A fun and safe Pilates studio for people of all backgrounds

When Ladonna Parks-Taylor and her family began hearing about the possibility of opening a Pilates studio in the neighborhood, they knew Toronto’s East York neighborhood was ripe for change — particularly if it served women and people of color.

Their star sign may have lent a cultural identity to the studio, but Parks-Taylor also sought to ensure that she found a space that reflected the diverse population of East York and others in the areas around it. The idea for Street Hard Pilates, which opened March 1, came after 18 hours in a gym, as she attended classes and ran around.

“In the waiting room, the women who work in the Pilates studios I saw through pictures were a large number of Italian and other North American women,” she said. “No one was black women, and that was the conversation.”

Parks-Taylor thought that her black-owned studio could offer participants a chance to feel relaxed and safe as they exercise, and she wanted to fulfill her vision. For one, she knew all the bathrooms in the 9,000-square-foot studio would be aimed at women, regardless of age, height or height difference. Another important thing, she noted, was the quality of the studio and the trainers. Having had training in personal training from Black Celebrity Pilates, an organization that serves low-income men and women, Parks-Taylor knew she could ensure a positive experience for people of all backgrounds.

Before starting with Street Hard Pilates, Parks-Taylor also noticed that East York “has a tendency to be more male-driven and white. And I wanted this to be an inclusive space. We call it ‘building a bridge’ to provide services to people of all backgrounds.”

Street Hard Pilates welcomes all ages, genders and races. Indeed, Parks-Taylor said the studio is more welcoming to women of all races than most Pilates studios in Toronto.

For The Capital Comment blog, Parks-Taylor and her partner, Lynne Saliba, answered some questions for us about the business they’ve opened.

How did the idea for Street Hard Pilates come about?

Parks-Taylor: The Village Center at Harbourfront opened in January 2014 with a Pilates studio as one of its retail shops. Inspired by the Village Center and its plan to bring fitness and wellness facilities to underserved communities, we thought we would do the same. From our own journey of self-care, we wanted to create a space that both the general public and those in underserved communities could enjoy, create and preserve. We felt we couldn’t have one without the other.

What are some of the biggest challenges in opening a Pilates studio, and how do you overcome them?

Parks-Taylor: From a training perspective, it’s critical to have a trainer who specializes in the specific strengths of each trainee. For those at an entry level level, I also focused on using personal training as a tool to build a strong foundation for the client by evaluating and developing the client’s core.

For our professional instructors, I made sure to create a strong mentorship base and provided time for them to share their knowledge and experience with the trainees.

What are some of the differences between the Pilates scene in the United States and in Canada? What do you think are the benefits of the difference?

Parks-Taylor: There are similarities in how the Pilates fitness market operates. However, there is a lack of experience and diversity in the market, and that’s why we made sure to take on trainers that have been training for more than five years and who will stick with the class for years to come.

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