Movement Refugee Part II
“It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.”
At the end of April, Alexa and I were forced to make a decision. It had been just over a month since temporarily closing the doors at Movement Brooklyn while the city, country, and world began fighting Covid-19. We had given up our apartment in Brooklyn and moved in with Alexa’s parents just outside of the city. But what next? We faced uncertainty around when we could legally reopen, when we would feel comfortable reopening, and how we would attempt to keep students safe. What if we had to stay closed for another 2-3 months? How would we pay rent with no income? Even if we considered a plan offered by our landlord to pause rent, and then repay the unpaid rent before the end of the lease, how would we find that money? Seeing as facilities like ours will be among the last to open, perhaps it would be even longer. And, when we could open, would there be limitations to the number of people we could have in the space? Would people want to return immediately? How would we handle having to close again if the virus peaks once more at a later date? Questions like these swirled around in our heads and were regular conversations during our walks.
We realized that we could give it everything we had to hold on to our studio and still come to the same conclusion thousands of dollars down the road. When our landlord gave us the opportunity to close our doors permanently, and avoid any penalties for breaking the lease, I remember saying, “Are we really going to do this?” Of course, I knew the answer; it was time to make a tactical move and say goodbye to our space.
Alexa and I met in 2012. She was an attendee at my bootcamp classes and part of a small group of my first regular students. The group was tightknit, and they even came out to watch me headline Caroline’s on Broadway near the end of my stand-up adventure. At the time, Alexa and I were in relationships with other people, but I realized early on that she was witty, savvy, and forward thinking; so, I always looked forward to our conversations and any ideas she had. During my initial holiday season as an instructor, Alexa was the first person to give me a gift; her homemade granola.
At the time Alexa had a car and my apartment was a subway-ride-away, so she’d sometimes give me a lift home. On one occasion we stopped at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in Bushwick to eat burritos before she dropped me off. At this point she’d been taking my classes for almost a year and in between bites she said, “So, what are you going to do next?” I didn’t know what she meant. She said that my classes were unique and popular, and that teaching bootcamp classes at a gym was just a steppingstone to something bigger. She insisted that this was just the beginning.
We arrived at Movement Brooklyn with the U-Haul early in the afternoon. The space felt dusty, cold, and unused. It had been almost 2 months since the last class took place, and in that time it had lost its glow. Perhaps my perception was a result of a protective mechanism inside, a detachment in the days leading up to this moment, but we agreed it didn’t feel alive and dynamic in the way it used to.
We wasted no time and immediately began dismantling equipment and loading the truck. Thankfully, Alexa’s brother, Chris, who works as a stagehand on Broadway, joined us and was essential in the removal of all things bolted down and screwed in. So, while Chris took things off the walls and ceilings, Alexa boxed and bagged, and I did truck loading grunt work. Many of our long-time students who knew our plan supportively offered to help, but we knew that having people coming in and out and wanting to talk wouldn’t be safe. It was heart breaking to forego well deserved goodbyes, but we were not only responsible for ourselves, but also Alexa’s parents back at the house, making strict social distancing a must. A couple of people stopped by to pick-up their notebooks and shoes, and give a masked air-hug from afar. These moments were the most heart wrenching. Many of these people had been practicing with us for years, and we’d grown used to seeing each other almost every day. They were family, and the studio was our childhood home.
When Alexa and I began dating in 2013, I’d already heeded her advice and was looking for ways to expand my horizons. We often strolled around Brooklyn talking about ideas and options. She would give suggestions and feedback, and allow me space to ramble off ideas. These walk and talks became a staple of our relationship. From these conversations, I decided to start paying for twice-a-week private movement coaching with Matt Bernstein.
Despite being a devout participant in my bootcamp classes (she once informed me that it was essential that I understand that if we ever broke up, she’d still be taking my class), Alexa supported me in walking away from my successful classes to pursue this new journey I felt drawn to. Letting go of those classes was hard for her. She had been an avid gym goer and class taker for many years. My classes were a significant part of her life, and ending them was a personal loss for her (her words). Although I had disrupted her routine, she was still nothing but excited for me and the growth I was experiencing. For her birthday the following year, she asked me to teach one of my outdoor bootcamp classes for her. Despite being in a new headspace, I dusted off the old moves and gave her a birthday class.
