by Selena Beattie
When Sarah Thompson and Jamie Rigby moved back to Ottawa from Vancouver a few years ago, they had no plans to open a cycle studio. The couple, both teachers who were returning after several years away, had fallen for The Dailey Method’s barre workouts and wanted to bring the concept to the Ottawa community. Community is a word heard often in any conversation with the pair.
Sarah had first discovered Jill Dailey’s workouts through DVDs and then fully embraced the method while taking classes in Vancouver, where she said the studio “was like my home, it was the only consistent community that I had.” When the couple decided to open their Ottawa studio, they knew that creating that type of community would be their main goal.
Locating in the Glebe was a natural choice, because it has the community feel they wanted to cultivate and was where they also wanted to live. While The Dailey Method is a franchise, each studio owner has a lot of freedom in how they choose to run their business. New business owners Thompson and Rigby were fully engaged in building their studio community here for their perch on the second floor of Fifth Avenue Court after opening in January 2015.
Fast forward a few years and the studio has successfully established itself with a full roster of barre classes and a number of teachers who have followed in Thompson’s and Rigby’s steps by either training in California with Jill Dailey or with Thompson here in Ottawa. Their bright airy space was attracting a steady flow of students, in the early days mostly women, and Thompson and Rigby were learning the ropes of being small business owners. And then opportunity knocked (so to speak) on the door. Or more precisely it knocked next door.
They considered adding a second barre room when the space next door became available. But The Daily Method had evolved over the last five years to include cycle classes, “so we looked at each other and said: “lets try it!” recalls Thompson. “We definitely saw a demand for cardio,” she says, noting that cycling fits with the method’s emphasis on alignment, which is hard to do in a freeform aerobics or other type of workout. With barre classes concentrating on strength and core training, adding a cycle studio offers the perfect counterbalance: a good cardio workout. And The Daily Method’s approach of ensuring proper alignment and core positioning for both strengthening and minimizing injuries translates particularly well to the bike.
Rigby explains that other spin classes tend to be either a party atmosphere or super strict. They take an approach between the two – closer to the focus on alignment, without any moves that are likely to lead to knee or other joint injuries, but still with fun music and lights. “If you aren’t in proper alignment” explains Thompson, “any movement can lead to injury.” Rigby renovated the space himself and was the studio’s first cycle instructor. They invested in the best bikes they could find (so riders get really accurate data to track their workout) and are careful to ensure that all of their students have proper alignment. So the class is fun and challenging for both non-cyclists and hard-core road cyclists looking for an alternative in the winter months when they can’t get out for a long ride.
While initially barre classes attracted mostly women, many of them have now introduced their male partners to the studio through the cycle classes, growing the studio community in new and positive ways. It turns out some of the guys are seeing the benefits of the barre approach as well. Rigby was one of the first converts. He jokes that he used to make fun of Thompson’s small little weights and micro-movements. “I remember thinking: ‘you’re not even working,’” he says, until he tried to keep up with a barre class and realized how tough it could be. “You’re working a lot of the stabilizing muscles as well,” and he found it also helped his balance, especially for surfing. Now they are seeing more and more men, especially in their 50s and 60s, realizing the benefits of the barre classes. Their older clients remark on the difference it makes on balance and stability in their everyday lives.
“We get a total mix,” Thompson says of the students. “Our primary focus is that we want you to feel like it’s your home. We found that an overwhelming number of people feel like it is a community.” Most clients are members, since it is the most reasonable price point, but she loves that “in this community we have been so embraced.” We wanted to be very respectful of other businesses around us and not open right next to a competitor. She says they aren’t worried about the opening of new gyms in the neighbourhood because there is something for everyone, with their focus on small classes i.e. a maximum of 25 for barre and 19 for cycle. “If I had masses of clients, I wouldn’t be able to know their names. That’s the beauty of having a small studio.”
As the weather turns colder and the prospect of pedalling into a cold headwind becomes less appealing, more students will come back to the cycle classes. Sarah Thompson and Jamie Rigby have structured their memberships and course packages flexibly because they want to have for their students and community an offering that will suit most needs. There are options for barre-only, cycle-only and full access rates, with either monthly, unlimited class memberships or class-packages to suit those who come often or those who want to spread their classes out. They also offer a student discount and have on-site childcare for weekday classes at a very reasonable cost.
Selena Beattie is a Glebe resident, artist and writer who writes occasionally for the Glebe Report.
To put their claims to the test, I tried out a barre and a cycle class.
I’m unsure what to expect when I arrive at the second floor of Fifth Avenue Court on a Sunday afternoon for my first barre class. It has been many years since my childhood ballet lessons and I’m imagining a room of super flexible ballerina types. Instead, Sarah greets me with a smile, offers a pair of non-slip socks and gives me a tour. The studio is bright and airy with large windows and a soft cork floor, and there are convenient lockers in the lobby for valuables, and a nice change-room and shower area. I select a mat, ball and small hand weights (wondering how I’ll possibly get a workout when they are so light) and settle in. The other students are not at all the ballerina types I was worried about – a mix of ages and body shapes, in yoga or workout gear, some who seem like regulars and a couple of other newer students.
Moriana leads us through a quick warmup and then we are into the strength work, which is much closer to pilates or yoga than the ballet routines of my youth. There is music to set the pace, but the moves aren’t choreographed. I have no trouble following the exercises as everything is clearly explained, demonstrated and counted down. We do a lot of work on the mats, strengthening core, leg and arm muscles, and some work at the barre, with several exercises using the ball squeezed between thighs to concentrate the work. And those weights? I’m soon glad I didn’t go for anything heavier and am definitely feeling the burn.
A week later I rouse myself in the dark for a 6:54 a.m. cycle class. This is the only time my schedule permits, but I’m tired and not sure I’ll be able to keep up. While a barre class was a new experience, a spin class is even more daunting since I am not a cyclist. What’s more, the spin classes I’ve seen at other gyms all seem super-loud with an instructor yelling at the students like a drill-sergeant. When I arrive I help myself to a pair of cycling shoes from a cupboard stocked with a range of sizes and I notice that there are several pairs in each size and they are new and clean. Hailey helps set me up on my bike, carefully measuring and making sure my seat and handles are properly set for good posture and alignment. The studio is the opposite of the airy barre room – it’s dark, with enough light to see myself in the mirror and Hailey up front, but otherwise feels cocoon-like. Despite its cozy size, it’s not stuffy, with big fans providing lots of moving air. The other students are truly a mix: roughly an even number of men and women, some older, some younger. And then we’re off. The room is dark, the music propelling, and Hailey leads us through a series of challenges – endurance, climbing, sprinting. She seems to know every student by name, calling out encouragement or a joke, and hopping on an empty bike from time to time to give us some extra words of motivation, a far cry from the drill-sergeant I was afraid of. By the time we get to the cooldown I am exhilarated. Not only did I manage to keep pace but I’m feeling light and energized and even got a few shout-outs from Hailey who, yes, remembered my name from the moment I walked in.