When sisters Cristina McNamara and Leila Rodriguez invited their mom to take yoga and dance classes with them at their local gym, they discovered that she wasn’t comfortable there.
Their mother, whose first language is Spanish, struggled to connect with the English-speaking instructors and the music. At times, cues from the instructor such as “drop your shoulders” were missed.
Language and cultural issues, as well as cost, created a barrier to fitness the two sisters wanted to break.
“My sister and I wanted to find a place where we could bring our mom, who doesn’t speak English well,” Rodriguez said. “We had this idea that maybe we could have our own place that we could offer what we were looking for.”
So a couple of months ago, they opened Huitzil Wellness Center in Inver Grove Heights — a fitness studio offering exercise and nutrition classes in English and Spanish. Yoga and Zumba classes are offered regularly, while wellness workshops covering different topics are offered once a month. Soon, the sisters say, they hope to add high-intensity classes such as a boot camp-style fitness class. They’re also piloting a Zumba class for kids called Zumbino.
Rodriguez and McNamara said Latinos don’t commonly practice yoga, their favorite. The sisters want to introduce more people to its health benefits.
“For me, it’s important to be able to bring this to the Latino community because there are not other places in the area that we know about that speak Spanish,” Rodriguez said.
Added McNamara: “With yoga, for sure, it’s easier once you know the language. It is nice that when people here have questions, they have someone to answer in Spanish. They feel less intimidated to talk or participate” in class.
Boutique fitness centers can be out of reach financially for many people, so Huitzil Wellness aims to keep classes affordable. Membership is $49 per month for unlimited access to all Zumba and yoga classes. Individual Zumba classes cost $5, and yoga costs $8.
Although the studio is open to everyone, it is developing a following among the growing Latino community in Inver Grove Heights and surrounding suburbs.
The sisters want their space to be more social than larger gyms and want members to feel more connected to one another, lingering after class to socialize instead of dispersing quickly after their workout is over. “We were looking to build more of a community to encourage each other to work on our health,” Rodriguez said. “So far, we’ve been able to build that community.”