Editor's note: “On the clock” is a Ball State Daily News series profiling Ball State students and their on-campus jobs. If you have any suggestions as to who we should feature next, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kamryn Tomlinson, The Daily News’ assistant features editor, and Taylor Smith, a Daily News reporter, are students in Immanuel Simon’s Rec Fit class.
Every Monday and Thursday at 5:30 p.m., senior acting major and Rec Fit instructor Immanuel Simon flips on the ceiling fans in RC 212B and starts his cardio hip-hop class. Feet tip-tap across the wooden floor while songs like “Just Fine” by Mary J. Blige and “Proud Mary” by Tina Turner echo through the room.
After forty-five minutes of intense swaying, sassy hips and stark arm movements, nearly all eight students and Simon are shiny with sweat. As Simon leads the class through final stretches, he asks how their days were. Varied replies come from the circle of criss-crossed legs and panting chests — most students say, “Good,” but some say, “So-so.” Simon listens intently before offering his own comment.
This particular day was tough, he said. He is tired, but this class is what motivates him and gives him strength.
Then, he asks his students, “What are you guys scared of?”
The dance room is silent for a few moments. The class is slower to respond to this question.
Eventually, Simon told the class that shooting for their dreams and overcoming their fears is the only way to move forward. One could hear a pin drop as Simon talked about never having too big of dreams and how his students should never be afraid to fall while shooting for their dreams.
When asked what he is scared of, though, Simon said he fears never achieving his own dreams. Though this fear lives within him, Simon pursues many different avenues to ensure he achieves his dreams of becoming a performer and entertainer.
“I'm an actor, I'm a singer and I'm a dancer. I want to be a talk-show host,” Simon said. “The big goal is to be able to be a creator, make money off of my creations and also have people remember my creations as something bigger than myself.”
In addition to teaching cardio hip-hop and being a part of Ball State’s Theatre and Dance program, Simon also juggles being a member of Black Student Alliance, running an Instagram campaign to try to convince Ellen DeGeneres to let him host the show with her and helping his friends with their various projects.
Among all of Simon’s responsibilities, he said, dancing has always remained at the core of who he is. Growing up in New Orleans, Simon expressed himself through African-style dance in church from a young age. Those early beginnings led him to a creative arts high school where he focused on musical theatre, dance and hip-hop.
“Since I’ve been alive, I feel like I’ve been dancing,” Simon said. “[It was] not even a question [in my life] — movement and dance. People say, ‘I can't dance.’ Maybe I can't dance well, whatever that 'well' means, but you can dance.”
So, when he saw an opening for an on-campus job as a Rec Fit instructor in fall 2017 for a cardio hip-hop class, Simon said, he knew it would be “up his alley.” The hiring process involved an interview, an audition with a few dance routines and a cool-down song and a shadowing process with the instructor at the time.
Eric Matcha, coordinator of fitness and wellness programs, first met Simon in August 2018, and he said Simon is one of the most highly praised instructors Matcha has had.
“He has great energy, a great personality and always comes to class with a great attitude,” Matcha said. “He works multiple shifts a day on some days and is still always on time for his classes. He is always willing to sub classes and work extra events on top of his own classes as well.”
Each instructor can run their class differently, Simon said, but his class is fueled by his passion for music. Simon thinks of the history of hip-hop in the streets of New York when he dances, as well as issues brought up by groups like NWA who felt the police were using their power to oppress minority groups.
Proud of the diversity and voice he brings to his Rec Fit class and Ball State as a non-binary black person, Simon said, he takes pride in the fact that not everyone is doing what he is.
“The essence of what this class is — I’m doing this for action. It’s a call to action,” Simon said. “I go off of emotion and also feeling how I feel in that moment, how I feel that day … I live in the moment. [I say], ‘This is the song that I feel like doing, this the song that I think needs to be in the room at that time.’”
Junior early childhood and special education major Natty Good danced in high school, and Simon and his cardio hip-hop class helped spark her interest in dancing again in college. Now, she takes his cardio hip-hop class, a Zumba class and joined the belly dancing club.
“His class always makes my day a lot better,” Good said. “After we cool down, he has everyone lay down and close our eyes, and he does his little motivational speech with a song. It’s one of the best things ever.”
That same speech is the one where Simon dwells on and thinks about his dreams each week. Right now, he said, he dreams of leaving Ball State with an artistic legacy, but, of course, his fears still linger.
Ultimately, though, Simon overcomes these fears by practicing self love and grace for himself. If he messes up, he forgives himself, and if a task makes him happy, he finds a way to take it on. He does it all for a reason — he believes it helps him grow.
“Each thing is a lesson in the work that I want to create,” Simon said. “If I'm choosing to do it, it's because I think it's going to help me, and it can help someone else.”