know what I mean.
I remember a choreographer telling me when I was 6 or 7 that I had a groove. I do not know where it’s coming from, I’m dancing from the heart. That makes every artist, singer, dancer and actor bring out their best. As long as you do it from the heart, it’s going to be good.
You have that innate feeling of the beat. You’ve got rhythm naturally. Some people don’t have a natural rhythm. My son is a little bit like that, like his father.
You, as a mother, how does that happen?
Coco, my daughter, makes up for it. She’s got a good rhythm. She, as a baby, as a kid would tap to the beat. He’s offbeat, like his dad. His dad looks like he’s having an epileptic when he goes into it. He has other good qualities, that’s fine.
My parents both sing and dance. My sister sings and dances, too.
It’s in the blood. Were they professional in their dancing or they just love to dance?
My mom and my dad, they did a lot of partner tango, and all that stuff but not professionally. My sister started dancing with me but she eventually stopped. She’s more into the singing side of life.
Mom and dad had that natural rhythm. They have the passion for it which is obviously where you saw and got that from.
I remember growing up there was always dancing, there was always singing, there was always music.
Is there a big dance scene in Germany? Which city in Germany are you from? How was it living in Germany compared to here? Give us the German vibe.
I am from a 250 people village in Germany, I’m from a small town. I was lucky that I had a dance teacher. She was surprisingly good for a small town. I was lucky to have her sending me out to workshops in Berlin, Hamburg and everywhere. There is a dance scene in the bigger cities, but the industry is bigger in LA. There’s more to do and more opportunities.
It’s the mecca of the world. It’s the spot.
For entertainment and everything you do in arts, if you want to pursue it commercially, LA is the best place to be for that. I trained for several years in Germany. There’s definitely stuff over there that’s good, and good choreographers, amazing dancers.
Were you a rare breed amongst your community, amongst your friends? Were you like, “Manu is this dancer dude, is he going to go and be in showbiz?” Was it quite a big deal?
Growing up was not easy for me. In a small town, if you’re the five-year-old in 1994 in the village that’s the only one that dances to Britney Spears or whatever was out there back then, you’re not the popular kid. Let me tell you that.
Time has changed since then.
The upbringing as a gay dancer was not easy for me, that’s where I got a lot of my drive and motivation from.
Did your parents know that you were gay? Was this something that you hid quite well?
I don’t think I ever was able to hide it, it’s obvious with me. I came out officially when I was 21.
How were your parents? How did they take it?
My mom was amazing with it. My dad because he’s Catholic, Spanish, it took a few days, a few weeks for him to adjust. Now, they’re amazing. They want me to be happy. They would rather have me live in Germany, but they are happy when I’m happy. It was good.
You had a good experience compared to a lot of people.
Also, subconsciously I surrounded myself with people that I knew were okay with it. I had all my friends support. There was no negative experience from that side. I was lucky with that.
The generation to be gay, it’s much easier now than it was back in the day or our parents’ generation. It’s the norm now, there’s nothing unusual or bizarre about it. People are much more accepting and open-minded.
In bigger cities, yes. There are still places in this country, in every country where it’s harder. I speak to people that are afraid to come out, they’re afraid to be who they are. That’s one of the things why I try to be successful and I try to be this driving force because I want to show that you can be successful and you can live a normal life as a gay man. I want to be that person.
I have plentiful conversations with my gay friends. I have quite a few gay friends who are married gay men and have all these children and I’m like, “What are you doing with all these kids?” It’s your God-given right as a gay man to not have children. I’m like, “Why are you ruining it?”
I’m contemplating about that.
They’re like, “I know,” but they are the most amazing parents. I don’t even think of them as anything but just them. I’ve been surrounded by gay people my whole life being in show business. For me, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. I suppose, coming from a small little village in Germany whereas they say in England, “If you’re the only gay in the village, it’s a bit more challenging.”
It can be.
Now you’re in, as I like to call gay central here in LA. LA is that city where you could be absolutely anything you want. It’s brilliant. I’ve walked down Santa Monica Promenade on Third Street. Seeing a man with a full beard, makeup over the beard, hot denim pants and two balls hanging out, and nobody blinked an eye. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, I was like, “That is brilliant. Has he forgotten to tuck the balls in? Are the denim shorts cut so high he doesn’t know? Has he realized he’s put makeup on but should have shaved maybe the beard off first?”You can be successful and you can live a normal life as a gay man. Click To Tweet
That’s when I draw the line, with balls out. That’s a little bit too much for me.
We do like an element of surprise sometimes, let’s keep them in.
