Owning a fitness studio wasn’t always what Christy Sanford planned for her life.
She’s the owner of InesS Studio in downtown Halifax – a fitness studio, now in its 15th year, offering classes in pilates, aerial circus arts and pole sport.
But getting to where she is now – where she can run her own business and blend fitness and art – wasn’t a straightforward journey.
When she was younger, Sanford says her father told her she could pursue two options for education: the arts, where she could risk either becoming wildly successful or losing everything, or the sciences, where she could finish her degree and have an easier time finding employment.
Sanford chose the latter and enrolled at Dalhousie University for biology. But after doing less physical activity and trying to improve her grades, she says she “lost herself.”
After two and a half years, Sanford dropped out of the program, packed things up and moved across the country to Western Canada. It was in Whistler, B.C. where she re-found her love for fitness and spent an entire year snowboarding.
But her trip to Western Canada didn’t last long; Sanford was in a car accident and suffered a back injury causing her to move back to Nova Scotia. To rehabilitate, Sanford picked up pilates. She also decided to go back to school, this time choosing NSCAD University where she first studied jewelry but eventually switched into the design program.
“My fine arts degree really came into play when I opened the business,” Sanford says. “I had this fitness background, opened this business and now I can make my own website, make my own videos, so it finally came all together. However, there are too many things that I can do which is also my biggest fault, that I just kind of continue working indefinitely.”
While studying back home in Nova Scotia, Sanford explored various forms of art that would impact her life even to this day.
“I got into breakdancing while I was at NSCAD and DJing, so I found a home in the hip hop community,” Sanford says. “And within that I became Atlantic Canada’s first female breakdancer and female DJ and I won medals and all of that stuff.”
On top of breakdancing and DJing, Sanford found an interest in photography and film. Many of the projects she filmed were for her breakdancing group and she thought she’d pursue video editing. But the idea of working for a company she didn’t like and working with computers all day didn’t seem enjoyable. Instead, she decided to get her pilates certification, but only as a means of paying the bills and not entirely sacrificing her artistic vision.
“I found that I enjoyed working with people much more than I liked the computers, so I continued to do that more and I continued to still dance and breakdance and be involved in the hip hop community,” she says. “I guess with my love of breakdancing and my love of DJing, I had a new passion in life and a new goal of wanting to be really fit and healthy.
“I wanted to not just be a good girl breakdancer; I wanted to be able to beat the guys on the same level.”
Then in 2005, Sanford says her father encouraged her to open a business.
“He told me to go get my own loan, he wasn’t going to give me any money,” she says. “So, I did because I knew that I was privileged where I had my education paid for and many of my friends had huge student debt and no job. I was going to take out a loan and have a job, so I just wasn’t scared.”
She started InesS Studio very small, first only offering pilates classes and adding pole sport a couple of months later.
With Sanford’s background being in breakdance, she found that pole dance wasn’t her style and hired a teacher for the studio. It quickly became popular and helped Sanford opened the studio in a larger space within a year.
Then, nine years ago, Sanford had her daughter, and around the same time, pole competition was becoming popular. In an attempt to get back into shape, Sanford wanted to hold and compete in her own competition in Atlantic Canada.
She organized the first three Atlantic Pole Fitness Championships, a regional competition that qualified for the national competition.
“After a few years of that, I got tired of competing and just wanted to perform just to create art,” she says.
To further her art, she then took up circus arts and decided to add circus arts classes to the studio. Now, InesS Studio offers a youth aerial circus program where students learn acrobatics such as aerial silks, aerial hoops and trapeze. The studio also offers adult classes in the same categories.
Sanford also decided to create more art by starting two separate events.
She started Halifax Theatrix, a local pole and aerial competition where participants showcase their talents in categories such as pole comedy, pole art and aerial hoop.
Additionally, she started Spinning with the Stars, a cirque-style show along the lines of the television show Dancing with the Stars. Over the years, it’s featured several “Hali-famous” people including Coun. Lindell Smith, mixed martial arts champion Chris Kelades and Trailer Park Boys stars Cory Bowles and Leigh MacInnis.
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has affected numerous businesses around the world, it hasn’t affected InesS Studio too harshly.
Over quarantine, the InesS Studio still offered classes through Zoom. In fact, Sanford taught some of her breakdancing moves to the participants in the youth program.
Now, in-person classes have resumed, and Sanford says you already have to be physically distanced to do pole sport and aerial arts.
Increased cleaning is one of the only things that is entirely new for Sanford as an intense disinfecting of the equipment and ceiling apparatuses to meet COVID-19 protocols creates more work.
But Sanford says her team, both the front desk staff and instructors, have been a great asset.
“The people who are here they’re just 100 per cent here so I feel like our team is really strong right now,” she says.
And in the near future, the pandemic isn’t holding back Sanford and her business.
Before Christmas, the studio will offer fast-track classes for more advanced students. There will also be holiday group classes where groups of eight or 10 can take a class for a team-building exercise or staff party. Sanford also says she’s preparing for a student showcase.
All of this adds to the fitness community Sanford is building in Halifax.
“We started off as a pilates studio and then we added pole. It used to be that people would do the first six weeks and then they’d never come back,” she says. “Once, I started taking over the program and working on how to make people successful … so that they’d want to do the next level, then I think people started to keep coming and create those class relationships and then the community really started to build.”