How This Fitness Entrepreneur Keeps Up With Dance Workouts and Cooking Her Favorite Nigerian Food, Too

"In order to survive, I had to abandon my comfort zone," says NetWerk founder Jen Ngozi.

NetWerk founder Jen Ngozi. Photograph courtesy of Jen Ngozi.

Jen Ngozi is the founder of NetWerk, a group that hosts dance fitness classes for women that also double as networking events.

Ngozi, who lives in DC, started dancing as a child. It played a large role in building her self-esteem, she says: “I remember spending hours—which felt like minutes—in my room dancing. During my solo dance parties, I was convinced that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up.”

Now, Ngozi uses dance to bring women across the world together and inspire that same confidence she found as a kid. NetWerk hosts events, but also certifies women to become instructors so they can run their own workouts. “Studies show that a lack of confidence and access to networking opportunities can explain the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles,” says Ngozi. So she created the group “to give women a playful, less intimidating alternative to grow both their confidence and network.”

Between running NetWerk and prioritizing her own fitness, Ngozi is busy. Here’s how she gets it done:

“I start my days around 7 AM with prayer and gratitude exercises. This sets the tone for my entire day. It helps put my problems into perspective. I typically begin work around 8 AM. I don’t count my hours, as I’m in love with the work I do. It’s truly a privilege to not watch the clock as I work. I dance a few times a week in the evenings. With all the news surrounding the pandemic, I’ve made it a priority to maintain my fitness routine as an outlet. I converted my office into a dance studio for my home hip-hop dance-cardio workouts. I even set up my flashing party lights to set the mood. Before bed, I wind down with my nightly skincare routine. I wear a clay mask twice a week before I shower to remove any toxins from my skin. I then apply a Vitamin C serum to my face and neck before my moisturizer. 

“When it comes to diet, balance is key—I focus on fresh, homemade meals. Sundays are my meal prep days, [and] I cook and plan out my meals for the entire week. As a Nigerian, our cultural dishes are my favorite to make. Nigerian dishes have lots of spices, protein, and rice. I top my meals off with lots of veggies to keep things balanced. For breakfast, I like to start my days light with fruits like bananas and mangoes, as well as cereal with lots of whole grains and fibers. For lunch, I usually have heavy stuff like my Nigerian dishes with rice, chicken, and veggies. And for dinner, I like to end my days with a light meal. My favorite is baked salmon with a side of salad and mashed potatoes and gravy. Fridays are my wine days. I allow myself a glass of sweet wine at the end of the day to celebrate the end of another week.

“I try to incorporate enough relaxation and playtime in my week. This helps me be my most creative self. During quarantine, playtime looks like catching up with friends over the phone, dancing, learning a new skill, or reading. It’s all about time management. I schedule and plan out my day well in advance, so I walk into each day knowing exactly when it’s time to work and when it’s time to play.

“I’d be dishonest if I said managing an organization, personal life, and staying fit was easy. It isn’t at all. But the NetWerk community keeps me motivated and accountable. I can’t inspire them to be fit and connected if I’m not fit myself. Having a community to show up for is [my] motivation. [It’s also] about having the right attitude. I view exercise as an outlet and a way to boost confidence. When we view exercise and our fitness as a burden or seasonal activity, it’s easy to lose motivation.

“For years, I viewed fitness as eating healthy and working out. However, the pandemic challenged me to think differently—now fitness wasn’t just physical, but it was also mental. Some days, being positive didn’t come to me as naturally as it used to. [But] practicing positive self-talk, learning to mute self-limiting beliefs, and celebrating myself unapologetically [helped]. Our thoughts and words are so powerful and have the ability to shape our outcomes.

“When the pandemic hit, I went through three stages: denial, acceptance, and then action. We quickly moved to offering our NetWerk events virtually, continued training instructors online, and began offering mental health resources for our community. [This is] what I call ‘forced innovation.’ In order to survive, I had to abandon my comfort zone, throw out the old vision of how our organization would operate, and innovate quickly. Although this didn’t compare to the joy of being live, it certainly helped my mental fitness while quarantined. 

When I discovered dance as a kid, it was such an intense feeling. My parents would play music at home and I would put on little talent shows for them. Over the years, I would memorize choreography from music videos and perform them for my family on holidays. Dance developed my self-esteem in ways that I didn’t understand at the time. It helped me learn to speak up for myself, ask for what I want, and set boundaries in my relationships. These skills helped shaped me into the woman I am today. Dance and exercise are not only my outlets, but a source of confidence.” 

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.