At the end of a recent Body Conceptions class in NYC, a room full of sweaty students took a deep breath together. As John Legend's “Love Me Now” started playing, the grins started growing as Sara, the high-energy teacher, silently led the room through fluid stretches and slower grooves. When she turned the lights back on, everyone looked more calm...and ridiculously happy.
And that, says Body Conceptions (BoCo) founder Mahri Relin, is a huge part of her mission. Even though she grew up an avid and accomplished dancer, the Cape Cod native moved on to studying psychology in college. But when she noticed she was dancing every spare second, she took a leave of absence and headed for the Big Apple... just for one year, she said. That year turned into many, and Relin spun her adventure into a successful career in musical theater. Just when the industry was beginning to lose its shimmer, an audition for Tracy Anderson Studios (TAS) led Relin to her next steps. After learning about dance cardio and crafting a class at the studio, she then worked as creative director for the just-emerging FlyBarre. Crafting its manual and developing material added to her expanding knowledge base.
Eventually she knew she wanted to create her own killer workout, blending just the right amount of dance cardio with a strong focus on sculpting. Most importantly, she was set on creating a fun, nurturing environment for her clients and staff alike. She clearly succeeded! Read on to hear how she made it happen.
SBS: Before creating BoCo, you worked for two awesome brands. What did you learn from TAS and FlyBarre that you still use today? What aspects are different?
Mahri Relin: Tracy’s method was always really creative. It spoke to my love of music, and I could dance in a fitness class while gaining great results in my body. That excited me. It also showed me you could personalize training through creativity to work toward the client's best body. Then, FlyBarre added that barre component, which was amazing for me. I responded to using dance principles and positions to make the muscles change in new ways. My thighs were sculpted in a new way!
My biggest departure from Tracy is that my focus on sculpting is much heavier. Plus, I wanted more simplicity in the cardio. Instead of creating long dances, we offer units of cardio: eight counts of twisting and eight of jumping jacks. Then we put it together! I wanted any student to be able to step into class and get the most out of it, dancer or not. And I wanted more dynamic movement than the Flybarre.
SBS: What makes BoCo stand out amongst the class options in NYC?
MR: We focus on sculpting moreso than the typical dance cardio classes here. Our signature class weaves cardio in and out, but we want to make sure the muscles are strengthened, especially around the joints. We work with physical therapists for a secure knowledge base, and we're also uniquely focused on pregnancy. All of our instructors are trained for pre- and post-natal work.
SBS: Why do you focus on pregnancy?
MR: Being able to exercise during pregnancy is key. Some women need to stop, and that's totally fine! But some women simply don't internalize the necessity for exercise during pregnancy. Others overdo it. So we find that middle ground. A huge part is abdominal strength, prepping for birth, as well as after. A lot of clients have said they feel stronger during pregnancy because of working with BoCo.
SBS: How did you go about creating your approach when you decided to branch out on your own?
MR: I take several years to really think about a change and a big idea. During those years I talk to people, take advice and observe things around me. So once I take action, the idea is fully formed. I was also lucky to be part of programs that were on the younger side. I was able to see how programs can be developed, and also what I'd do differently.
Of course, actually doing it is always different. Writing the manual, for example…I was lucky to have gone to graduate school where you do a lot of manual writing! But when I was dealing with my own work, I really wanted to articulate each thing. My manual is really long as a result!
Then, I decided that right from the start, it was important to be as communicative as possible, to really listen and hear what their needs are. You have to have your ears and eyes open. Learning on the job is huge.
As for the method, I spent a lot of time testing it out with clients. I'd try different things, get their feedback and modify accordingly.
SBS: How can someone who loves dance cardio enjoy it healthfully, especially if it's high impact?
MR: We have to be careful of repetitive stress, and that's why I want my classes to be varied and include more sculpting. In that same way, I believe in cross training. Then, when you start hearing your body telling you it has had too much, respect it. Maybe seek out physical therapy or massage to maintain balance. Self-care is key, no matter how you exercise.
Then, when you take a class, if you feel anything that doesn't feel organic, pay attention to that. Your body has to feel good. Also, note how your instructor interacts with the students. Are they watching the students and offering corrections? Do you connect with the instructor? Find a class and instructor you love!
SBS: The BoCo team has such an awesome sense of community and support. How can a leader create that?
MR: First, we defined it as part of our mission and it's importance that everyone know that. Then, we focus on hiring the right people. Our audition process is long; including a class, group interview, reference checks and mock teaching. When we are in a big group, I'm paying attention to how and if they're supporting others. Are you warm? Are you supportive? Then, I find out what each instructor is good at and emphasize that in front of others. That's to create support, not competition. That way they can value eachother and appreciate eachother for their unique strengths.
SBS: What are your tips for dance cardio newbies?
MR: Go to class early, and let the instructor know you are new. Or, I encourage you to reach out to the company to talk to them! I get calls like that, and I'm happy to walk them through it. Be proactive. But most importantly, be nice to yourself in the class. Don't expect to be perfect. Let go and enjoy. Know you’ll get better at certain aspects like coordination each time. Plus, if you go to same instructor you will get to know their patterns.
A Taste of BoCo:
-First, link these BoCo cardio moves together…
Add an eight-count shuffle to the right with two jumping jacks and two ponies.
Complete the sequence three times through, and then do a full eight-count of high-knee runs before repeating this whole sequence to the left!
-Then, for an upper body killer…
Start in a plank. Do four small push-ups followed by four sets of alternating hand touches to the opposite shoulders. Follow that with four walking push-ups (going down to the forearm and then back up to the hands. Start on the opposite arm with each rep!). Try doing two full sets. Take a breath…then do another two full sets!
-Finally, to hit that lower body…
Go into a parallel lunge. The back knee should be bent, stacked below the hip. Pulse eights times in this position, then complete eight twice as slowly. Then, lift the front heel and repeat the pattern. Do the entire circuit before changing sides. Engage your abs the whole time, and place your hands either on your hips or you hold two-pound weights in your hands, held to the sides or above your head. This will challenge your balance and coordination!
Marhi’s Top Five Songs Right Now...
The Universe, Lush and Simon (Radio Edit)
Catch My Breath, Kelly Clarkson/Cash Cash Remix
Scared to Be Lonely, Martin Garrix
How Will I Know, Sonny Vice Remix
Rhythm Inside, Loïc Nottet
Mahri’s NYC and CO Favorites:
Healthy Restaurant: Peacefood
Splurge Restaurant: Nobu
Calming Activity: Sound Bath at Ashta Yoga
Fitness Studios: The Dailey Method in Boulder and Denver
Fitness Apparel: Athleta
Fitness Shoes: Asics
Nightlife Activity: Seeing dance at The Joyce or BAM
What’s the best, zaniest part of being you? My high-octane schedule! I zip around all day working out with my clients, running to meetings and making sure I make time for friends and loved ones. I also try to take dance class whenever I can! I think I exhaust people just by telling them what I manage to do each day. But it’s the way I like to combine work and play…and make the most of my life!
Mahri’s SBS Mantra: “Be Kind.” So much can be gained by putting ourselves into the shoes of others. The more we realize we all have the same desires and needs, the more we’ll also appreciate our differences and treat each other with a fundamental respect and kindness. I try to connect to this every time I train a client, and one of the biggest missions of my business is to make everyone walking through our doors feel like they’re supported and appreciated…even while we’re making them work extremely hard.