On March 15, 2020, Andreina Febres was teaching a fraction of her regular students in her popular Zumba class on Sunday morning at the Flying Studios in Oakland. The Bay Area was two days away from its first six counties, but many people were already staying home. So Febres started an impromptu Facebook live broadcast and many students joined online. The following week, with the studio closed and management not yet set up for virtual classes, Febres and colleague Adriana Oyarzun started teaching Zoom from home, helping each other with sound and music, and guiding students through Cumbia- , Salsa and samba moves from their living rooms, garages and patios.
“It has evolved into something we would never have imagined 10 months ago,” says Oyarzun. This is Making Waves Studios, which was founded last June.
Almost a year after the first round of coronavirus restrictions shut down gyms and exercise studios in the Bay Area, some local instructors have taken matters into their own hands and started their own virtual fitness business. These new studios, previously unimaginable in the high-priced commercial rental market, are making classes more affordable and accessible, and thriving where we’ve all lived for a year – online. Now that the guessing game of life after COVID-19 continues, these new companies are allowing instructors to rethink the nature and logistics of group exercise. Some aren’t sure they’ll ever go to the studio again.
With a new Making Waves website and their own online registration platform, Febres and Oyarzun, both born in Venezuela, have become business owners for the first time. Going online means relatives and friends in Venezuela can join in alongside Oakland’s regulars, but it has also added technical issues to the mix. The first time the screen froze, Oyarzun remembered crying in class. Now mishaps and imperfections are dealt with with ease. Febres and Oyarzun learned how to share music from their own computers and bought microphones and a sound mixer. “The learning curve was very steep,” says Oyarzun.
Students stay in their circles during a Zumba fitness class taught by Adriana Oyarzun and Andreina Febres on a Saturday in Axé Oakland. The couple started teaching classes practically early in the pandemic and launched their online studios Making Waves in June. Mostly online, the instructors do the occasional in-person outdoor session which is shown here.
Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
Nowadays, Making Waves teaches approximately 11 classes per week and has expanded to include yoga flow and meditation, live and recorded classes, and occasional face-to-face outdoor sessions. The studio has about 60 regular members and another 350 customers. The average Zumba class attracts between 20 and 50 students. Drop-ins are offered on a scale of $ 6 to $ 20 per class, with students paying what they can to support the business. (In the Flying Studios, individual classes before the pandemic cost $ 21.) The math works: Febres says they now earn a salary comparable to that of a “successful teacher” in a stationary studio. And since there is no limit to entry in the Zoom class, Making Waves regularly donates excess funds to organizations and organizations like the Alameda County Community Food Bank and Colors of Change, an online racial justice organization.
In San Francisco, Yoga Tree instructor Danni Pomplun has just moved into a larger work-live loft in SoMa to found Haum, a virtual yoga studio. He offers courses, workshops and teacher training. Its streaming courses are $ 10-20, less than the pre-COVID drop-in rate of $ 35 on Yoga Tree. According to Pomplun, up to 80 students can participate, with around 70% regularly going to the mat with him. In a regular studio, he says, the instructors are paid a flat fee of $ 40 to $ 100 an hour and have to fight for the most lucrative time slots. Pomplun teaches from home and does a lot more than that.
Since the beginning of his solo journey, Pomplun has invested in world class film, sound and lighting equipment. He has started to use a large television screen to see all of his students at the same time. “That’s Danni as CEO,” he says with a laugh. “I can let it go any way I want. I send texts, emails to my students – I can have real conversations with them. “
The desire to connect with customers on a more personal level was also one of the motivations behind Peri Hughes’ move to start her own online business. Hughes, a longtime Daile Method Pilates instructor, went without classes in March as the studio tried to cut costs. She already had a website, PH method, and list of private individual customers, but the pandemic and new pregnancy motivated her to create virtual classes for new and expectant mothers called Train like a Mother.
Pilates teacher Peri Hughes was unemployed during the pandemic, but when she got pregnant she motivated her to create virtual classes for new and expectant mothers.
After months of figuring out how to store video, track subscriptions, and collect payments, Hughes recently upgraded to Sutra, a new platform dedicated to scheduling, enrolling students, and other aspects of running an online studio takes care. When Hughes took maternity leave in late 2020, subscriptions to her on-demand class library helped with income. Now she resumes classes in a semi-furnished guest room in her San Francisco home, with live classes for $ 15 each and an on-demand monthly subscription for $ 20. “We have built a very nice community that emails each other and chats after class,” she says.
As of March last year, none of these instructors believed the coronavirus pandemic would last that long. Now nobody is sure what the future will be and if they will ever return to their old studios.
“The pandemic is changing the landscape of the fitness industry in the city,” says Hughes. “Online platforms will continue, but people need a connection to living people. There is room for both. “
Pomplun, Febres and Oyarzun use the word “hybrid” frequently. “I don’t think online is going away,” says Pomplun. He plans to hold small face-to-face yoga meetings in Haum in the future with an online component – a camera in the room – so everyone can participate. Febres is building a deck in their backyard to offer a similar live / online model – “a fusion of both worlds”.
The yoga teacher Danni Pomplun moved into a larger live work loft in SoMa to open his virtual yoga studio. The bright spot for him: “I can let it go as I want.”
One thing that everyone will agree on is that the appeal of a commercial, high-priced stationary studio wears off when instructors are in charge online. “Owning a studio is not profitable or you have to ask far too much,” says Febres, who briefly considered opening her own space in January 2020. “The rent is too high; I wouldn’t pay for it on principle. “
Hughes foresees a development of individual talent at the heart of fitness classes: “Perhaps studios across the board rent out to individual instructors who have their own clients and methods,” she muses. In the meantime, sweating, dancing, and stretching with popular Bay Area instructors has never been easier – or more affordable.
Flora Tsapovksy is a freelance writer based in the Bay Area. E-mail: [email protected]