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Alicia Sokol opened her barre3 location in Washington DC after a series of career pivots. As an equity analyst, she never set out to be a fitness instructor or business owner. Through self-reflection, she realized that studio ownership meant she could fully express her values in a meaningful way. She opened her studio to help people find a movement practice that not only feels good but nurtures a supportive community.
As a kid, one thing Sokol struggled with was a sense of belonging—which is precisely why she created a place where simply walking through the door validates acceptance. Alicia's always striving to bring versatility to her community through connecting people from all different backgrounds. She's consistently motivated by what barre3 has brought to individuals—it's a challenging and effective workout, but more importantly, it's the practice of feeling our intuition and following it accordingly.
We recently chatted with Alicia to learn more about her and how she views the world of wellness.
I was slow to find joy in movement. As a kid, I shied away from sports. I don't have a competitive nature and I was an awkward kid—always picked last in gym class! A friend invited me for a run along Lake Michigan when I was in college—that was the first time I realized the healing power of movement. I felt so alive! I remember thinking: why didn't anyone tell me this was a thing? I have always enjoyed movement that doesn't require hand-eye coordination or special skills. I also tend to enjoy movement that is meditative and allows me to be in nature—running, hiking, swimming, and paddleboarding.
My career path has been a series of pivots. Each opportunity has been a chance to learn about myself. I started my career as an equity analyst at an investment bank—it was what I thought I should do with my undergraduate finance degree. I never set out to own a business. I never set out to be a fitness instructor! But through a series of asking tough questions and connecting with what makes me feel purposeful and alive, this is exactly where I have ended up.
Owning a barre3 studio has allowed me to fully express my values in a way that is meaningful to me. My studio is staffed by kind, wise people who love what we do. We are a place that instantly welcomes anyone who wants to be a part of what we're all about. I'm constantly trying to diversify our community—a wider range of ages, shapes, sizes, goals, experiences, backgrounds. Moving together helps us see that we all crave the same thing—a sense of belonging, a space to express ourselves, to be seen and heard, to know we are loved just as we are. My favorite part of my work has always been teaching barre3 classes. My studio is now 5 1/2 years old, and this is still what I love to do best.
Even though I went to business school, I never set out to be an entrepreneur. When I discovered barre3, I was working as a freelance writer and photographer and exploring a more creative path to my career. I had two small children and I knew it was time to make yet another career pivot. barre3 provided peace at a time in my life when running hurt and I needed both an effective workout and an endorphin release. I fell hard for the workout (tough), the community (kind), and the feeling of being in the studio (better—ways better!).
One of the reasons I opened my studio was to help people find a movement practice that felt good and a community that felt supportive. You don't need to be a dancer. You don't need to be fit or flexible. This workout is truly for any human body. As a kid, I struggled mightily with belonging. I wanted to create a place where simply walking in the door permitted belonging and support. I am always so happy to hear people say, "I've never been able to stick to a workout routine, but this is the first exercise I've really loved! I WANT to do this!"—that was the feeling I was going for.
On a day-to-day basis, I'm motivated by what barre3 has brought to people's lives. Yes, it's a tough and effective workout. But more than that, it's a practice of feeling and responding to our inner voice. It's been a tough couple of years, and for most of us, it would be easier to just go numb. What we are doing in class is permitting ourselves to feel the uncomfortable physical sensations, and in doing so, giving ourselves permission to face the uncomfortable mental work of being human. We all need that. We all struggle at some point. I love to see our community members find love and acceptance of their bodies just as they are. Diet culture has made it difficult for us to do that, and it puts us in a state of constantly trying to change and improve. I love to see people stand a little taller and become more confident in who they are.
I also love to hear when people have been able to use their voices more effectively because of the work they are doing in class, which is all about listening to one's own voice. Over the years the studio has been open, my clients have developed the courage to ask for a promotion, leave a toxic relationship, come out as gay, apply to grad schools, start new businesses, and so much more. When they connect the work they did at barre3 to the courage to do those scary things? Chills. Every time.
