Shanea Sparks and Lakara Whynder wanted to see a space where Black women could feel comfortable working out, and see themselves reflected in the room — so they created one.
In March, Sparks and Whynder started a group called Black Girl Fitness to fill a gap they've noticed in the Halifax area.
"There's not a lot of places where you can go in a fitness space and you see a lot of other people that look like you," Sparks said.
Last month, they partnered with Halifax gym R Studios to hold their first spin class, and promoted it on social media and through word of mouth in their community. They were blown away by the response.
"We had messages for days telling us how much everyone loved the class," Sparks said. "How everyone just loved being in this space, you know, full of Black women. It just felt very empowering."
'It was the vibes, the music'
The friends believe the unique energy in the room is partly why the class was so popular. They helped plan the class, and chose their favourite R&B and hip hop music to go along with the workout.
"We had a good workout, but it was more of an experience than just a fitness class," Whynder said. "It was all atmosphere. It was the vibes, the music."
When they held their second class, attendance numbers grew. Gabrielle Grant, from East Preston, went to both the classes and plans to keep coming.
"If I'm around people that look like me and women that support me and there's ... a support system in it, I feel welcome to come," Grant said. "I feel like there's a space for me."
She said the best part was the workout wasn't too serious, and everyone was there to have a good time.
"Spaces where everybody sees themselves are a bit more free," Grant said. "If there was a trip, a mistake, there was no problem."
Whynder and Sparks said the goals of the group reflect their own lifelong fitness journeys. Two years ago, Whynder was part of the winning team of a local "biggest loser" weight-loss competition. She said it taught her she needs accountability.
"So working out with groups of friends and family gave me that accountability," she said. "And from then to me, I'm just learning that it's not just about weight loss, it's about getting stronger, friendships, mental health, things like that."
'Blessed and thankful'
That's what they want their group to reflect. They said they want any body type and fitness level to feel comfortable and respected in the classes.
"If you are bigger or smaller, doesn't matter how you're shaped, I think it's important to see other women with different body types work out on a consistent basis," Whynder said.
She said looking at the room and seeing a group of Black women spinning together made her feel "blessed and thankful."
The friends plan to branch out to include new workouts in their Black Girl Fitness programming with R Studios, and they said they're excited to make their events bigger and better.
Sparks said they are also considering opening up the classes to other women of colour, or even Black men in the future.
"It's just super, super important for everyone to come in and not feel like intimidated ... getting people out and showing people around us that working out is fun."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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