After founding DanceBody in 2013, Katia Pryce began 2020 with the urge to make things a bit more digitally savvy. She had no way of knowing that within a few weeks online workouts would become the key to survival for any boutique fitness business — but her dance-based workout class, with locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Miami, was one of the earliest pivoters into the world of at-home workouts at the start of the pandemic, making things that much more ready to succeed in this landscape.
Pryce, founder and owner of the business, made the decision to close her studios as she was boarding a flight back to New York on March 15. During the early days of lockdown, she and the company’s chief operating officer, Courtnay Mariani, ventured to the NoMad studio to film live classes for the streaming platform. But for the most part, it’s reminded her of the early days of her career in fitness.
“It’s really been a crazy wild ride — I’ve just been nose to the ground, getting everything done,” she says over the phone. “It’s basically like 10 years ago when I was a solo trainer — instead of running a company with 40 employees, now, it’s back to me.”
Throughout the pandemic, Pryce has experimented with models to motivate people to exercise from home: 30-day challenges, a mix of prerecorded classes and live virtual classes, and this Saturday, the company will host two live classes for free on its streaming platform. The goal is to make boutique exercise more accessible when, arguably, many are desperate for some movement.
“Keeping yourself accountable is very difficult to do, especially at home. Now it’s like the age-old problem we’ve always had about getting to class has been compounded with not being able to leave the house and actually physically get to a different place where you can get in the right mind-set,” Pryce says. “To be fair, any on-demand fitness content is fine for the moment, but it gets stale pretty quickly, especially with generic music. It’s just not the same as an in-class experience.”
Since mid-June, the DanceBody team has been in the Hamptons full time, where Pryce is able to hold in-person outdoor classes. She’s looking to extend them beyond Labor Day, the usual end-of-season market, as more and more Manhattanites plan to spend their fall out East and are able to workout outdoors while the weather holds.
“People are just so happy to be working out with each other again,” she says. “I mean, it was so long in quarantine that I think people are just so happy to work out together.”
Pryce, 36, grew up in Detroit dancing, singing and acting, and moved to New York 12 years ago with a single suitcase and hopes of being on Broadway.
“I moved with no place to live, no place to work and just absolutely knew that this is how you do it. When I got to the city, obviously that was not the case — you audition all the time, and I was working in [several] restaurants,” she says. “And then I found boutique fitness, which in about 2009, 2008, was really in the very beginnings of the boutique fitness [trend].”
She trained under Tracy Anderson, among others, before developing DanceBody, after coming to the conclusion that in the midst of all the planking and tucking, what people really wanted was to dance.
“I didn’t think that was really a thing: as a dancer, you just do it intuitively and you don’t think it’s hard and it’s something that naturally happens, especially when you’ve done it since you’re young,” she says. “What I found is that most people want to dance, but have never tried it. And as an adult, trying anything new, whether it’s a musical instrument or a new language, it’s very, very overwhelming and very daunting and you don’t want to feel like you suck at it.”
It’s that intimidation about dance that stops a lot of people from trying her classes.
“People are like, ‘Oh, I’m not a dancer.’ All that means is, ‘I’m inhibited and I don’t want to look like an idiot,’” she says.
But she’s noticed a shift during the ongoing stretch of lockdown across the U.S.: people are more willing to dance like no one’s watching, because, well, “no one is.”
“I think people being quarantined at home and knowing they’re not going to be in a boutique fitness class, where they don’t have to wear the cutest outfit and they don’t have to come in with their makeup done [has motivated them],” Pryce says. “People are at home, people are more willing to try new workouts, especially dance. You actually can try to dance without feeling like, ‘Oh, I look foolish or someone’s watching me.’ Which is wild, because trust me, no one’s watching in my classes because no one has time. Everyone’s just trying to swim.”
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