Part of the reason I opened this space was to offer something to our community that is rarely found in other places and spaces dedicated to fitness, wellness, dance, or yoga—a space that is inclusive of all bodies and identities not just in word, but in practice. I wanted to bring my particular approach to yoga and movement, which is queer—unconventional, radical, inclusive, trauma-informed, creative, and “deeply rooted in truth, love, and justice,” as Jacoby Ballard describes (and as I quote in part 1 of this blog). There are many ways to be queer, and one way is to challenge gender binaries and social and cultural norms of all kinds.
Many gyms draw strict gender lines with offerings for men and women, reinforcing stereotypes that weight rooms are for men and group fitness classes are for women. Locker rooms where you have to choose to identify as “man” or “woman” will likely feel unsafe if your appearance is gender non-conforming. Some yoga classes offer a certain pose variation “for men” or “for women” and reinforce binaries of gender. The music used in a lot of classes reinforces heterosexual narratives about love and romance and stereotypes about men and women (and boys and girls).
Further, many group fitness classes are populated by people who are thin and already “fit” and fat bodies are conditionally welcomed into that space if they want to lose weight, as if this is the only goal of moving one’s body. The messaging in and around group fitness is largely about losing weight—about changing your body to be more “fit” or “healthy,” which ultimately means more socially acceptable. But “fat” is not just a physical weight we carry; it is often related to trauma—the psychological weight we carry. And narrow cultural norms reinforce the psychological weight that queer people, and all socially unacceptable people, carry.
Before opening The SGC, I taught fitness classes for over a decade at a community non-profit where I did not feel comfortable being out (and I taught fitness classes elsewhere for many years before I was brave enough to consider myself queer). I was discouraged from including “political” messages in my classes and promotions for classes. I taught a program where I was required to use music that often had lyrics that I found to be offensive to women and to reinforce stereotypes related to race and sexuality. But it was deemed “clean,” and context was ignored. Still, being in my fat body, leading a class, was the least I could do to push back again one of the norms of fitness spaces. More than once a new participant walked right past me to talk to the thin woman they thought must be the instructor. Too often, we are unaware of the limited scripts we participate in on a daily basis and most gyms and fitness centers prefer not to have these societal corsets pointed out.
One of the worst examples from this past teaching gig is something that happens all the time in mainstream/corporate America. One day I walked in to the facility to witness a large, masculine person teetering around in high heels and “acting” like the female CEO because he had won the honor of “CEO for the day.” The staff filled the lobby as everyone laughed and cheered for this offensive display, which was probably considered to be a light, fun team-building activity. I felt extremely uncomfortable as I passed through to teach my class and imagined what it would be like to be trans and witness that display. I debated for weeks about whether I should say something to my supervisor or just let it go. I still regret that I let it go.
So, opening The Spiral Goddess Collective is also an opportunity for me to be more brave, more open, and more in line with my values. This is part of “the potential for queer identity,” what Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore describes as “the radical potential to choose one’s gender and one’s sexual and social identities, to embrace a radical outsider’s perspective, to create a culture on our terms, and to challenge everything that’s sickening about the dominant culture around us.” The Spiral Goddess Collective embraces a radical outsider’s perspective.
Despite a name that is feminine, and perhaps makes people wonder if men are allowed to attend classes and events at The SGC (the answer: of course they are and they do!), our space is pushing up against the boundaries of the norms of fitness spaces as well as the norms of social justice movements. The Spiral Goddess is not just a symbol for women—it is an archetype that informs what we birth into the world, how we use our energy, how we treat ourselves and each other, and how we connect our inner and outer worlds.
Feminine qualities and values like collaboration, compassion, empathy, nurturing, and flowing are seen as weaknesses. Women are expected to work out to get hard, but not too hard. To be thin, but still curvy. We compete against ourselves as much as the other women in the room. And, women and femme people of all genders, have been excluded, abused, and threatened in fitness spaces (and the larger culture), to say the least.
Men are made to feel like they have to be stereotypically masculine (competitive, linear, logical, assertive, independent, controlling), which just adds to the problems of our patriarchal world and the mental health problems of men, women, and children and everyone outside of these gendered categories. Individuals are forced to choose one side of the gender binary or to push back as non-binary, both of which can lead to violence against ourselves and others.
At The SGC we embrace the radical, political meaning of queer and practice radical acceptance—we invite you to come as you are and to discover that you are so much more than you’ve been allowed to be. We invite you to start healing your wounds so that we might also heal the systems and structures that cause these wounds. Transformative healing happens form the inside out and the outside in. When we move our minds/bodies together, we are stronger—we are a collective of power and potential!
In my yoga training, one of the mantras we rely on for guidance is “letting go of competition.” We often follow this up by saying: “letting go of competition with ourselves and others.” Sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves when we compete with our own expectations and judgements. (We also let go of judgement and expectations!) And we can make our friends and community members into enemies when we see them as competition. We will never be as beautiful, as thin, as strong, as successful, as whatever as the person standing next to us. But we also never know what they are struggling with in their life. Yoga teaches us that it is best to tend our own garden and to let our neighbors tend theirs, but this mindset is in direct competition with American culture!