I do like that now, I feel like the teenage generation and everything younger, they’re allowed to be whoever they are. There are guys that wear makeup. They have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers and show women how to put on makeup, I’m like, “Yes.” I love that, it’s such good progress. Kids are not forced to be a typical boy or a typical girl anymore. Everyone feels differently and everyone is a different person, it’s great that we now encourage that, to be who they are.
In my day, you experimented with your look anyway, you’re either a punk or a Goth. You experimented anyway with how you look. Nowadays, people are being as unique as they possibly want without judgment anymore. I see that with my kids at school, they’re like, “So-and-so is trans and he’s going through the transition.” They talk about it like it’s no big deal. Times have changed, and what I say, “Live and let live.” Whatever you wanted to do, if you’re not hurting anyone else, do whatever makes you happy. People’s fear comes from ignorance and fear is disabling to a lot of people. That fear translates into hatred and all and ignorance. It’s the fear in people because it’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of all, they’re uncomfortable with themselves.
It makes people uncomfortable and especially if it comes from an older generation, those people never had the right or the opportunity to express themselves and think about who am I? Not who I’m supposed to be, but who am I? Some of them didn’t take the chance and that closes you off to people that do. It scares you like, “What is inside of me that I didn’t pay attention to up until now?” That’s what scares a lot of people.
You have all the combination of religion, community and traditions and all of those other things that get in the way of people letting go and being themselves.
It’s the limitations that people put themselves.
Live and let live. If you want to put full makeup over your beard with two balls hanging out your hot denim pants, I thought it was amusing.
That’s the good thing about LA, too. There are good people watching.
It was the best people-watching. You’ve got every crazy character you can imagine, they’re here. I saw one, I was driving down the freeway and a guy was on a motorbike with an Elmo fur, a whole big head-on. Have you seen him?
Yes, the best. Even West Hollywood, you can go have a coffee on the street.
Saturday night in West Hollywood is the best people-watching ever.
I feel like every night, not exactly Saturday night. It’s 24/7, you see everything in there.
If you want a good laugh, I go to The Abbey and I stand on the side and I watch.
It’s good times.
Did you work with Taylor Swift? Was that one of your first jobs when you came out here?
It was my first big job.
What was she like to work with?
She’s such a sweet person. I remember her mom made maple glazed bacon, it was good.
She’s professional, isn’t she? I hate when her parents run her businesses for her. It’s professional, businesses are business.
It was a one-day shoot, I didn’t get a lot of background situation. The stuff I heard and the stuff I talk to her about, she’s great and sweet.
Was she as tall and skinny as she looks?
Yes, I was surprised. I’m 5’10” and she must be six feet something, I’m sure. She’s tall.
What were your other favorite jobs that you did out here? What are your most favorite things to do? Let’s talk about dance as a career. It’s limited and it ends quite early because you’re relying on your body and your fitness levels. How is it being a dancer as your career and your profession? What are you worried about? What are the things that you constantly have to keep working on? How hard is it to be a professional dancer?
It’s that fear of your body giving up on you at some point. When I have knee pain or when my foot was whack, it’s stressful because you’re like, “Is this it?” If there’s something, if your knee goes out, if your ankle whatever, you’re done. Body injuries are definitely one of the most stressful things. As an artist, creativity. You always reach these points. There are moments where we create ten routines a day and I’m like, “This is great.”
How do you remember all of them? I can’t remember anything. How do you remember the routines? Especially because you’re doing so many?
Its muscle memory, a lot of it. If I feel whatever part of my brain that is in, it’s well built out. I’ve been doing this for years, it’s my DNA now at this point. On a creative level is that when you reach that point of you can’t come up with anything at a point and you have to.
It’s like writer’s block, you have a dancer’s block.
Yes. There’s this panic of like, “This is it, and this is all I had to give.” It’s a thing you can control, creativity is not a thing you can control, ever.
It either flows in abundance or you have an awful dry spell.
It’s like nothing, just dry.
It’s like when you’re reading a book and you’ve read the same page five times and you’re like, “What did I read?” Who are your favorite dancers as inspirations growing up? Did you love classical ballet like Nuria? Those guys. Are you more into modern dancing? Who are your favorites? Who do you look up to?
A big one was Ciara for me, I love Ciara.
She’s amazing. Have you met her?
No, I haven’t.
She’s gorgeous. I saw her outside when she was prego. I saw her pregnant outside in one of the Beverly Hills hotels. She’s absolutely stunning as well.The limitations that people put on themselves close them off from oppo rtunities to really express themselves. Click To Tweet
Missy Elliot is big, not as a dancer but as a person that puts dancers on the stage.
