Real People, Real Fitness: Sophia, U-Jam Instructor


(1)   Tell us a little bit about yourself

My name is Sophia. I’m 29 years old, I have a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA and work as a full-time legislative staffer for my day job. I recently became certified as a U-Jam Fitness® instructor and teach it part-time.

I was a fairly active kid. Physical Education was one of my favorite subjects in school. I played on after-school volleyball, basketball and softball teams, and have won track and field ribbons for relays, dashes and long jump. In my college years, things began to change. My focus shifted to work, academics, and relationships-with very little time leftover for an exercise routine. Besides, running on the treadmill is a long shot away from the feeling I got from playing on a team or competing with others on a 200-meter sprint. Also, I could’ve joined a local recreational team but I’m a shy person (true story), so entering a new environment where everyone already knew each other was more than a little daunting.

Ironically, that’s exactly what I ended up doing in the Winter of 2010-11 when I realized that I can either continue down this path towards tons of health problems, low body image, and feeling crappy in general, or I can make a new lifestyle choice and stick with it. U-Jam came into my life after I spent an initial 2 months on an elliptical trainer, because at that point I was so overweight that it was taking a painful toll on my lower back and knees. I found out about U-Jam from doing a Yelp search on fun things to do in my neighborhood and saw that they offered classes at the Apple campus where my husband works. After losing 20lbs by myself, I began attending group exercise classes every other day. Little did I know that that first brave step into a U-Jam class (I’m shy, remember?) was a giant leap into a new and improved version of me.

(2)   What has been your biggest fitness/nutrition challenge so far?

I’d probably say portion control and going easy on (but not completely eliminating) certain types of foods. I still struggle with it sometimes because I love food so much. However, there are times when my body make signals to pull back and that’s when I would crack down on my consumption of too much and/or unhealthy foods. Thankfully I am at a point where if I overindulged occasionally, I know that I can burn it off during my workouts. But I still make continued efforts to be conscious of how much I eat and what I eat.

(3)   What’s U-Jam? How long have you been doing it for?

U-Jam Fitness® is a pre-choreographed cardio dance fitness class that combines world beats with urban flavor. Students are lead through songs from around the world, from Bollywood to K-Pop to Latin America and beyond. It was started over 3 years ago by founder Susy C. Marks and her DJ husband Matt Marks. Besides just the workout aspect of it, U-Jam has a strong sense of community where each person feels like they are part of one big family.

I stepped into my first class over 2.5 years ago and was promptly greeted by the instructor and made to feel welcome. I find this detail to be such an important part of the program and one of the many reasons people get hooked during their first class. I enjoy doing U-Jam because it’s such a positive force in the fitness industry and it is friendly to all backgrounds and fitness levels. I really liked the fact that you can choose your intensity level and would feel supported to do your best even if you can’t keep up at first. I appreciate that I may have the most terrible, horrible day but just one class can easily turn my frown upside down

(4)   What is your advice for people who have yet to try U-Jam?

You don’t have to be a dancer to do U-Jam. You don’t have to have a sense of rhythm to do U-Jam. You don’t have to be coordinated at all to do U-Jam. You do not have to look like Barbie or Ken to do U-Jam.

Only requirements are:

  1. Be yourself and be able to let go of any self-made limitations that you may have prescribed yourself (see above list). You’re allowed to be yourself and that’s kind of awesome, right?
  2. Have fun! In order to do that, you have to have a sense of humor, as this is something new that you’re just learning. No one knows these moves starting out and we all thought we looked ridiculous at the beginning. People learned the moves from coming back repeatedly. The more you go, the more your muscle memory increases and you’ll develop a higher level of comfort and freedom. What you must realize is that no one is watching you or judging you because everybody’s too busy having fun with their workouts.

(5)   What are your top 3 tips for staying healthy?

  • Find your “Joy”. Try out different fitness formats until you find one that you really enjoy doing, but still challenges you. You may need to try it a few times just to be sure. There are so many creative and interesting formats out there now and it may be surprising what you end up really liking. People have come up to me after a class and told me that the obvious joy that I express while doing U-Jam is incredibly contagious. I don’t even notice that my feelings are reflected and best part is that I don’t even feel like I’m working out. Some people may feel that same way about running or spinning or doing TRX. It no longer feels like a chore when you love it.
  • Create a routine, prioritize it, and stick with it. I’ve found that group exercise classes are a great part of a fitness routine because it’s already a set schedule. Most gyms and fitness facilities have classes surrounding normal work hours and during lunchtime, so you can map out a plan. The bonus is that if you go often enough, the instructor and the regulars will get to know you and keep you accountable for going to class.
  • Eat well and you will feel well. It’s that simple. I’ve occasionally gone on sugar bans (mostly bans on processed sugar) to take back control of my body from the endless cycle of sugar rushes and sugar crashes. It takes a lot of discipline at first, but you end up feeling so much better after your body adjusts to not using sugar as a crutch.

If you’re interested in trying U-Jam Fitness or want to know more, feel free to email me at

Or better yet, come try out a U-Jam class at BMI Fitness in Santa Clara. For more information, check the class schedule on the website:‎ Here is a special offer for a free class for FIRST TIME guests to try.



Thomas Ngo, RD, CPT
Registered Dietitian
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Facebook–The More You Ngo


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dave says:

    Congratulations Sophia. It’s uplifting to hear your story and hope you’ll inspire more to find their joys in fitness.

  2. Michelle says:

    Sophia, you are always so lively in class its hard to believe you were maybe shy. Your story is truly an inspiration to all. See you in class. Michelle

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