When I first started to ask myself if I could open a yoga and dance studio, I almost shut myself down before I started because I was afraid of the competition. I knew I would have to compete with the Bangor YMCA where I have taught a variety of fitness, dance, and yoga classes since 2010 (and left because I was told that I am not allowed to talk about The SGC at the Y). I knew I would have to compete with the long-established OmLand, only a few doors down from my new space at 16 State Street. I knew about a few other dance fitness opportunities, like Sunshine's Zumba and Jill's Beyond Bold Dance Fitness. (I love dance fitness and I love that we have a growing number of options in Bangor, including my new neighbor offering classes on the 3rd floor starting in January--Dirigo Dance Fitness.)
When I came across Eye Candy Dance and Fitness, I almost ran away from my dream. "A place where you can feel empowered to be yourself," Eye Candy's tagline, articulates what I have offered in my academic and fitness classes for as long as I have been doing this work. And belly dance fitness and empowering women—these are two things that have been staples of my work in the world of dance fitness. How could I complete with sexy, trendy classes and savvy social media?
Each time my internet research revealed another “boutique fitness” enterprise that I did not know about, my doubt grew and I told myself that I was crazy to think that I could do this—that I could be a business woman, that I could have my own space for the kinds of fitness/dance/yoga classes that feed my soul and inspire me to make the world, and my community, a better place.
But then a few things occurred to me that set me on the path to pursue this dream of The Spiral Goddess Collective, a Center for Mind/Body Movement:
1) While there may be competition concerning people’s time and money and the coveted post-work time slots, what I am offering does not exist in Bangor. It doesn’t really even exist in Portland. Maybe this unique space and concept I am offering does not really exist anywhere, at least not in this particular form. In this case, there is no competition at all.
2) The space that I have created (with the help of many of my friends) is downright magical. From the moment I walked up the stairs to the fourth floor, my mind started to imagine what that space could become and what I have created matches that vision with room to grow. I am confident that when people drag themselves up those four flights of stairs, they feel the lightness and positivity, the possibility of what we can discover when we move our minds and bodies and our collective mind/body. (And the stairs get easier every time!)
3) Because I believe in community, I believe that there is space for all of us. I believe that what I am offering is something that people in Bangor have been looking for. It has existed in different iterations in the past, but now is the time for it to flourish. I tried to offer mind/body movement and radical approaches to fitness/dance/yoga at the Y and was able to reach some people who might not know to look for such offerings, but it became clear that I needed my own space to push back against limiting definitions and mainstream ethics. I am honored and humbled to be able to create a space for mind/body movement, a place for community-building and radical acceptance, for self-exploration and interpersonal connections, for growth and healing—for so much more than I can imagine, and I have a vivid imagination!
4) And, finally, it has been a long road of self-discovery, self-compassion, and self-acceptance, of growth and healing and confidence-building to get to where I am today. I have never fit into the box of “fitness” despite spending 25 years teaching almost every iteration of group fitness—many that I created and choreographed. And I have struggled to believe in my gifts and talents. I have struggled with body image. I have struggled with being radical and queer in a vanilla world that wants repetition and predictability and to know how many calories they are going to burn and whether they have discovered the magical pill of weight loss (spoiler alert: there is no such thing). Today I am trying to be the best and most authentic version of myself without fear or shame, and I am inviting my community to do the same. It's not easy to push back against the messages that we receive every day—messages that tell us that we will never be good enough and fuck with our self-esteem and self-worth, to say the least.
JourneyDance was what set me on a path to believe in myself and my “personal medicine” as they call it in our training. Ironically, the CEO of the Bangor YMCA set me on this path when she told me about the online teacher training. I am grateful to her and to my time in the fitness industry. I have learned many skills and lessons and I have made them my own. I still love dance fitness, but what I have to offer is more than just fitness and I am excited to bring JourneyDance—and my eclectic, creative, intuitive approach to yoga and mind/body movement—to this space and to the larger Bangor community. I am excited to be able to bring in other talented, unique people who also have gifts to offer our community.
What we offer might scare some people away, but I hope it will attract people who are looking for something different than a workout. We offer yoga that meets each person where they are, dance that is about how you feel not about how you look, healing that goes at your pace, space and activities that nourish and open new possibilities. Deciding to approach fitness, health, and wellness from a different ideology is not easy, but it is worth it. If we practice consistently, we will start to see changes we might have thought were not possible.
Getting here is the hard part, but I am confident that once people take that leap they will return again and again because they will feel the difference that mind/body movement makes. As the saying goes, we have to feel it to heal it—to move and be moved.
And a message from our business hat: we have gift certificates in any amount and a 10-punch card for your gift-giving needs! Give the gift of yoga, movement, self-healing, and self-care to yourself or someone else who needs it. And your first class is always free!
