One of the things that initially motivated me to start working out was fitness classes. While I would eventually enlist the help of a trainer for a short while and could sit on a treadmill and bikes for extended periods of time, there was something alluring about taking a step class with a group of other women. Or a Zumba class. Or a kickboxing class. But when the gym I was getting my class fill at ended up closing, I realized that I would have to branch out to feel the burn. I got a reasonably priced gym membership in the interim. However, classes offer you the option of feeling the burn in places you know you wouldn’t even bother with when trying to freestyle a routine at the gym.
Just recently I signed up for an intro ClassPass membership deal to be able to check out boutique offerings for a reasonable price. But even before I took my first class, whether I was jumping on boxes in CrossFit, riding in cycling classes, bending over in yoga or toning in Barre at the full price, I realized that I was often one of two, or more likely, the only Black woman in such classes. I didn’t think too much about it until I had a conversation with a friend who had just gone to a “ratchet” twerk class (ratchet was in the title) filled with White women. She felt a way about it.
“I was the ONLY person of color in that class,” she said. “The teacher was Black and everything, but there we were in a room full of White girls trying to dance to ‘Formation.’ I couldn’t take it.”
It wasn’t the first time we had a conversation like that. A dance studio around the corner from her job offered all sorts of booty-bouncing classes that she was the only Black woman in. I’d gone to African dance classes at the Ailey Extension and been maybe one of five Black people in a sea of White faces doing West African moves. May I also add, these people were doing these moves in Kente cloth they found from God knows where. Such has also been the case in Beyoncé-inspired dance classes and any other offerings that have seemed Black in the slightest. It wasn’t until a Black female instructor after a class pretty much said she didn’t know where all the Black women were and why they weren’t coming that I even thought to ask the question. Why aren’t we, more Black women that is, being seen in studio fitness classes?
I see plenty of Black women in the gym all of the time. And when I was a member of a local all-women’s gym in Brooklyn that offered classes and was affordable, I would mostly be among women who looked like me. But then again, it was affordable, with classes being included in your $25-a-month membership.
With that being said, I wonder if the costs of a lot of these fancy boutique classes is what keeps many of us at our local gyms and out of the studios. Remember that CrossFit class I previously mentioned? Well, as much as I liked trying it, I couldn’t afford the recurring membership price of $225 a month. A five-pack of classes (so only being able to attend one class a week in a month) to that cycling studio cost $150. Ten classes at that Barre studio, which also offered yoga, was $200, so I bounced after my two weeks of unlimited classes for $25 deal expired.
And while paying $20 to $30 for an intro class doesn’t sound terrible, what happens if you want to keep going? The prices can add up. Maybe that’s why I see more Black women checking out fitness events for free, like the community yoga class I often take (while costly classes during the week might only feature two Black people), or the $15 boot camps led in the park by popular Instagram fitness enthusiasts. I don’t think many of us aren’t interested in these types of studio classes, or that we can’t afford them (we spend a pretty penny at the hair salon alone). But I do think we would prefer to spend our money elsewhere.
But maybe it’s not the costs. As my friend also pointed out, maybe it’s the way these studios and their classes are marketed. When it comes to classes here in NYC, if you type in the name of a popular studio, chances are, you’re going to see a website with images of white women punching, stretching, posing and flexing. And for some, looking for a good fitness class they will feel welcomed in is like looking for a good school at a college fair. If I’m going to spend the money on the application fee and give you $20,000 for tuition, I need to see some type of diversity in this here brochure. But the truth is, what is often shared as the possible class experience is what you get when you actually step on a rooftop or in a small studio. It’s trying to work up a sweat alongside women who look nothing like you, taught by a woman who looks nothing like you as well. That could also be a deterrent.
And what about the clothing, equipment and all of the extras needed for some of these places? Gloves and wraps for the boxing gym. Towels and straps for yoga class. Studio wraps for the consistent pounding your feet take in dance classes. Not to mention that the cost of a good sports bra, pair of yoga pants or cross trainers is high. And can we talk about the transportation, time and energy it takes to get to these studios, often situated in wealthy, anything but diverse areas?
But I’m saying all of this without a conclusive answer as to why the studio group fitness class scene, booming here in New York and in many other cities, always seems so bereft of color. Maybe you’ve found something that feels more inclusive that others don’t know about. Maybe you prefer coming up with your own routine at the gym with girlfriends or at home in front of the TV. Maybe you just don’t want to spend more than $100 a month on something that’s not a necessity to you. Whatever your reasoning, I can respect it — as long as you’re being active somewhere.
Images via Bistock