In April 2021, as I’m writing this piece, COVID-19 vaccination campaigns are rolling out. Depending on where in the world you are located, it may feel as if the end of the global pandemic is in sight. As a home studio owner and itinerant workshop presenter, I’m operating fully virtually at the moment. California, where I live, opens up officially on June 15, 2021. Theoretically, I will too.
As challenging as it was to shut everything down in March 2020, the way forward presents yet another hurdle. Pre-pandemic, I taught private lessons all day long. Mid-pandemic, my teaching has migrated online. I am now on the cusp of being fully vaccinated. Even so, I am ambivalent about returning to in-person teaching.
What will my business look like on the other side of the pandemic? I’ve been hearing a lot about a “hybrid” model, but there are still so many unanswered questions. Such as:
The Pilates community has been wrestling with closures and protocols for over a year, so I reached out to a couple of my colleagues for some inspiration and best practices. Jennie Groom and Carmen Lanteigne have experienced multiple closures of their studios since March 2020. Rathke is the owner of Studio Flo Pilates in San Diego, California, a full-service Pilates studio that in pre-pandemic times offered a full roster of classes and the occasional private lesson.
Lanteigne operates Aligned Pilates, a boutique studio in the Canadian town of Edmonton, Alberta. Since 2016, Aligned Pilates has offered self-directed “AP” classes modeled on the way clients worked out in Joseph Pilates’ original New York City studio.
Pre-pandemic, Studio Flo Pilates offered Mat, Reformer and Tower classes, circuit classes, prenatal Pilates, barre, and ballet classes, for a total of six to seven group classes per day. In March 2020, Groom closed her studio in compliance with California’s stay-at-home orders.
Upon reopening her studio for the first time in June 2020, Groom improved ventilation by opening the large windows of her studio. She added a temperature check station at the front desk and eliminated the comfy seating in her reception area to discourage pre- and post-class socializing. Expanding the classroom space to utilize the full footprint of her studio allowed her to adhere to guidelines for physical distancing and continue to teach group classes, albeit at a reduced capacity.
In July 2020, the studio was forced to close once again. When she was able to reopen the studio for the second time, in October 2020, Groom kept the same protocols from June while also shifting her focus to offer more private lessons. Class attendees could also form a ‘Pilates Pod’ with three to four of their family members or friends and take class together.
The 2020 holidays ushered in another closure. In January 2021, Studio Flo reopened for private lessons only, with group classes starting again in March. Currently, the studio offers one or two group classes per day, with mask protocols and social distancing in place, as well as private instruction. Studio Flo clients were already used to changing their own springs and straps, reducing the need for close contact or extra sets of hands on the equipment.
“As a result of the challenges posed during COVID-19, my clients have become more courageous in their workout, more kind and more independent,” Groom says.
Canada’s vaccine rollout has lagged behind its neighbor to the south, the United States. Like Groom in California, Carmen Lanteigne of Aligned Pilates also experienced multiple closings and re-openings of her studio.
Aligned Pilates has been operating under Canada’s Stage 1 guidelines, which allow only one-on-one training indoors. (The chilly Canadian climate was incompatible with operating outdoors.) By the summer of 2020, Lanteigne could only have three people in her studio at any given time. In January 2021, she closed the studio to all but one-on-one training and encouraged students to maintain their fundamentals at home with Pilates Mat exercises.
Currently, Lanteigne continues to offer her AP classes, in which students work out autonomously in a community of other self-directed Pilates practitioners and under the supervision of a roving instructor, using a rotation system. This allows the studio to take advantage of a hybrid-style of learning in which clients take turns working out in-studio on the apparatuses, while their classmates participate virtually via Zoom on a big-screen monitor. This way, everyone gets to experience the benefits of an energizing group class while also complying with local health orders.
Lanteigne doesn’t have a guidebook for the best way to navigate emotions and policies during such a challenging time in our industry. “I’m trying to be super kind to myself,” she says. “No one has been through a pandemic. Sometimes you have to throw out the plan and be adaptable. It’s just like teaching Pilates: sometimes you have to walk away and pick another fight.”
In the past Studio Flo had some success in using ClassPass. Groom has decided the cons outweigh the pros: a moderate amount of increased revenue doesn't deliver the kind of integrity necessary for long-term customers. The success she’s realized in maintaining her studio over the last year has taught her that her business could survive without deep discounts.
“Their Pilates work!” says Lanteigne. “The [clients] learned to train before the pandemic, and that has remained the same.”
All Pilates businesses are not the same, therefore their collective re-emergence post-pandemic will look different for each individual studio. As for me, I’m still ensconced in my virtual bubble. I’m cautiously optimistic about my clients returning to in-person instruction. I’ve found a new tribe of Pilates diehards who met the challenge of taking their Pilates lessons online with me. We’ve been through so many changes over the last year, so many Pilates Mat workouts, and so many tests of our resilience. Many clients are curious to discover what their new Mat skills can do when they get back on the apparatus. I’m excited for them!
What are you most excited about as studios reopen? Let us know in the comment section below.