From Mary El Pearce. Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp[AT]borderstan.com
I haven’t done pilates since college, so when I signed up for a class at Fuse I was pretty nervous. I knew I needed to give it a try because my core is pathetically out of shape and bikini season is swiftly approaching.
I didn’t know what to expect because Fuse is a different kind of pilates studio. This is apparent the moment you log onto their website — fit, lean urbanites doing all kinds of crazy poses on a jungle gym, in front of Ben’s Chili Bowl and other DC locales. Mariska Breland is the head instructor and developer of “fuse” pilates, a method that includes yoga and non-traditional exercises set to music.
But the most interesting element of fuse-style is that no class is choreographed. Rather, instructors take requests from students before each class and arrange the exercises around them. Listening to the testimonials of Mariska and her partners, Roxanna Hakimi and Sormeh Youssefieh, Fuse Pilates may be the greatest form of exercise for the modern professional.
While I can’t say I did a good job (my abs trembled for an entire hour and I was the loudest breather in the class by far), I can say that I didn’t give up, and I have to give props to Mariska for her music choice (never heard any of it before, but the beats were quite motivating) and her patience with each student. Although my abs – and gluts, thighs and even ribs – hurt for days afterwards, you’ll see me back there again.
I sat down with the three owners to learn more about their studio and the business side of the operation.
Borderstan: Why did you decide to open your own studio?
Mariska: A couple of years ago I got laid off from my creative directing job, so I did teaching more. Rox had taken one of my classes and Sormeh was related to one of my students, so we began talking. There’s a lot more gratification in doing this, helping people be healthier, than being in corporate America.
Roxanna: I had stopped working after I had kids, and I knew I needed to get back into business, but I didn’t want to start at the bottom. Starting my own business was the best. We were all in the same place, needing to have our own thing going.
Borderstan: How did you get into Pilates?
Mariska: I got into yoga first, and I got into Pilates to get better at yoga. I didn’t have the core strength to do some of the stuff I wanted to do. I didn’t like Pilates at first because it was very regimented and was always the same, but I was good at it.
Fuse is a lot less boring. You’ll never take a class that was the same as another one. When you teach on request you have to access that encyclopedia in your brain of how to work muscle groups. The exercises aren’t made up, but the choreography is spontaneous. It’s much more fun to teach it that way. You get more results faster, you don’t plateau. It’s where people want to be now — building long, lean, flexible muscle and not so much bulk.
Borderstan: How have your lives changed since you became small business owners?
Roxanna: It’s been challenging, and home has suffered slightly. I need to give my time here right now. My kids asked for a baby for Christmas, and they got this!
Sormeh: I have two other businesses, so I have six kids! We didn’t close our eyes and jump into something we didn’t know about. A lot of people get into business with no idea of how it’s going to work. We knew that Mariska had followers.
Borderstan: What’s the biggest challenge of being a small business owner in DC?
Mariska: I’ve cried because of the DCRA (Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs). Do your research in advance and know what forms you need.
Roxanna: It got to the point where we’d walk in and they’d call our names out. “You’re back!” It’s tough being a woman going in there. They think we don’t know what we’re talking about, but we managed to make it seem like we knew what we were talking about quite well. You have to go in with confidence. If you have any questions, they will crush you. If you have a time constriction, forget it. There are expeditors that will do this for you. They charge you a pretty penny, but it’s worth it.
Mariska: There are things about DC that are annoying for everyone, and then there are annoying things that might not be so bad. The south Dupont Metro exit is closed for eight months, and we’re on the north side. That’s not so bad in terms of having people find us accidentally.
Borderstan: What advice do you have to anyone wanting to start a small business?
Roxanna: Do your research. Talk to other people who have started new businesses. Get your ducks in a row and go for it.
Sormeh: You cannot not have money and get into a business.
Mariska: Plan on it taking a year to find your perfect location. A lot of people now are trying to get realtors out of the process to avoid realtor fees, so a lot of great properties are being advertised on Craigslist. The realtors were nice, but they never found us anything we wanted.
You don’t go into a business thinking it’s going to fail. You have to go into it thinking it’s going to be a success. It’s more gratifying when you’re doing work to benefit what your dreams are. But starting a business is not for the faint of heart.