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No Longer Alone: A Black Girl's journey in the Pilates Industry

By Danica Kalemdaroglu

I’ve been operating in white spaces my entire life. Packing myself for whatever awkward situation or conflicting compromise I had to make. All just to show up and not really be seen. That doesn’t make me special. It just makes me black, of color or other when having to check a box. Last I checked, I’ve been black my entire life. I’ve been a Pilates practitioner for half of it. The fitness and wellness industry is just that, an industry. One built on the ideals of health but also beauty and physical aesthetics. It is marketing 101. Want to sell your product? Talk to your audience. We all know what audience I speak of.

I never thought being black would bring me any positive notice in my career. Then the industry decided to wake up and head the realities of #blacklivesmatter. Late to the party but ready to get down in the awkward moments of self-realization. I accepted requests to sit on panels about diversity, equity and change in fitness and dance. Knowing that being black was the main reason for invitation and my expertise second. Truth? My pride was most agitated. I have a cultivated resume that I still owe FAFSA for and my boost in the industry is being black. Not my ability to grease your spine like you’ve never been greased before.

Sharing my truths was exhausting but I did it for one reason. I will no longer package myself for an industry that refuses to see me. They called wanting to know what they did not know. So, I told them. I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to make them listen. I felt it my part in keeping the stamina up so needed for change. I had no idea how the pain of retelling would make me so furious. Rehashing the first time you were called a nigger isn’t the most uplifting thing you can do for yourself. I got sick and tired of being sick and tired and had to step away before I became bitter. Yet it made realize that I know who am, where I’ve been and I’m not scared of where I’m going. I can only hope that listening to my truths made our industry better by even one studio owner or board member.

I stepped back also because my story isn’t going to change, and it isn’t really that different in regard to race. How many more times would I have to say the same things on a different outlet to see the same head nod? There is a fine line between coming to the table and tokenism. I will not be the later. The only way to make sure of that is to be the most bad ass boss I can be and be me while doing it. That is what we must all do. Be unapologetically ourselves!

Picture Credit: Danica Kalemdaroglu

In 2017, I was nominated as a finalist in the Pilates Anytime Competition and that is how Sonja found me. I always felt alone in our industry until Black Girl Pilates. Finally, a safe space to be myself and be supported by like voices. No human experience is the same but our commonality as the oppressed is the oldest global pandemic. It unites us just as much as it breaks us. I had become so used to being the ‘only’ at trainings, conventions and you name it that it never occurred to me that we are here. We have been here! That fact is slowly occurring to more than one Caucasian and a new civil wave is rising. It takes a catalyst for change but a sea of angry white people for anything to ever really happen, good or bad.

I went into 2020 with a completely different vision for myself as I am sure we all did. It will be a long road before we see normal again, but I must ask. Is normal what we want back? I don’t mean Covid wise. Of course, I want to travel and just hug a friend. I mean the normalcy of being any shade of brown in an industry that just realized we are here. I vote we hold their eyes wide open. We keep coming to the table and bringing the fierce. Build up our business, brands and each other by showing up to the table ready to push the boundaries. Keep submitting to conferences, boards and presenter calls. Flood them with our headshots, resumes and letters of recommendation. Broadcast your brand on every outlet because they will never listen to something they cannot hear.

However, I covet the space we hold for ourselves as black women. Who would do this for us if not ourselves? We shouldn’t have to wait for invitations to anyone’s table to be successful. Lord knows we haven’t held our breath in the past. The last few months have made me introspect with all the free time not sanitizing something. The best way I can help other black women, right now, is to make myself better. Lead by example and do more of what I want on my terms. Then I can share it with all of you. I say right now because I’m a wife, mother of two, and studio owner during a global health crisis that is shredding the veil of American entitlement. Aren’t we all just trying to stay sane? I love that my social media feeds have become an array of beautiful Queens and Kings just keeping it real. Cheers to you all and here’s to the future of black owned everything!

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