Corinne Wainer is a direct but kind powerhouse who describes herself as a “Boston girl with a Maine twang.” I first met her riding the L years ago, while she was passing out cards to announce the opening of her new studio (and she remembered me when I took her class six months later… magical!).
In the past year, she’s grown an idea into an amazing reality, and this is just the beginning. In this interview, we got to know Corinne and her studio SHAKTIBARRE, the space in Williamsburg (and soon, Harlem!) where boutique fitness meets activism.
What gap did you notice in the fitness industry that compelled you to open your own studio?
My background is in educational psychology, and originally, I was focused on helping students with mindfulness. A lot of the time for kids, the definition of mindfulness is just being quiet. But that’s not being mindful, that’s being quiet. I wanted to create a studio for young girls, and started down that path, but quickly realized that the same conundrum for young girls is happening for older women. I decided to make a studio for all ages of women that in time, once built out, could incorporate my program for young girls in the same place.
The missing piece of the puzzle was how to make a fitness studio where people are interested in education and activism. What if we could take familiar formats like barre and yoga to get people in the door, but then provide a much more mindful and inclusive experience? That’s how SHAKTIBARRE was formed. The class itself is a conversation for empowering and cognitive reframing; we provide opportunities where people can go from one place to another in just a 55 minute period, instead of just working on their body.
That’s no small task. What have been your biggest challenges bringing this vision to life?
When you try to change any power imbalance, you cannot be the only person in the room advocating for it. We can provide the most accepting and diverse space for class, but then we have to have people, who aren’t usually included in the industry, also speaking up for themselves. That was one piece of feedback we received at first- that we had this amazing, diverse mission, but our demographic was still pretty homogenous. Our doors were open, but the customers we were seeking to serve hadn’t approached us in force.
Now that we are a year in and we’ve built more trust in the product, the mission of reaching a more diverse demographic is gaining steam. We are starting to have customers come to us to get actively involved in their empowerment, requesting classes for underserved groups like queer women, women of color, and morbidly obese women. Once we have an audience, we can work on providing these services and doing so with integrity.
Our sliding scale pricing model has been really helpful because it was a more immediate way to open up the dialogue on accessibility, without taking a year to build up. Right off the bat, we’re able to provide people who make less than $60,000 a year with reduced pricing. Almost half of our customers use this, so it has definitely helped us create a more inclusive environment.
What’s been the most effective way to grow your community and get the word out about what you’re offering?
Honestly, the number one way to build a community that’s aligned with your mission is to actually give people the experience you say you are going to give them, every single second. You better show up, hold the space, and give nothing less than 110% of what you promised people, because those people will spread the word on a grassroots level.
In a city like New York, it seems like people are constantly in a rush. How do you encourage your customers to slow down, so they are more present in your class and in your community?
We focus on bringing mindfulness to the interplay of rest and charge, so that people can start to make decisions about when in their lives they are going to rest and when they are going to charge rather than feeling constantly rushed, or like those periods are defined for them.
This comes up in class when we have a particularly tough series. We’ll take a moment, acknowledge that that was really freaking hard, put our hand on our heart, and have the opportunity to change the state of our nervous system before moving on. It also comes up at the front desk a lot. If someone comes running in right before class starts, we just say “Hey. Cool. You didn’t miss anything. No one died, no one’s mad. Let’s just get you in class, and you can check in after.”
Any personal tips/tricks that have helped you manage the different parts of your business and still have enough energy to pursue your mission 100%?
I’ve learned to become more cut throat on setting boundaries. I’m very compassionate and I will listen, but if a relationship isn’t nourishing me I move on. I need my energy to be safe and lovely for all the customers. I didn’t realize I needed to say no in so many areas, but now I can save my compassion and open-heartedness for my work, rather than letting negative relationships walk all over me.
I’ve also learned how important it is to not be afraid to ask for help. This is something I make super clear with the whole staff at SHAKTIBARRE. If an instructor has something going on emotionally and needs to take a day, that’s fine- it’s a version of quality control, because it allows them to always bring their best to class.
What’s next for SHAKTIBARRE?
As SHAKTIBARRE looks towards building location #2, we are curating our team, surveying students, and doing one more fundraiser. We want to show women that building their own dream is possible not just once but twice. In order to have a special place that isn’t corporate, where we can be flexible and creative in our mission, we need to have a larger percentage of equity. That’s why we’ve chosen to raise money through friends and family. We will continue to donate 10% of sales to our nonprofit YoGirls program, which will be hosted at Harlem school until SHAKTIBARRE #2 opens this spring. At that time, our youth program will become on-site at both locations!
Love Corinne’s mission and want to get involved? Visit SHAKTIBARRE in Williamsburg, or donate via the Indiegogo campaign here (currently at 40% of their funding goal- go SHAKTIBARRE go!).