Trainer’s background: Iryna Pugachova is a professional dancer, a classically trained ballerina with working experience all over the world. She danced seven years in the Moulin Rouge in Paris
Type of workout: includes intense cardio, strength training, cross training, flexibility and Pilates
Target area: all parts of the body, even in overload
Who’s the workout for: a women-only training program that is adapted perfectly for the demands of a female body: long lean muscles, no bulk, strong core plus flexibility and great posture.
What equipment do you need: normal active wear, grippy socks and a bottle of water. Ballet barre provided
Few names of clients: Ms Fit has become synonymous with a high-end clientele that includes very successful female entrepreneurs and the ultra-wealthy
Hardcore level: depending on your background, very challenging (10) but if you’ve had classic ballet training, 6-7.
Cost: €20 for one 60-minute class, or €180 for 10
For a couple of years in my late twenties, I took bellydancing classes in a basement church at Bathurst and Bloor in downtown Toronto. I couldn’t tell you what prompted me to sign up, although I do recall – after years of yo-yo dieting (for which I can never apologise enough to my Mom for my ridiculously random eating habits) – wanting to “befriend my belly”.
I didn’t consider this exercise, never even took a bottle of water, and I would leave the evening class to rehydrate with alcohol at a club, checking out live music as I worked in the music industry at the time.
I was infatuated with my Lebanese teacher, whose Rubenesque figure teetered-tottered her hip scarf effortlessly. I wanted to teeter-totter.
The women-only bellydancing class – with many shapes and sizes, ages and nationalities, all shimmying our hearts out while watching every bit of our body jiggle in the mirrors – is very much a memory close to my heart to this day: the bizarre looks I got as I would practice the shimmy while waiting for a TTC bus remain vivid.
After many, many months, when I finally nailed the Vertical Figure 8 technique, I was cheered, even by those in the class who still had not the conquered the pelvic movement. There was no judgement.
We didn’t need to put a fist in the air while chanting “Girl Power”. Somehow empowerment and body confidence just tiptoed into our lives along the way.
Nearly twenty years on, I rediscovered this atmosphere in a little dance studio up the Montée de la Crémaillere in Beausoleil, next to the Pharmacie de la Crémaillère and, of all things, a sex shop.
Iryna Pugachova started “Ms Fit – Fit for a Princess” because after relocating with her family to Monaco six years ago “people were asking me to set something up using the barre”.
“It’s been a nice work transition for me from professional dancing to running a business as I can still expend energy with great music and I can give to others.”
Clearly she excels in motivating the class, both with her dazzling ballet-sculpted body as well as an outstanding selection of music that would have even the shyest of women pliéing with a smile.
Ms Fit replaces military-style workouts – there are no heavy weights or bodybuilding elements – with ballet and dance-inspired disciplines, “to build and shape long, beautiful muscles and bodies”.
Like Pilates, this barre class was a tad intimidating because I am not flexible. Ask me to run 100 miles and I’ll do it. I’ll finish dead last, but I’ll do it. Put a €100 note at my feet and ask me to touch my toes, and I’ll rapidly calculate how I can save a hundred euros instead, so I’ll still come out ahead without having to bend.
Supple or not supple, The Ms Fit class is a hard-hitting overall body conditioning, adjustable for all levels. While Iryna can scratch her head with her toes, my leg kick barely gets off the ground. However, the all-female environment creates a safe zone that you can only understand if you have ovaries. Women have a tendency to be over judgemental of others females, but put them in what Iryna calls “fitness for women, by women, with no sweaty guys in the back of the class, checking you out!” and the cat claws are clipped.
It’s brilliant and addictive. Our inner-ballerina came to life as we combined fitness with graceful movements – Rond de Jambe, Arabesque Attitude, Plié pulse and passé – and one of the toughest yet most pleasurable ab workouts I’ve put been through. “Do you feel 5 centimetres taller?” Iryna asks as we finish off with stretching, as we nodded in unison.
Janna, a Ms Fit regular, who was suffering vertebrae issues after years of sports and crossfit – as she described, “carrying a person on my back as I ran up a hill” – said she started these ballet-style classes based on her doctor’s advice and was immediately hooked. “I love it. I feel stronger yet discovered my femininity.”
There are five classes (instruction is in English), with up to 12 people, per week – Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 am, Thursday, exceptionally held at YCM, 9 am, Thursday 7:30 pm and Friday at 9:30 am – and you book your session online in advance.
The Espace Danse is equipped with a change room and toilet but no shower. But who cares? Leaving the studio sweaty, body hard, after an intense Ms Fit dance workout is the Flashdance moment we all dream of.
For more about Ms Fit – Fit for a Princess, see the website.