It’s been one year since our DanceBody team showed up at City Hall, to demand that NYC boutique fitness studios be reopened. Looking back, it was well worth it.
In times of crisis, stress can feel like a marathon for the body and mind. Your physical and mental health are inextricably linked. Ironically, having to close down NYC boutique fitness studios for a year during the pandemic contributed to that weight of stress for everyone, especially women.
There’s a great quote by Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel:“Bad companies are destroyed by crisis.Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”
I’ve experienced difficult times before, as the female founder of a small women-owned business in NYC - it comes with the territory - but nothing put me to the test like the pandemic.
March 16th, 2021: One Year Ago
As we came up on the one year anniversary of group fitness studios being mandated to close down due to COVID, there were endless email chains floating around between studio owners discussing how to be heard, the majority of whom are women-owned businesses. As all other businesses began to reopen, (like gyms!) it felt like such an extreme oversight by city officials to forget about a female dominated industry, especially in its respective boutique fitness birthplace, New York City. We were mandated to close on March 22, 2020, and still, one year later, we had no timeline, no plan, no mention of the possibility of being reopened. On top of that, we were given very little aid to get us through, certainly not enough for an entire year. It was clear we had to step up and get heard.
I coordinated with fellow studio owners Amanda Freeman, Kari Saitowitz, Debra Strugo Frolich, Pamela Brown, and others. Together, we organized a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 to protest for our reopening. Amanda, CEO and Founder of SLT and Stretch*d, asked if I wanted to speak at City Hall. I jumped at the opportunity. I quickly crafted some words with the help of my co-founder, Courtnay, and memorized it accordingly (thanks to those years of acting classes). I spoke to our forgotten industry, one dominated by women and needed so desperately in this time— not only for our physical health, but for our collective mental health. On a date so close to Women’s Day, I thought, how could we celebrate women without noticing our small businesses were endlessly treading water, going unnoticed?
I informed my whole staff that we would forgo our weekly all staff meeting in favor of a flash mob at City Hall. And of course, my team showed up with their dancing shoes on, alongside mayoral candidate at the time Eric Adams. We all felt intuitively we had to be there. But it wasn’t just us who felt the need to speak up. Representatives from NYC boutique fitness studios SLT, Fhitting Room, Yoga Spark, Y7 Yoga, Rowhouse, Body by Simone, Solid Core, and Align Brooklyn all showed up. Amazingly, one day after we protested, Governor Cuomo ordered that we were allowed to reopen our doors at a 33% capacity, effective April 5, 2021.
Whether it was an oversight or simply another political play, we had been heard and it made all the difference. The price of being heard was our time, and it was definitely worth it.
One year later, as mandates have dropped altogether in NYC, we’re in a completely different place– in some ways. Our business will be forever changed by the pandemic, but our reopening was the first step in a long journey.
Our time spent protesting at City Hall a year ago was a fight worth picking, if not for my own self respect, for the fact that our voices were indeed heard– an incredible concept. It was such a quick result, filled with immense satisfaction, being told we could reopen just the next day. We never expected that outcome, but getting it with such speed reinforced the importance of speaking about what’s important. We can’t fight every battle, but we can rise to the occasion when there’s a rare opportunity. When something matters, it’s always the right time to speak up.
As a female founder of a small business, people depend on me, but before I can take care of those around me I have to take care of myself first. That’s always rule number one. I’ve known that I need a clear mind and a strong support system of friends and family I can lean on to get the best results from myself. Fortunately, I’ve had that throughout the pandemic.
Now that DanceBody, and other NYC boutique fitness studios, has been reopened, we once again have that “third space” to go to, outside our home life and work life, to keep ourselves truly healthy. Movement isn’t just about our physicality, it provides a much needed relief mentality. The mind can only sit and think so much. Moving your body helps to solve problems, processes emotions, and gives your brain the happy chemicals it needs to continuously be strong for those that need us most, including ourselves.