To me, wellness is a continuum rather than a destination—kind of like "balance.” It takes constant attention and continued work. There is no getting there and staying there. When I was younger, I thought of wellness as something that was much more physical—staying active, getting enough sleep, eating nutrient-rich foods, enjoying some treats. But now I see wellness as much more complex—the mental component is substantial.
I have also noticed that when the mental health piece is off-kilter, it impacts the physical! I discovered that when I had a pain in my back "for no reason"—oh, there was a reason. And it had nothing to do with the mechanics of my body and everything to do with sorting out some stressors in my life. That was a serious a-ha moment for me. I am the mother of teen boys (the hardest work I have ever done!) and I think it's important to show them how I process emotions in a very real way. Even just saying "I'm feeling frustrated right now because ___" or "I'm sad because ____" or "I'm angry right now, and I need to _____ to deal with my anger." It makes everyone uncomfortable, to say the least. But I hope they are taking note somewhere deep in their brains and seeing that being able to recognize, sit with, and process our emotions is at the core of our mental health. There is no ticket to overall wellness without that.
If you’re in the DC area, you should definitely check out Alicia’s barre3 location to help you advance your wellness routine. Not in the area? No worries—barre3 offers live stream studio workouts that can be done at home. Or find a studio near you at one of more than 150 locations sprinkled all over the US (in cities like Seattle, New York City, and Austin—just to name a few) and Canada. They even offer a complete virtual membership for folks who prefer to work out at home—so everybody has a chance to get that barre3 experience they are known for. Ready to lengthen and strengthen with Alicia and her team? Book barre3 classes on the Mindbody app.
February is Black History Month—a month to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans in society. Inclusivity in wellness has been a topic for much discussion, especially as of late. We are taking this opportunity to continue to shine a light on the gap of inclusivity and diversity in our industry, and take action to promote, empower, and honor the Black community that shapes and grows wellness.
We celebrate the inspirational Black voices in the industry—and right here in our wellness community. “No matter how woke you think you are, we all have biases. So, it’s good to be aware of what our individual biases are, and what we can do about them,” says Sunil Rajasekar, President and CTO of Mindbody. “Driving change is hard, especially at a society-level. It’s going to take the best brains to solve this.”
In recent years, a wave of Black fitness entrepreneurs have stepped in to create a more inclusive landscape within the wellness industry. How can we all make sure we are all putting an effort in to make sure we promote diversity in this space? Well, for starters, we can support their businesses.
Whether you’re ready to try out a calorie-torching HIIT class or find your moment of Zen in a yoga class at the end of a long workday, odds are you’ll be able to find a Black-owned fitness studio that suits you.
We’ve put together a comprehensive list of Black-owned fitness studios that should be on your radar:
Align Brooklyn is a boutique wellness studio offering mindful practices including yoga, Pilates, barre, HIIT, chiropractic, and nutrition to increase your functional vitality. Align Brooklyn is owned by a chiropractor, who specializes in sports injury and performance—making them able to provide clients with the highest quality fitness and wellness science available.
Owned by celebrity trainer Kelvin Gary, this studio is focused on functional fitness—the kind that helps you live your life better, faster, stronger, and more efficiently. As functional trainers, they believe that every body is different and cultivate fun and dynamic workouts that emphasize teamwork and cooperation. Classes start at just $18.
By incorporating resistance training mixed with some cardio components, BURN has developed and designed a unique fitness concept unlike any other studio in the Dallas area. Their innovative approach promises to not only challenge your physical abilities but your mental capacity as well. Currently, online and in-person classes are available starting at just $20 for a drop-in.
Offering a unique mix of fat-blasting cycling classes, toning barre classes, and strengthening yoga sculpt classes, CYCLED! Studios located in Washington, DC and Maryland has something for everyone. They are currently offering socially distanced indoor classes (masks required), outdoor cycling rides in Takoma Park, and virtual classes all starting at $25 for a drop-in.