Her routines are sick.
Those were two big ones for me.
Were you inspired by Janet Jackson and Michael on those?
Not so much Michael Jackson, I was never a big fan of him for some reason, it’s not my thing. Janet for sure and Prince. I like Prince. Prince was more my jam.
I was in Vegas and I went to see Purple Reign, which is the Prince Tribute show. I was fortunate enough to meet Prince quite a few times when he used to come to London. We were on the same record label when I was much younger. This tribute guy, I forget his real name, but he has a show called Purple Reign in Vegas. If you’re in Vegas and you’re a Prince fan, you have to go see the show. He was so good to the point that I forgot it wasn’t Prince.
He looks like him, sounds like him, and plays the guitar like in the live band was phenomenal. He was so good that I forgot it wasn’t Prince that I was watching. It was weird, it was almost spooky in a way that he was sent down to keep it going for him. He was amazing. If anyone loves Prince music and is a Prince fan, you have to go see Purple Reign. Compared to a lot of these show tickets, the tickets were $60, $70 but they were reasonable. Compared to Lady Gaga, $2,000 a seat. I’m annoyed about that, can we talk about that?
I can’t. When it came out, when she had to show, I was trying to get tickets right away, I was like, “No.”
I’m sorry, but her fans, the people that got here are people that probably can’t afford the $2,000 ticket. That’s daylight robbery.
Its high price, I’m not sure.
I don’t know if I’d pay $2,000 for her to sing in my living room, let alone having to schlep to Vegas.
She’s selling out, night after night.
She is incredible, I love her.
Do you like people like that amazing dancer? He was one that used to date Rihanna and he got in trouble for beating her up. What’s his name?
He’s a phenomenal dancer too. Is he your vibe or not?
No, as soon as he started beating up women.
I’m terrible that I have to introduce him as he’s the guy that beat at Rihanna.
He has issues and you noticed stuff in his past about what led him to do all that. It’s hard for me to support someone like that. Some of his music is good and he’s a talented artist, but you can’t work on your artist’s side and then be a difficult person.
He has a moral dilemma because he’s talented, he makes great music, he’s a phenomenal dancer and you’re right, it is a bit of a moral dilemma. It’s like the Michael Jackson thing. I don’t know if you saw Finding Neverland. I love Michael Jackson’s music, but now I’m having this internal moral dilemma if I want to listen to his music. You know what, I’m not happy with you, Michael.
If you’re an amazing artist, it doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you want in your private life.
Especially when you’re at that level and people look up to you and you are a role model, whether you like it or not, you are. The fact that you cannot manipulate the fans or the public, it’s a hard one. That’s what people have a real struggle with.
It’s also hard to be in public like that. We all have the stuff to do. If it comes out in public, he will be like, “Crap.” You’ve got to work on yourself, that’s what’s important is self-work and to work on those things, the aggression, beating up people, I feel that stuff we can work on.
You have more responsibility to yourself and everyone around you to stop yourself from making those decisions because you know everyone’s going to find out and it will affect your career. This is not just you and your partner in your household. The world is going to know, especially nowadays with social media.
Everything comes out, no secret.
Let’s talk about dance as a fitness, because I find it’s been a phenomenal fitness tool for me. I know everybody always wants to be fitter or lose weight. It’s a never-ending journey, staying fit, keeping fit. Have you noticed the differences in a lot of the dancers and the students that come? What advice can you give people that are looking to lose weight or that don’t have any rhythm and are like, “I don’t know how to dance, should I come? Should I not come?” Let’s discuss the fitness aspect of it. For me, I give it 110% though, I give it a full-on. I don’t just sit there and step to the left, step to the right, and that makes a big difference in the commitment to the cause. I’ve seen phenomenal changes in some of the student’s bodies that come from when they start to when they finish. They have lost so much weight, super toned, you must see this all the time?
For me, it’s not just a weight loss but it’s also to change in mood and attitude that people get and the confidence people get through this. I have a lot of people that come in and are like, “I can’t dance. I am not good at making it.” They come 2 or 3 times and they’re good. It takes some time to adjust if you’re not a dancer. It’s doable and it’s still a fun workout. It’s definitely much more fun than being on a treadmill for an hour.
Not only that, you don’t have to know all the steps. There are men and women in the class that are all shapes and sizes, all age groups. I’ve got a lady that’s next to me every day who’s 72. Do you know who I mean?
I don’t want to name her in case she doesn’t want anyone to know, but 72 and she’s amazing. She’s as fit as any twenty-year-old and maybe fitter. Look at her body.
