As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.
Shaun Blokker, better known as Shaun T, is the man behind the fast-paced, strenuous fitness programs Insanity, Focus T25 and Hip Hop Abs. He got his start as a choreographer. The story of his big break begins with someone breaking him down.
Blokker says he was in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship for "four years too long."
When he got his first big choreography job in his home state of New Jersey, his partner was not supportive.
"After the show, I mean, people wanted my autograph, and I was really no one," says Blokker. "My partner at the time said, 'You'll never be a professional dancer so you can immediately delete that dream from your head.' "
That was the final straw in the relationship.
"No one out there is going to stop me from living the life that I want to live," he says. "I gained up enough strength to leave that relationship."
A friend invited him to come to Los Angeles for a vacation at his beach house. His friend had one demand: He wanted Blokker to get some headshots taken before making the trip.
"Let me tell you, those abs were poppin' on those shots," Blokker says.
When he got to Los Angeles, he checked out a dance school in North Hollywood and found out about an audition for a new dance agency that was happening around the corner.
With his headshots in his car, Blokker decided to go in.
"I was frickin' living in these dance moves. I was like, 'I don't care what happens. They're gonna remember me even though I don't live here,' " he says.
Out of hundreds of people auditioning, seven men and five women were left at the end of the cuts. Blokker was one of them. The judges said they would contact the dancers in a couple weeks if the agency was interested.
"I literally left there like, 'Whatever, this doesn't really matter. I don't even really care,' " he says.
He returned home to New Jersey and two weeks later, found out that audition would change his life.
"I was at the laundry mat, with my pocket full of quarters, when I got the phone call that the agency wanted me to move to LA to pursue a career in dance," he says.
When he moved to LA, he was teaching workout dance classes at the gym, in between auditions and dance gigs. His classes got really popular.
"My big break came when a friend called me and said, 'Hey, there's this company called Beach Body that wants you to see if you can develop a project with them,' " he says.
Blokker had a two-hour meeting with Beach Body, which produces many popular in-home fitness workouts, and left with a contract for his first video, Hip Hop Abs.
"It was just the most incredible feeling. I knew that I had potential that someone was trying to push down," says Blokker.
He went on to create another dance workout, Rockin' Body, and crossed over to intensive interval training programs with Focus T25 and Insanity. "Believe it or not, Insanity is very difficult for me to do!" he says.
"I love to work out with people who are doing Insanity for the first time because they look at me and they're like, 'Oh my god! You actually get out of breath too?' And I'm like, 'Abso-freaking-lutely!' "
He says a key part of his success was the decision to eliminate that negative influence from his life and go after his dreams.
"People, you have no idea. I understand why you feel weak and why you might be not as confident as you want to be," he says. "All you have to do is tell yourself you can do this, and I know that it's possible."
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Time now for the latest installment of our series My Big Break, about triumphs big and small. Shaun T is the man behind work out programs like "Hip Hop Abs," "Focus T25" and "Insanity."
(SOUNDBITE OF "INSANITY")
SHAUN THOMPSON: Dig deeper, go. Push - get in it and move. Come on, y'all.
MCEVERS: He got his start as a dance teacher and a choreographer. The story of his big break begins with someone breaking him down.
THOMPSON: I was in this abusive relationship for four years too long. It was a verbal and physical abusive relationship. One day, I got my first big choreography job in New Jersey. And I got picked as one of the main choreographers. After the show, I mean, there were people that wanted my autograph and I was really no one. My partner at the time said you'll never be a professional dancer, so you can immediately delete that dream from your head. No one, no one out there is going to stop me from living the life that I want to live. I gained up enough strength to leave that relationship. And one of my friends said, hey, why don't you take a vacation. Come out to Los Angeles. We have a house on the beach. And he was like, before you come, I need you to get some headshots. And I'm like, why do I need to get headshot? I'm just coming out there to lay on the beach and have a good time. He said I need you to get some headshots. Let me tell you, those abs were popping on those shots. (Laughing).
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
THOMPSON: I flew out to LA. I found out that there was a really good dance school and so I went there. There was a dance audition for this new dance agency that was happening around the corner. I had my headshots on the backseat of the car. I remember, I looked in the back seat and I'm like, do you go in or do you just drive back to your friend's house to the beach?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
THOMPSON: I walked in and then I looked around. And I realized I was really out of place. These people were at an audition. I mean, the girls had make up. The guys had these sick outfits on. And I look like, pretty much, an athlete that just left the gym, un-showered - oh well. The music comes on and let me tell you guys. I was freaking living in these dance moves. I was like, I don't care what happens. They're going to remember me, even though I don't even live here. So there was like 200 people at this audition. At the end, there ended up being seven guys and five girls. And they put us on video and they were like, you know, if we want you, we'll give you a call in a couple weeks. And I literally left there like, whatever, this doesn't matter. I don't even really care. I went back home to New Jersey. Two weeks later, I was at the laundromat with my pocket full of quarters, when I got the phone call that the agency wanted me to move to LA to pursue a career in dance. So I get there, I was dancing. I did some TV shows. I did some musicals. I was teaching a dance class and my dance class at the gym was really popular. So my big break came when a friend called me and said, hey, there's this company named Beach Body that wants you to see if you can develop a project with them. So I go into the Beach Body office. I ended up being there for two hours and that day I left with my contract for Hip Hop Abs.
(SOUNDBITE OF "HIP HOP ABS")
THOMPSON: It's me, Shaun T. I'm here with "Hip Hop Abs", y'all. Are y'all ready to go?
THOMPSON: It was just the most incredible feeling. I knew that I had potential that someone was trying to push down.
(SOUNDBITE OF "INSANITY")
THOMPSON: Push, push y'all, push, push. Come on, come on, y'all. Come on, give me that power. This is "Insanity."
THOMPSON: Now, today in my work out, I like to tell people to dig deeper. And I like to motivate them and say I know you can do it.
(SOUNDBITE OF "INSANITY")
THOMPSON: Dig deeper.
THOMPSON: You know, I love to work out with people who are doing "Insanity" for the first time, because they look at me and they're like, oh, my God. You really get out of breath, too and I'm like, abso-freaking-lutely. "Insanity" is a very difficult for me to do. People, you have no idea. I understand why you feel weak and why you might be not as confident as you want to be. All you have to do is tell yourself I can do this and I know that it's possible.
MCEVERS: That's Shaun Thompson, better known as Shaun T, the creator of "Hip Hop Abs," "Insanity" and lots of other fitness programs. We want to hear about your big break. Send us an email at email@example.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.