E.F.F.E.C.T. Fitness is a premier physical performing arts facility located in the heart of Atlanta. By balancing fitness and creativity, their techniques will inspire you to commit to your overall health and wellness goals. They offer numerous types of fitness classes including bootcamp, interval training, cycling, and personal training sessions. Classes start at $25 a pop.
If you’re looking to find your calm amongst all the chaos going on in the world, then consider HealHaus as your one-stop-shop for peace and serenity. Right now, they are offering virtual yoga classes in the styles of Vinyasa and Restorative for $10 per class.
At Harlem-based HIIT studio, JTW Fit, they know that if you are willing to put in the work, they can help you achieve your fitness goals. Their customized programs are designed to motivate and challenge you while expressing the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Are you ready to trust the process and put in the work? Good. Virtual classes start at $10 while outdoor classes are listed at $25 per session.
PIES Fitness and Yoga Studio is aware there is no one exercise program that is right for everyone, but they firmly believe there can be one fitness place that is right for “every body.” With a mix of different styles of yoga, Zumba, and belly dancing classes, their virtual schedule is jam-packed with fitness offerings that will keep you in-tune with mind, body, and soul. In-person and virtual classes start at $12.
When Teresa Ellis opened Pilates Barre and Jams, she was keen on creating a space that helped people become stronger in their bodies. Since 2008, her goal has been to make movement available and accessible to the people who have never felt comfortable walking into a status quo studio because of the fear they didn't fit the aesthetic. Her mission is to make sure her clients are always feeling good, feeling strong, and able to do functional movements pain-free. Virtual classes start at $97 for a 4-class pack.
Soho Yoga’s philosophy is that yogis of all levels should be able to experience everything that yoga has to offer. While their public heated and non-heated studio classes are currently on hold, they are currently offering a variety of classes indoors and outdoors (at the beach, specifically) that fit into any schedule. Outdoor and virtual classes start at $20.
Founded in 2016 by Shanel Anderson, Soul City Yoga is a unique community Yoga studio with locations in Lynn and Malden, MA. Whether you are just beginning your yoga journey or looking for a deeper connection, at Soul City they encourage practitioners of all levels to come flow with them in a safe practice space where diversity is celebrated and representation is valued. Drop-ins start at just $14—or if you're new, swoop up one of their 2-week intro offers.
Since 2008, Studio 34 has cultivated a community; it has offered affordable yoga classes, workshops, and art shows for those who seek healing, as well as space for wellness practitioners to provide various forms of therapy. This energetic space respects and honors all bodies–encouraging everyone to breathe and move in their healing-centric studio. Their online yoga and meditation classes are only $15.
The Fit In's mission is to make quality health and wellness accessible to underrepresented communities. They knew there was work to be done which why they set up shop in fitness deserts to provide quality fitness to underserved areas. At this studio, you can enjoy a bevy of interval training classes both indoors and outdoors. Classes start at just $25.
Whether you’re a total newbie to the fitness scene or simply just trying to take your workout routine to the next level, consider TrapFit in Raleigh your new home away from home. With a schedule full of bootcamp, boxing, circuit training, and dance classes, we’re certain you’ll find a class that suits your fitness needs. Classes start at just $20 per session.
At TRILLFIT, everyone belongs. They take pride in being Boston's original hip hop workout party and believe that fitness should be fun, inclusive, and set to the illest soundtrack. Ready to squad up and make it TRILL today? Classes start at $20—and they even have an intro offer available for new students!
Looking for more businesses to support? ClassPass has also created a list of Black-owned business to check out all year-round. While both of these lists are a great start to get you familiar with many of the Black-owned businesses either in your neighborhood or around the globe, we have only scratched the surface. We'd love to keep these lists growing. If you have any businesses you'd like to see on these lists, click here to submit a Black-owned business we should be highlighting as well!