She takes two classes a day.
It’s great fitness for people that don’t want to go to the gym. I hate gyms. It feels like it’s fun. If you love music, come.
It feels like you’re partying, you’re also doing your cardio workout at the same time. There’s no better combination than that.
How many calories do you think people can burn in one of your classes?
I always get feedback from 400 to 700. It always depends on how much muscle you have and how much effort you put in. This workout is the more you put in, the more you can get out of it.Creativity is not a thing you can control ever. Click To Tweet
I go hard. I must burn at least 700.
Dani, is full the F out.
Do you know why? I still look at it like this is the only hour I have to work out, I better make the most of it. My schedule changes with the kids, I don’t always know if I can come the next day. I go right in here, I’m getting the best out of it, burning as many calories as I possibly can and I love it.
The people like you that go in and bring the energy to the class help me as an instructor, to even get higher from my level. We lift the energy up together and it’s amazing. You definitely contribute a lot to class.
Tell everybody where you’re working out, where you’re teaching, the type of dance classes you do. Give them a bit of a breakdown.
The public classes or they’re open to the public, I teach art dance in West Woods. It’s a cardio dance class called Nu Move, and it’s a sculpted dance class called Multiply. I teach for Equinox in Encino. I also started working for Google at the Google office in Playa Vista and Venice. I also do corporate fitness dance classes.
I would totally up my charge, my right for them, they can afford. You do privates as well. Tell everybody where they can reach you. What’s your website and all that good stuff?
Where people can reach me now is my Instagram, which is my @ManuMoves and my schedule is on there. I also do live streams. You can stream my classes from anywhere. I have a YouTube channel as well. I recorded a great video, check that out.
What’s your goal as a dancer, choreographer and teacher? How would you like to see yourself in 5 or 10-years’ time?
It’s hard for me to say it because every time I set a goal, it never works out. Something better comes along, which is great. I want to be the person in dance fitness, I want to be the person that stands for dance fitness.
When they think of dance fitness, they think of Manu.
I’m open to anything. This journey could lead me in a lot of different ways. I’m working towards the best, whatever the best way is, I’m open to it.
Are you open to private dance lessons as well?
Yes, all of it.
If you’re looking to come and do a great fun, energetic workout, it feels you’re in a club dancing to your favorite music, come and check out Manu at LA Dancefit on Santa Monica Boulevard in West LA. Their website is LADancefit.com. Check out Manu on his Instagram page, @ManuMoves and you can send him an instant message, private message. Honestly, everyone should try it one time. It took me a good few weeks to get into it, because you don’t know the moves and then after a while you suddenly get familiar with the moves and it becomes second nature to you but more than anything, you’re burning calories.
It’s social. You’ll meet some great friends, have a good time, and you’re exercising all at the same time. Honestly, there’s nothing better and it gets you going for the day. Even if you can only come on a Saturday, there are classes over the weekend as well. Check it out one time. Also, Manu is going to be hopefully, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but maybe you can do a promotion for our readers, they get the first class for free or something.
Let’s do it.
Your first class for free at LA Dancefit with Manu. Check us out at LaLaLanded.com for more information and our future episodes. Check us out at Facebook at La La Landed and Instagram @LaLaLandedPodcast. A big thank you to dancer and choreographer extraordinaire, the one and only, Manu.
Thank you for having me.
You’ll have to come on again, we’ll have you back. That was fun. If you have any good funk gigs with some celebrities and stuff, you’ll have to come on in and tell us all about them. We love a little Goth. Thanks for reading. You’ve been here with me, Dani Behr on the Behr Essentials at La La Landed. I’ll be back with some more fabulous guests to show off.
- Manu Fernandez Barrio
- Purple Reign
- @ManuMoves – Instagram
- YouTube – Manu
- La La Landed -Facebook
- @LaLaLandedPodcast– Instagram
About Manu Fernández Barrio
Manu Fernández Barrio was born and raised in Germany. He started dancing Jazz/Modern when he was 4 years old and transitioned into Hip Hop at the age of 13. Manu has taught dance in Spain, Switzerland and throughout Germany. When he was 23 years old he luckily won the green card lottery and was able to fulfill one of his biggest dreams: “Moving to Los Angeles”. He’s worked with Taylor Swift, Arcade Fire, Beachbody and Chevrolet. Manu went to college for Personal Training and Sports therapy in Germany. Manu regularly teaches one of the top Dance Cardio fitness classes ’Nu Move’ at LA Dancefit in West LA and Equinox in Encino.