Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019 issue.
It’s 4:45 a.m. and Jillian Keaveny is walking down a hallway lined with old photographs. The Beatles and Annie Lennox and Bruce Springsteen stare down, welcoming her to the reality of her dreams like a sports cheer tunnel. In tow she carries her controller and laptop, which she’ll set up on the Red Rocks Amphitheater stage sitting at the end of the hallway.
But before she steps out to the multi-thousand person venue, she pauses, wondering about the legends on the walls, many of them her idols, who’d performed there before her. Did they have sleepless nights leading up to their shows, too?
“I get emotional even thinking about it,” Keaveny says, referring back to that day — her first time DJing at Red Rocks. It was 2016 and she’d spun music for River Power Vinyasa’s annual “Yoga on the Rocks” event. “Of course I was super obsessive planning that set and the whole thing, thinking it’s got to be the best. But it was so,” she pauses, “beautiful. The sun, watching people move, them just loving it and hearing the music … it was beyond.”
Pursuing that sense of “beyond” — the extra energy that’s released when complementary forces combine, á la concept of a whole being greater than the sum of its parts — is what Keaveny, 34, is all about. For her, the equation is simple: add the right music to a yoga or fitness experience, and it’s like nailing the right code to a locked door.
Add the right music to a yoga or fitness experience, and it’s like nailing the right code to a locked door.
“The music element, it’s not just background noise; it’s not the dominating force. It’s this special in-between. You can really play off the emotional part of the fitness or yoga experience with a music complement, and that’s what I’m obsessed with,” she says from the couch in her new multi-dimensional fitness studio, Compass, which she co-opened in Denver in early 2018 with three other fitness instructors. “When you hear music and notes and rhythm and beats, you can start to see where it intensifies and where it falls, just like when you move your body. It’s the same thing.”
Since becoming a yoga instructor in 2010 and learning to DJ in 2015, Keaveny has cultivated a relationship between the physical and the sensory, reading and mixing energies in yoga flows or HIIT-style workouts like she would remixed songs. But, her love for the weight and comfort of sound started long before that. “My dad died when I was 16, and my connection to him was through sports and music,” she explains.
Now, in addition to teaching her own yoga and fitness classes, she collaborates with other teachers to create specialized music sets — inquiring about the class’s theme, the message students should take home, what peak postures or cycles the class will build towards. Then she DJs the sets live during class.
“She’s a well-rounded person in terms of knowing the behind- the-scenes of sound, and also teaching classes,” says Phil Galaviz, program director at SoundOff Colorado. “So she can easily bring both worlds together.”
Since 2015, Galaviz and Keaveny have been co-producing silent disco versions of fitness and yoga classes using SoundOff’s technology. Students receive their own headphones and Keaveny speaks into a microphone that channels her voice and music into everyone’s ears.
“Immediately with the technology I was like, holy shit. This is a game changer for the experience,” she says. “You know when you’re in a studio, especially with mirrors, people’s outfits, thinking ‘what is she doing?’ It can be distracting. Part of the experience is tuning that out — that’s part of the work, but I do believe the headphones take care of that layer, and now what else are you able to focus on?”
For Keaveny, it’s just another way of digging deeper and going further into an experience. “I’ve taught classes of 250 people [using SoundOff technology] and after they come up and tell me, ‘Jillian I felt like you were talking directly to me.’”
Since fusing her passion for music, yoga and fitness, Keaveny has instructed and DJed at world-class events like Wanderlust and the GoPro Mountain Games, not to mention Red Rocks. Some classes are upbeat and energetic, while some are grounding and rejuvenating. “I’ve got to hit that range,” she says, and while she’s a planner at heart, DJing live classes has helped her grow more comfortable adapting on the fly.
“There are two things that bring you to the present moment, and it’s movement and it’s music. They bring a sense of now. I hear this now, I am moving now, and everything else sort of goes away,” she says. “For someone who lives in their head so much — I am constantly processing and looking at myself, looking at the worlds — it’s two things that can cut that in a good way and bring me to the present moment. You can’t work out all day every day, there’s got to be another outlet.”
Photos by Jordan Quinn Smith and Julia Morgan.