By Kat Jahnigen
There seems to be a new trend growing in popularity in the county: free or by-donation classes. Whether or not this represents a shift in the fundamental structure of fee-based classes is up for debate, but there are enough companies and individuals making these classes available that it’s an idea worth looking at. Uma Fitness, Dogma Athletica and Finis Boni, all located in Edwards, are among the businesses that offer at least one – if not all – their classes in exchange for voluntary contributions from the participants.
Among these, Uma is unique in that the company was created two-and-a-half months ago specifically to offer yoga to locals regardless of their ability to pay.
“All classes and workshops are by donation,” explains Karen Anderson, who organized the program, teaches at Uma. “The response has been perfect. I find that folks with more money tend to over-donate. This balances out the folks with less money, and we probably make what we would have if we charged. But attendance is better, because the folks with less money are able to attend. More important, it sends the message that it’s not about the money. And it encourages generosity, the idea that your donation supports someone else’s attendance.”
Anderson, was inspired to offer the by-donation classes by the Brooklyn Yoga School. She says she hasn’t been bothered by insecurities over the ability of Uma to survive financially because of Brooklyn Yoga School’s positive example.
“I’m friends with people from the Brooklyn Yoga School, and they’ve been successful with by-donation, so that gave me confidence. As they say, nothing to be scared of, if it doesn’t work, I just close the program,” she says.
Not far away from Uma, at Dogma in Riverwalk, there is another by-donation class of a different sort, organized and taught by Curt Nash, a personal fitness trainer. The class, nicknamed “The Curt’s Locker” by participants, began a year ago as a fundraiser for his daughter’s Battle Mountain High School dance team.
“After it was over, I wanted to keep it going,” says Nash. “So I’ve kept it up – now the joke is that the donation is for my daughter’s college fund.”
Nash describes his class, which meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., as “really just a drop-in, open weight room. I’m there to kind of facilitate what people are doing. There’s not a specific goal in mind. So it could be four people doing four different things, or two people working together. I’m just there as kind of a guide – showing them new exercises, keeping them motivated, helping them do things they wouldn’t ordinarily think of doing so they can accomplish their fitness goals… as opposed to just mindlessly walking on the treadmill.”
Nash suggests participants pay $10 per class, but says that some people pay just $5 or nothing at all. The structure of the class, says Nash, is determined by participant’s individual desires and depends on fitness level and on individual needs.
“It could be someone just off the couch or someone really fit. (It) caters to people’s weaknesses, strengths, injuries, that kind of thing. People kind of like the camaraderie of working in a group setting because it’s usually the same people who come week after week, they enjoy getting to know each other,” says Nash.
The camaraderie and community aspect of group fitness seems to be something that the free and by-donation classes have in common. Teresa Shay, who offers a free Pilates class for cancer survivors at Finis Boni, says that a core group of very dedicated participants form the heart of her program. Shay was inspired to offer the free class as a way of supporting a close friend, Ruth Moroney, during her battle with gastrointestinal cancer.
“The breathing aspect of Pilates became so important to help her focus on calming and healing herself outside of the normal medical facilities and environment,” says Shay. “After awhile she asked if she could bring a friend who was a breast cancer survivor and from there the idea of creating a class was formed.”
After five years, Moroney eventually succumbed to cancer, but the class – which Shay has dubbed the “Striving For a Cure” cancer survivor class – has continued on. Though Shay says she would like to offer more days and times for the free class, it currently meets at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. According to Shay, the only difference in the substance of the free class, as compared to traditional fee-based classes, is determined by the medical limitations of participants.
Without monetary compensation for the class, Shay receives payment of a different sort. “The women in this class are so appreciative. They come in happy to be in the studio, never complain about anything,” she says. “They thank me at the end of every class when in fact I should be thanking them for teaching me so much about keeping positive, enjoying life every day and being thankful for all you have in life”
Still, the free and by-donation class system is not without its downfalls – as evidenced by the relatively low attendance at many of these classes. Nash, who requires no commitment from participants and claims he could handle twice the number of students on any given day, points out that financial commitment often correlates with increased commitment in terms of lifestyle changes, activity and time commitment.
“When they pay the fee they’re a little more committed to being there two days a week,” he says.