Community connector

When Connie McInnes opened Rock In Opposition Pilates & Yoga Studio in January 2015, she wanted to create more than just a place for clients to feel the burn. High ceilings, murals, candles, and an open-concept loft office make RIO feel more like a friend’s hip, urban loft instead of a business. Yoga and pilates mats are available to use at no charge and jugs of water or tea are always offered. Most days, McInnes greets visitors. She gets to know everyone by name; people often linger after class just to chat.
RIO offers an evolving selection of creative classes including Anatomy in Motion, Barrelesque, Kettlebell Killer, SOS (Stone out Stress, with hot stones), Hip Hop Vinyasa, and Yo-Bro Yoga. To keep the schedule fresh, McInnes often partners with other local businesses to offer events: providing a weekend brunch from neighbouring vegan restaurant enVie, mimosas after Sunday Barre class, hosting Halifax Pop Explosion events, pop-up shops, and more.
“The essence of RIO is community,” says McInnes. “We aren’t just looking for one type of client. We want to appeal to clients of all different levels of fitness and create a communal, open space. You can just come in here and be who you are, whether you are a high performance athlete or someone who feels that they are 50 pounds overweight. We strive to make everyone feel welcome.”
Some of RIO’s collaborations include a December 2014 soft opening with an artisan Christmas market, a Lawrencetown surf retreat with East Coast Surf School, a pop-up flower shop for Mother’s Day hosted by Chelsea Lee Flowers, an art show with Lincoln Creaser (the artist behind RIO’s murals) and Halifax Pop Explosion events including classes accompanied with music from HPX performers.
One of RIO’s regular partners is CrossFit Ironstone, a North End athletics centre located just a few blocks away from RIO. The two businesses host cross-promotional events and Ironstone often offers yoga classes with a RIO instructor as the guest host. Ironstone co-owner, Patrick Horsman, says that despite both businesses being focused on fitness, working together is more productive than competitive.
“When we first opened, we had always planned to have an in-house yoga class that our athletes would be able to attend,” says Horsman. “After meeting Connie, we worked out an arrangement for her to come to the gym and teach yoga. From there, that evolved into the idea of continuing to team-up together. Our clients get a discount at RIO and vice-versa. It’s unlikely that people are going to belong to more than one studio at a time but as locally-owned businesses, we can join together to offer something more.”
Last winter, RIO and Ironstone staff and clients organized a spring clean-up to help tidy up Halifax’s North End streets. The two studios were also jumping-off points for a “Beer Mile” with runners sampling local brews along the way. RIO and Ironstone also collaborate on a class called “Last Friday.” On the last Friday of every month, Ironstone offers a 30-minute boot camp session and a 30-minute yoga class. McInnes often leads the yoga class. Afterwards, they tap a keg to kick-off the weekend, usually from a local brewery.
“When you partner with a like-minded business you get more people looking at the North End as a fitness destination,” says Horsman. “We’re not offering the same thing that RIO is, but the two businesses working together generates more attention than each business working alone.”
In February 2015, Halifax resident Jessica Scott and her roommates were looking to keep active. They decided to complete a 28-day challenge at RIO. Scott has been a loyal student ever since.
“You can truly be yourself at RIO,” Scott says. “You can arrive in a bad mood but once you hit the mat, you can’t help but shed the day away. Connie is thoughtful and insightful with her messages and that, coupled with her playful attitude and infectious smile, makes it hard to stay away. My roommates and I would stay after class for a glass of champagne on the pillows in the loft talking about our week. RIO became a second home for us and it quickly became the balance each of us were seeking in our lives.”
RIO has recently added another studio space right next door to offer even more classes. According to McInnes, the future of RIO is full of exciting possibilities but staying true to her intentions, she plans to continue to give back on a larger scale.
“I want to keep our classes small with about 15 students or less in every class,” she says. “I don’t want to expand the studio any further than it is now or build a corporate franchise. I would like to organize collaborative retreats and provide yoga to impoverished countries. Additionally, I’m planning to establish a not-for-profit segment of RIO, ideally with the involvement of youth, that will incorporate mindfulness, meditation, and sustainability.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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