Health

How to Find and Support a Diverse Workout Spot: We Asked These Black Fitness Studio Owners for Tips

“Actions speak louder than words. Anyone can make a statement on social media."

Boombox co-founder Angela Jennings. Photo courtesy of Boombox Boxing Club.

The protests that began over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police nearly a month ago have sparked public discussions about racial injustice and police brutality. On a corporate level, companies have felt the pressure to not only publicly commit themselves to the Black Lives Matter movement, but to disclose the racial demographics of their employees. And many of those groups that are lacking in Black employees or employees of color have public committed to increasing staff diversity.

One of the corporate sectors where you can see this happening is the boutique fitness world—just take a look at recently released statements by companies like SoulCycle and Barry’s.

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Boutique fitness has been predominantly white throughout its existence, say Black fitness studio owners in the DC area. “The studio fitness, boutique fitness community is terrible when it comes to inclusivity,” says Gerard Burley, who owns the Petworth studio Sweat DC. “Like, most studios are very, very much okay with having 20 white female instructors and just saying, ‘Alright, that’s fine.’ ”

Burley opened his studio three years ago to create a space where everyone—regardless of race, size, sexual orientation, fitness level, or gender identity—could feel welcome. “If you weren’t a skinny white girl or a white dude with a six-pack, it didn’t talk to you,” he says of his previous experiences in boutique fitness spaces. Burley is intentional about his hiring practices and the groups he markets to, he says, and tries to engage folks who may not typically seek out a fitness studio by participating in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Fit DC campaign as well as mentoring returning citizens.

Shayla Cornick, who owns the DC-area fitness group Cycled!, says that because many of these larger boutique fitness brands are so white-dominant, a lack of diversity or inclusion often just becomes ingrained in boutique fitness culture at-large. 

“If there’s all one type of person and they’re not being inclusive or having insight into how other people might feel or react to certain things, like, for example, being the only Black person in the class with all white people and the instructor is white and is playing songs with the N-word in them, they might not realize how that comes across or how that might make someone feel,” says Cornick. “If they aren’t challenged on that or if they don’t feel the impact of that—if people don’t stop going—they continue to do those things.”

It’s also difficult to attract a diverse clientele when you haven’t made an effort to have a diverse staff, say Angela Jennings and Reggie Smith. The duo owns Boombox Boxing Club, a boxing studio in Navy Yard that aims for inclusivity in both its employees and customers. “The people who are on the team need to look like the clients that you’re trying to attract,” says Jennings. “Even if you came and you may have enjoyed the workout, [if] there was a sense of not belonging—you may not go there again.” 

So what to make of the big brands that have publicly vowed to tackle inequality? Well, to start, these local studio owners hope they actually show up. “Actions speak louder than words. Anyone can make a statement on social media,” says Cornick. “But if you go back to your studio, if they go back to their studio and it looks the same and the culture is the same and there are no actionable changes that are happening—they were just words.” 

There are all kinds of ways for customers to be intentional about supporting inclusive brands and advocating for diversity in the places they already frequent. To start, take the time to research Black-owned studios, and call out inequality when you see it, says Burley. “Maybe notice when you’re like, ‘Hey, there’s no Black people in this room and there are 70 spin bikes here. Like, what’s going on?’ Noticing those spaces and then maybe even talking to the manager and challenging the manager.”

And continuing to have tough, uncomfortable conversations around access, social justice, and representation is integral: “We have to challenge it,” says Burley. “I think if we’re going to make this world a better place, we have to continue to have that conversation.”

If you want to be intentional about the fitness communities you support, here are some Black-owned studios in the DC area. (Make sure to confirm which services they’re offering during the pandemic.) This is an in-progress list, which we will be updating. Don’t see your favorite studio below? We’d love to include it! Please email mmontgomery@washingtonian.com.

Cycled!

Shayla Cornick owns this fitness group, which hosts indoor cycling, barre, and yoga classes and has locations in Silver Spring, Capitol Hill, and Takoma. The group is currently offering virtual classes and bike rentals.
6960 C Maple St. NW; 405 8th St. SE; 1110 Ripley St., Silver Spring

Boombox Boxing Club

Angela Jennings’s and Reggie Smith’s Navy Yard boxing studio combines cardio and strength exercises set to a playlist-driven beat. The group is currently offering virtual classes.
1221 Van St. SE, Suite 140

Sweat DC

Gerard Burley’s strength-and-HIIT workout studio in Petworth is currently offering virtual classes as well as outdoor bootcamps.
3232 Georgia Ave. NW, Suite 105

Bikram Yoga Works

In addition to hosting yoga classes, the group, which is owned by Kendra Blackett-Dibinga and her husband, Omekongo Dibinga, also offers cryotherapy, pilates, and barre. The group has local studios in Ivy City, Riverdale Park, and District Heights.
1510 Okie St. NE; 6202 Rhode Island Ave., #200, Riverdale Park; 6417 Marlboro Pike, District Heights

Pies Fitness Yoga Studio

This group has two studio locations in Alexandria, and the owner Marsha D. Banks-Harold emphasizes inclusivity and accessibility in its curriculum (the group’s signature class “My Body Don’t Bend That Way” is for folks who are unfamiliar with yoga or have physical limitations).
374 South Pickett St., Alexandria; 33 South Pickett St., #200, Alexandria 

Rulz Fitness

This Upper Marlboro spot offers workouts via belly dancing, Zumba, yoga, and strength training. And the owner Marie James will also provide private belly dance classes for events, too.
14324 Marlboro Pike, Upper Marlboro

Sidebarre

This pop-up barre studio doesn’t have a permanent location right now, but the group, owned by Maya Dennis, Jillian Carter, and Alexis Miller, is streaming online workouts. 

Hard Training Club

Terrence Mann owns this boxing spot in Adams Morgan, which also offers strength training, bootcamps, and yoga.
1726 Kalorama Rd. NW

Embrace Yoga

Yogi Faith Hunter owns this Adams Morgan yoga studio, which hosts a variety of flows and meditations, and is also streaming online classes.
1650 Columbia Rd. NW

Fit 4 Polers

This Alexandria pole-dancing studio owned by Nicole Vee offers pole-dancing and pole-fitness classes, as well as cardio workouts. The group is also streaming online workouts.
2304A Huntington Ave., Alexandria 

Cut Seven

The husband-and-wife duo Chris and Alex Perrin own this Logan Circle HIIT-and-strength studio, which is offering virtual workouts as well as outdoor bootcamps.
1101 Rhode Island Ave. NW

Pole Pressure

The pole-dancing group helmed by Devon Williams has a 14th Street location, as well as spots in Richmond and Texas. The group hosts pole-dancing classes, bootcamps, and stretching workshops, and is currently hosting virtual classes.
1322 14th St. NW

CH Fitness & Performance

Founded by US Olympian Cara Heads Slaughter, this gym offers Olympic-style weightlifting coaching and conditioning.
607 S Ball St., Arlington

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Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Associate Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. Her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Petworth.

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