Rachael Hughes and Giavana de Zitter have been best friends since they slipped on ballet slippers together at David DeMarie Dance Studio in Clarence when they were 10 years old. The bond, and desire to become professional dancers, deepened while at Clarence High School, and as the friends dashed from Western New York for separate colleges.
Hughes landed a business degree from Ohio State University, while serving on the school dance team; de Zitter grabbed her bachelor’s in dance and marketing from Pointe Park University in Pittsburgh, then traveled the world as part of a dance team on two Royal Caribbean cruise ships.
Hughes got back to Clarence first. “Gia” followed, accompanied by a new husband, South African Calvin de Zitter, a personal trainer she met while the two worked on the water. Dance continued its sway, and the friends, now 25, decided in September 2012 to open Barre Centric, a boutique fitness center on the Main Street side of the Transitown Plaza. They juggle busy lives and a clientele of about 250 to 300, almost exclusively women.
Each week, 28 dance-inspired fitness classes are taught with help of a railing that stretches along the mirrored walls of their Clarence studio.
“We had been to similar studios in other cities and we knew we wanted to bring this type of studio to the Western New York area,” said Hughes, a certified group fitness instructor who works days in the computer field at Ingram Micro and handles her dance duties early mornings, nights and weekends.
“We never like to sit still,” said de Zitter, a certified Pilates instructor who works part time at Stretch Pilates. “In high school, Rachael and I were in the musicals, cheerleading, dance – all at the same time – student council at school, homework at night.”
Q: When you were girls, did you have this vision of becoming ballerinas?
Hughes: I think when you’re younger, everybody wants to be a dancer when you grow up. When you get a little bit older, that transition comes where you say, ‘I think I’d like to open a dance studio.’ Once I got done with college, I got very into fitness because I got my desk job, which was 40 hours a week, and I needed something that wasn’t a gym but a smaller studio. So this is where the fitness studio met the dance and business backgrounds and all kind of fused together.
de Zitter: I definitely wanted to be a professional dancer all through college. I did dance professionally for a little while and I loved it, but I met someone and I wanted to be in one place after traveling so much. Life priorities change, so this is our device to let out our dance and choreographing.
Q: What was it like to get into business together?
de Zitter: We stayed very close friends through college. We’d visit each other, and after college, she came on one of my cruises. … Buffalo was an untapped market. We came home and couldn’t go to a barre class.
Hughes: We were 23 when we started getting serious about it. We didn’t have that much money, but we were like, ‘We don’t have that much money to lose, either.’ We thought about how we were afraid of when life gets in the way – family, kids – we didn’t know if there’d be another good time. You had to take a leap of faith.
Q: What has the business side been like?
de Zitter: There’s a lot of unexpected things that come into it, things that come into play with the town. They don’t teach you that in business school. How to get your business permit. Things like handicapped showers, unexpected costs.
Hughes: A few weekends ago, our toilet broke and we were totally mortified. We had to have a plumber come, which costs money. I feel like now we’re much calmer and able to adapt to things. Before we opened, we would just cry all the time. Our mirrors didn’t come on time, so we just cried. So you build up thick skin and you build it really fast.
Q: So in order to do what you love, you do some other things as well?
Hughes: A lot of people if they pictured what we did here, they would picture us just teaching classes, which is probably the easiest thing we do on a week-to-week basis. There’s so many hours that go into the marketing and the accounting and the cleaning and paying bills.
Q: Do any men who come in for classes?
de Zitter: No regulars, but we have lots of men come in for a class. They want to learn how to be more flexible. We’ve had a ‘Bring Your Boy to the Barre’ event a few times now. It’s been a lot of fun for the girls to bring the guys in and they think it’s going to be easy. They’re lifting 3-pound weights, and they’re really struggling and sore the next day, which is entertaining.
Q: What is a typical class like?
de Zitter: There’s stretching throughout the class. Our main Barre Centric class is very small movements that work into deep tissue muscles. We target large sections of the body and stretch after each section. And we have our cardio version of classes, which is a little bit bigger ranges of motion but the same kind of pattern. Then we have our barre stick class, which incorporates a Pilates stick.
Hughes: Every class is 55 minutes and it follows the same format but it’s pretty much different every class. You’re never going to feel like you’re doing the same thing. We change up the choreography, positions and everything on a regular basis.