NEW YORK (AP) — When Janet Jones was laid off from her job as a financial assistant two years ago and hit rock bottom, inspiration struck.
The former Miami Heat dancer decided to create a women's-only workout with a safe space to let loose with girlfriends, listen to hip-hop and rap music, curse, even scream.
She called it the "Vixen Workout."
As a woman, "you need some type of release," says Jones, who has a 5-year-old daughter.
"And you're not a bad mother for thinking that, you're not a bad wife, you're not a bad anything," says the 33-year-old Jones, who is based in Miami but also leads workouts in New York and other cities. "You're going to be a better person, in turn, to your family, if you are the best version of yourself."
Jones' business grossed nearly $1.5 million in its first year, popularized through Instagram and word of mouth. Her classes have expanded nationally and fitness concerts in Miami and New York, which hosted nearly 500 women each, sold out in just hours.
The workout has a nightclub vibe, complete with low lighting, strobe lights, foggy mirrors and the sounds of Beyonce, J.Lo, Busta Rhymes and other high-voltage singers. The moves and music Jones selects are meant to empower women, making them feel like stars, she says.
At each class, Jones and her dance assistants ask the women to scream such phrases as, "Yes, I'm fierce. Yes, I'm sexy. Yes, I got this!" Jones reminds them to live their lives with intention and to always reach for more.
And then they dance.
Jones teaches a repertoire of dance numbers choreographed to the newest hip-hop, R&B songs and house music. Her Vixen Army, as she calls her following, is encouraged to show up dressed in tights, funky T-shirts and sneaker wedges; their hair loose, lips painted and their girlfriends at their sides, ready for night-out-on-the-town excitement.
"It makes me feel good, it makes me feel sexy. It makes me feel energized," says Jessie Diaz, 27, an admissions counselor from Harlem who started doing the workout in December with a group of 15 girlfriends.
The classes have spurred big changes for Teena Marie DiBartolo, 25, who travels nearly three hours roundtrip from the Bronx to midtown Manhattan to take the class with her mother, Mayra DiBartolo, 53. Teena Marie has lost nearly 50 pounds since she started doing the workouts in October. More than the weight, she says, the positive messages have helped her see herself in a new way.
"It's definitely made me more confident, and inspired me to, as the slogan says 'Stay hungry, live fierce,'" says DiBartolo. "I was so shy if you had met me a year ago, but it sparked something in me. It motivated me to reach higher."
Classes cost $15 in Miami and $18 in New York for hourlong sessions. Each week, nearly 2,000 women show up to take at least one of the many classes offered in Miami; New York; Hoboken, New Jersey; Chicago; and Los Angeles.
And as word of Vixen Workout spreads, so do plans for expansion, Jones says. Up next: Texas.
"It needs to be worldwide," she says. "I feel like it's my responsibility to even try to change a speck of what a woman feels about herself."