American fitness is one of my areas of specialization. I teach a class at the University of Maine at Augusta on the topic and I wrote a book about it, published almost a decade ago: Women and Fitness in American Culture. Not a lot of people have read my book, but not a lot of people want to read my book because it requires that we face the myths of American culture that promise that if we work hard enough then we can have whatever we want. The reality is that no matter how hard we work, there are some things that just won't be available to us because of biology, or social structures, or the limitations of time and space. The idealized, fetishized, whitewashed, airbrushed "perfect body" is one of those things.
So, if the "perfect body" does not actually exist—or at least if we can agree that it is out of our reach—we might think: why bother? Why am I doing all of these squats, counting all of these calories, tracking my every step, denying myself sleep and quality time with my family, and more, only to keep reaching toward an impossible goal? But it is not so much the things that were are doing, as it is the way we are approaching the things that we are doing. For starters, the more we beat ourselves up—mentally and physically, metaphorically and realistically—the less likely it is that we are going to meet even the most modest of goals, The mindset we have when we approach physical activity shapes the results, or lack of results, that we get. The language we use to talk about fitness, health, and wellness is part of the problem.
Here are some words and phrases that you will not hear at The Spiral Goddess Collective, a Center for Mind/Body Movement: shred, swole, grind, results, plateau, workout, goals, cheat day, gym, in shape/out of shape, burn it off, no pain no gain, high impact, routine, regimen, work off that ____ that you ate last night, go harder, move faster, calories in calories out. These words and phrases fit a philosophy that punishes the mind and body and sets a standard that is nearly impossible to achieve. We chase the dreams of perfection offered by products and services that will never be able to deliver what the glossy images and catchy names and taglines promise.
At The SGC there is no scale to weigh yourself and the only mirror you will find is above the sink in the bathroom and it is surrounded by positive affirmations. When we "weigh" our fitness by different measurements, when we see ourselves without the negative self-image lurking in the background, we can start to transform ourselves and our lives. We change the way we show up for ourselves and the ways in which we carry ourselves. We change the way we relate to people and the ways in which we show up for the people we love.
Every body is different and there are no simple answers, no simple solutions, no magic pills, no miracle workouts. American fitness is a sham and we have bought into it individually and collectively exactly because sometimes it works.
But if you have been riding that roller coaster of weight loss and weight gain, if you have been stuck in that perpetual loop of not enough or too much, if you have tried all the diets and specialized equipment and you still aren't happy with what you look like—then something has to change. That something is not you—that something is the larger culture that shapes these trends, but changing the way you think about yourself and the way that you approach fitness is an important start.
Here are some words and phrases that speak to our offerings at the SGC, a Center for Mind/Body Movement: mind/body and mind/body/spirit (those were obvious, weren't they?!), practice, authenticity, neuroplasticity, process, trauma-informed, balance, nervous system, functional movement, holistic, whole body, do what feels good, in the moment, listening to our bodies, health at every size, feminism, pleasure, joy, embodiment, rest, relaxation, mindfulness, contemplation, feel it to heal it, meditation, mental health, tap into your inner guide, feel, breathe, opening space in our minds and bodies.
What happens when we change the language that we use to describe our fitness routines? When we don't think about moving our body as "working out"? What happens when we change the ways we approach moving our bodies?
Now, I hate to make it more complicated, but that's what I do. Many of these words have also been morphed into the world of manufactured fitness and have been sold back to us as part and parcel of the world of American Fitness. (Stay tuned for my newest book, American Yoga Demystified!) Yoga is big business and as people start to realize and recognize the benefits found in mind/body approaches to health, wellness, and fitness, ancient practices (and modern innovations on these practices) are becoming even more commodified.
The market is being saturated with inexpensive online yoga teacher training programs (especially since covid proved that we could do anything online if we wanted it badly enough), branded yoga approaches, stylish (and expensive) outfits, specialized gear, luxury spa vacations, and more "self-care" practices that bypass conversations about responsibility, integrity, and social (in)equality. In fact the good old "perfect body" myth has been rebranded as the "yoga body," and sometimes more specifically, the "yoga booty." This is the new whitewashed, fetishized, airbrushed ideal and it is just as toxic as the old one.
So, now that we're feeling pretty discouraged, let me share some hope. We can—literally and figuratively—change our minds whenever we want to. And when we change our minds, we also change our bodies. And when we change our bodies and minds, we shift our relationship to ourselves. We learn to move authentically and to approach movement as practices rather than routines and regimens. We learn to love ourselves and to be compassionate to ourselves and this transforms the way we are in the world and the ways in which we interact with others and react to stressful situations. We learn to respond rather than react. We learn to let go of unrealistic expectations, to be in our bodies as they are, and to respect other people's bodies as they are.
Maybe this all sounds too good to be true. How can changing the way we think about ourselves and the way we think about how we move our bodies transform us? The only answer is another question: how do we know if we don't even try?