Billy Blanks Jr. was ready to throw in the towel. After years of pouring blood, sweat, tears — and all of his money — into the workout program he’d created with his then-wife Sharon, the son of Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks was broke and living in a motel next to the 24 Hour Fitness where he and Sharon taught classes. “We were homeless,” Blanks, 44, tells OK!. “I decided I was going to quit teaching and go work in a restaurant.”
That very day, students gathered around him at the gym to tell him how much he was helping them. “People started saying that dancing with me was their therapy,” he shares. “At that moment, I knew I had to keep fighting.” Here, the Talent Recap host and creative director, who’s dad to 17-year-old Elijah, talks about his life-changing appearance on Shark Tank, his new Dance It Out app (which is set to launch this month) and stepping out of his famous father’s shadow.
Tell us about hitting rock bottom.
I was at the free continental breakfast at the motel with my son, and I thought, “I’m failing as a man. I’m making $30 a class. I can’t do this anymore.”
In 2012, you made a deal with Daymond John on ABC’s Shark Tank. How did that affect you?
I’m so grateful for Shark Tank. Daymond and Mark Cuban have both been incredible. It was a game-changer.
What inspired you to start Dance It Out?
When I would teach for my dad, I’d start doing dance moves and he’d get mad. It wasn’t serious enough. I was like, “Well, I’m sweating the same amount and I’m smiling.” I wanted to create something that’s beneficial to people but also feels good.
What was it like growing up as the son of a famous fitness instructor?
It was rough. He wasn’t the most supportive father and there was a lot of pressure to do what he did.
How did you carve your own path?
Paula Abdul used to go to his studio. She took me aside and said, “Your family is never going to understand you. Stick by my side.” And she mentored me. She’s always been there for me.
Are you and your dad on better terms these days?
After Shark Tank, he reached out and said he knew he’d been a bad father and asked for a chance to do better. I was able to forgive him. Since then, he’s been great.
What’s your advice for people looking to get into better shape?
Just start moving. Dancing can help you mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. It can change your life! You need to work out at least three times a week if you want to see benefits.