We were tired from loading the truck and driving to and from Brooklyn so we didn’t unload it until the following day. Alexa’s parents were incredibly generous and allowed us to store all the equipment in their basement and garage. Unloading was another long day. I maintained my grunt status while Alexa masterminded the organization of equipment to fit like puzzle pieces with her mom’s stuff in an already crowded basement. Once we were finished, the entirety of our apartment and business were either in storage somewhere in Queens or at the house with us in Northern Westchester. All that we left behind in Brooklyn was rubber flooring and our logo painted on the wall. We were no longer guests at Alexa’s parents’ house, we were roommates.
Alexa and I got married in September of 2016. It’s hard to believe that we are coming up on 4 years, as it feels much more recent than that. The ceremony took place here at her parents’ house, our current home. During the ceremony, after we made it official, I spoke on the microphone to our guests and joked that Alexa is the Sharon to my Ozzy. For our wedding, our friends and family gifted us with money for the future. At the time, we weren’t sure what we would do with it, so we created a joint bank account and let it sit there for a while.
Opening our own space was something that we had chatted about from time to time. We’d play out hypothetical logistics and class structures. And, sometimes during our walks we’d come across an empty commercial space, peak inside, and say, “This place would be perfect. Look at how high those ceilings are!” I was now a full-time movement teacher. I’d gone from running bootcamp classes, to coaching CrossFit and gymnastics classes, to just movement. We had built a small and supportive tribe. So, when Alexa and I came across an empty store front in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and a property manager willing to make some accommodations to help us get in the door, we decided to get serious. Alexa said we should use the wedding money to start the business. “Are we really going to do this?” I knew the answer.
Within a month we had signed the lease. We put all of our wedding money into the studio; painting, equipment, membership software, etc. And in December 2017, we opened Movement Brooklyn and became co-owners of a small business in New York City. I taught all of the classes and Alexa made the business run. She built the website, created the LLC, set up the insurance, managed memberships, responded to emails, edited blogs, cleaned the gym, and even developed and starred in our “What’s this Movement Thing?” video. Every morning she took 6am class (I always looked forward to the 5-minute walk together from our apartment to the gym at 5:52am). This was life for 2 ½ years.
After a day of post-move decompression, we publicly shared our decision to close our physical space. Alexa wrote an email to our students, and I created a social media post. We received calls, comments, text messages, and emails from family, friends, and acquaintances offering their support. It was deeply heartwarming to receive the outpouring of love and compassion from people near and far.
In the days that followed, Alexa and I agreed that any sadness we felt was isolated to the people we would no longer be seeing on a daily basis. Emotions came to me only when I remembered the hugs, high-fives, and goodbyes after classes, or when I thought of the friendships I’d grown to cherish that would now exist with more distance between us. We did not grieve for the space because Movement Brooklyn is still alive and well. Movement Brooklyn is no longer limited to the very committed students in NYC willing to take the unreliable G train at 5am, or squeeze onto the L train during evening rush hour, to get to our studio. Without being anchored to the physical space we have the freedom and time to create something that is accessible to an unlimited number of students. We now exist in the homes and apartments of people all over the world through Movement Brooklyn LIVE. In addition, we’ve started live Zoom interviews and a podcast to keep the information flowing. Also, there are talks of traveling, once it is safe, to teach in different schools and gyms. We are now free to bring movement to you, wherever you are. And, if we hadn’t signed a lease and opened a studio, you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now.
Most importantly, the studio brought Alexa and I together as partners, co-owners, and collaborators. It was the manifestation of a project we started before our romantic relationship began. It’s like we got to participate in a long-term couples painting class. We learned to share a canvas, each taking turns to make a brush stroke. In the beginning, the brush strokes were slow, and we had to spend time observing each other’s work before making any additions. Over time, we developed a shared creative mind, and the painting arrived swiftly as if by one hand. Saying “I do,” and signing a contract made us legally bound, but building Movement Brooklyn made us a team.
Every day I am fortunate and grateful to be walking the crooked road of controlled accidents with my best friend, and fellow movement refugee, Alexa.