Smile Politely

Checking in with Liana Alcantara of Defy Gravity

As I mentioned in my Dispatches from Isolation column, an important part of my pre-pandemic life was Defy Gravity Pole Fitness and Aerial Arts Studio, and I miss it. A lot. Of course there greater losses right now; my inability to attend my regularly scheduled pole classes is awfully far down on the list of hardships right now. But it’s more than just the loss of a few fitness classes. DG is truly a community. It’s a safe space, a joyful space. It’s filled with encouragement and acceptance of all backgrounds, skill levels, bodies, gender identities and expressions.

Liana Alcantara is the studio manager at the helm, and has a lot to do with that environment I described. I reached out to chat with her about how the studio is adapting during this time.

A woman is hanging on a metal pole, and one arm is outstretched with her hand in a fist. She is wearing a red sports bra style top and bronze mermaid pattern dance shorts. On the blue wall in the background it says Defy Gravity Pole Fitness and Aerial Arts in white lettering. Photo provided by Defy Gravity.

Photo provided by Defy Gravity.

Smile Politely: If you don’t mind, can I ask how you’re doing personally?

Liana Alcantara: It’s been rough, as I’m sure it has been for a lot of people. I’m also really lucky. My husband has a government job, and he’s been able to work through this. We’d already been planning to move to a much cheaper place, so the fact that I don’t have my income isn’t as big of a deal as it would’ve been. It’s a tenuous, uncomfortable place, but we’re going to be okay. It’s like driving a car that has a lot of lights on, and you know you should really pull over and get it serviced, but it’s still two weeks until payday…it’s that entire mood.

SP: A lot of gyms and studios have had to be creative in adapting their services right now, but Defy Gravity has the added hurdle of being centered around very specific equipment that most people don’t have access to. Can you talk a little bit about how you and the rest of the staff and instructors have made this transition?

Alcantara: This is where I get to do my favorite thing in the world, and brag on a bunch of humans who are working their butts off to try to give us as much time as we can. That’s really what this is for businesses who have been deemed non-essential. It’s a waiting game. How long can the funds that I accrued in February and March hold my business while we’re unable to make any of our regular money. It’s not just that our physical location is closed; we’re coming up on Showcase season [Defy Gravity typically hosts two student and instructor showcases a year, one in the fall and one in the spring] and from a dollars and cents perspective it’s a super important time for our studio. There’s an uptick in private lessons, then there are the events themselves. The revenue from that sustains us through summer. Not having that is kind of difficult.

What instructors have been doing is amazing. They’ve been Googling tutorials for apps they’ve never heard of just so they can figure out how to download and record classes. We have a couple of different styles of offerings, based on what people have been able to do with their tech set-ups at home. We did some “pay-what-you-wish” classes, and now we’ve been able to roll out Zoom classes on our new scheduling website. Most classes you can do without an apparatus. We know that some people have a home pole, but very few people are going to have a full on outdoor aerial rig apparatus. We’ve been able to do a lot of flexibility and conditioning classes, Bend and Rest — which has been a super important class for people because it’s about restoring mind, body, and soul. We’ve had some really great prompts from instructors who teach Embrace your Sexy: If you don’t have a pole at home, try a chair or turn all the lights off except for your closet light and do a little silhouette moment in your doorway. People are using the tools they have around them to engage with the core of the DG community, which is moving your body in a way that feels good and makes you happy, and letting that radiate out into other parts of your life.

We also have recordings of Zoom classes that are available for a discounted rate, and we have some instructors who are starting virtual private lessons. Those can be on an apparatus if you have a home pole or it can be conditioning or flexibility based.

SP: A key component of DG is the community aspect, and that’s something that we’re all yearning for during this time but it can be difficult to attain. How has the studio tried to foster some of that?

Alcantara: Community engagement through social media has been really important to people. We’re also doing social Zooms, just showing up on Saturdays to say “hey, how are you?” Even if people can’t make it, them knowing there’s a place where they can just pop in and say “hey” and there would be people that are happy to see them. It just means so much in this time.

We’re also doing what we’re calling a DG Skill Share. People in our community know the coolest stuff and are willing to share that information, and a lot of us have a lot of time on our hands. We’re going to put out a little survey to our folks, and see who has 30 minutes or an hour to spare. Then we’ll put things on an auction site so people can bid on these lessons. We’ve already had some talk of home baking, burlesque, I’m going to offer some writing, there might even be some tarot reading type things…we might even be able to set up some sort of virtual show as an offering as well. GoFundMe is offering, for small businesses who do a fundraising campaign, if you raise $500 they will match your $500. Our biggest expense right now is rent. We’re paying for a beautiful space that we don’t get to use. But, we want to exist. We’re going to set our goal at one month’s rent.

SP: It’s definitely a precarious time for small businesses right now. How else is the studio planning for the future, when no one knows what that future will be?

Alcantara: However much we can have in our bank account when we are able to open is really going to determine the future of things here. I’m not an alarmist, but I am a realist. We’re having this fundraiser, we have to be proactive. Every small business owner knows there is a chance that this does not turn out the way we want it to. 

It feels like we’re living in two different worlds. We’re having to plan like everything is going to be okay. But at the same time, you’re looking at all of these numbers and trying to get yourselves the time that you need, and honestly not knowing…there’s no end date that we know of yet. I’m technically fired. Many small business owners are having to put in all this work and effort while not getting paid and working other jobs. That’s a place where we’ve been really lucky as well. We have community members and instructors and admin team people who have really been able to step up because they have security from other income. It’s a juggling act; forcing us to be really real about what we need.

We have a very streamlined version of our business that’ll be able to open immediately. The second we can start doing that, then we can start building that buffer again.

SP: What is encouraging you right now?

Alcantara: The thing that’s keeping me the most encouraged is the times when I’m able to engage with community. I’ve been playing more board games with friends, which is funny, and we’ve been doing more movie nights and watch parties with friends. That’s been really healing because it can be really easy to just compartmentalize everything you’re feeling into your head. There’s just something about being in a space where you know everyone there knows and feels what you’re feeling. And on the DG side of things, the movement that people are able to create — even in these spaces that are not meant for — it is beautiful, and, at the risk of overstating it, a testament to the human spirit. We’re making art even though we’re in quarantine, man. That’s awesome! That question that you wondered about when you were in high school, learning about all of these terrible times, and your history teacher would be like “what would you do if you were in this situation.” Now we know, and in a lot of ways the answer has been to make art anyway. I just want to keep doing that for as many days as we can.

You can find out more about Defy Gravity’s online class offerings on their website

Top photo provided by Defy Gravity. 

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