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One of the best things about being a writer is getting out of my comfort zone. Trying things I wouldn’t normally try (haunted houses, mushroom ice cream, and leave-in conditioner, for example) is a treat. In theory, testing out fitness studios is one of my favourite things to do. But in practice, it’s difficult to dive headfirst into a group activity that other people have made into a habit.
Case in point: dancing. When I received an invite to check out the brand-new Formation Studio, I was about as excited as I was nervous. Owners Saschie MacLean-Magbanua and Roman Magbanua founded the studio this September. A most dynamic of duos, the two have been running recreational dance classes for several years and were pumped to open up a space of their own. Formation Studio offers “Freedom,” “Power,” and “Presence” classes. Freedom focuses on cardio, power on strength, and presence on choreography.
A dance class is different than a performance, but I could feel the familiar bubbling of stage fright as I laced up my running shoes. The first class I signed up for was an Ariana Grande-themed “Presence” class, and I hoped I wouldn’t be a Grande disaster.
Formation is a modern-industrialist studio space in the heart of Mount Pleasant (for the stomach-oriented, that’s next to Tacofino and across the street from Purebread). Doors open on a chic lounge area framed by greenery and Formation swag, and “connection cards” dot the central table. The cards are Saschie and Roman’s crack at encouraging community within the studio—and they totally work. Questions like “What would constitute the perfect day for you” and “What is something you want to share with others” create friendly, sometimes funny conversation between strangers (Roman’s answer to the latter was something along the lines of “philosophical conversations,” which made my answer of “shoes” feel a bit lackluster).
The back change room area is stocked with a collection of creams, hair care products and appliances that rival my personal collection (should I just relocate my morning routine here?) and three private showers line the wall. Big shout out to the tiny, trippy hexagonal tiles that make up the shower walls—it’s a cute little spot to freshen up after busting some killer moves.
Like most exercise studios, there’s lockers for keeping your valuables (phone, keys, ramen loyalty card etc.) safe while you sweat. Unlike most exercise studios, you don’t need to bring your own lock or keep track of a key. You set your own personal combination, which is super convenient until you forget which locker is yours. Hey, I make mistakes so you don’t have to—take note.
The studio itself is a dark-ish space made darker by closed blinds, but colour-changing neon lights illuminate it with party vibes. As you’ll glean from this next part, the low lighting was a definite plus for me.
I tested out two classes at Formation Studio. The first was the “Presence” class, called “Ariana Grande I,” where myself and around ten other participants learned the first half of choreography to Ari’s “Boyfriend.” The second was a “Freedom” class, which had a less structured format and was more focused on movement than choreo. I was one of four in that class (which I expected; I figure a lot of people who tear it up on Saturday’s dance floor probably don’t make it to Sunday morning dance class).
Instructor Danielle Brokopp taught both of my classes, and was joined in my Freedom class by instructor Mikaela Beldin. I could not believe the energy and attitude that they both sustained throughout the classes. While inevitably intimidated by their skills as dancers, I also felt the support and encouragement that was radiating from their mic’d up faces.
That being said, I am definitely not a dancer, and trying to groove in front of other people is not easy for me. In the Ariana class, it was easy to tell who had a dance background and who looked like a scarecrow being electrocuted (guilty). Remembering the choreo was difficult, but Danielle repeated instructions with patience and answered many, many questions as if it was no big deal. I found myself standing directly behind another individual so I couldn’t see myself in the mirror. I found this class to be physically less strenuous than the “Freedom” class, but astronomically more challenging mentally. For people with a bit more dance background (and honestly, a bit more confidence) than me, I can see this class being a great way to work out your mind and body. But for only-after-four-drinks dancers…
There’s the “Freedom” class. After getting my butt kicked by queen Ari, I was nervous try my second session. This class was run a bit more like a spin or zumba class, with repetitive moves rather than choreography. At its most basic, it’s an hour of cardio—but when you factor in upbeat jams, enthusiastic instructors and varying moves, it feels like half that. I felt a real sense of camaraderie with the other participants in the class, which seemed less like a lesson and more like a party. Rather than planting themselves in front of the mirror, Danielle and Mikaela would sometimes weave themselves between us, hyping everyone up.
I found the classes at Formation Studio to be some of the most challenging I’ve been to, mostly because I had to get over some of my own insecurities to in order to really experience the workout. I’ll run a mile any day, but ask me to bust a move and I’ll sweat more than I did running. It can’t be easy to be a fitness instructor, especially when you have to cater to participants of all skill levels. And instructor-wise, this studio has got it going on. Danielle and Mikaela somehow made a very scary workout totally accessible. I still felt a little discomfort, but isn’t that kind of the point? We don’t lift weights or swim laps or run marathons to be comfortable. We’re working towards being better, which can sometimes be painful and embarrassing. As an iconic pop star once sang, “I’m a motherf*cking trainwreck”— but at least I worked out today. Watch out, Ari.
Formation Studio16 East 5th AvenueSingle classes $25, $199 monthlytheformationstudio.com