Where Are They Now?
Making lemonade out of lemons with Holly Wallis, BA, Body Harmonics Certified Teacher Trainer and Education Partner
In this, the second in our Where are they now? series on Shoptalk, we learn how Body Harmonics graduate and Education Partner, Holly Wallis, has drawn on her can-do attitude and business skills to overcome adversity and build a thriving Pilates & Movement business as a transplant in another country.
“Do the things that make you happy. The more you enjoy moving, the more you’ll keep moving, and then you’ll get to move longer.
—Holly Wallis, BA
I have been observing Canadian Holly Wallis’ Pilates & Movement expertise and business acumen from afar for a number of years. What I know from my observation is that just a couple years after moving to the US, Holly managed to build a thriving Pilates studio business called ReActive Movement in Oakland, CA, and with it a strong presence for Body Harmonics Education.
What I didn’t know about Holly, age 47, until I recently met up with her on Zoom, is just how much she’s had to overcome to get to where she is now. “I like making lemonade out of lemons,” she laughs. Does she ever!
Holly’s Pilates origin story
Like many others, Pilates found Holly rather than the other way around. She was studying for a business degree at night and working as a full-time marketing manager during the day when she had an accident that would change the trajectory of her life and career forever.
“I had taken the day off to study for my exam. I was procrastinating and decided to go for a bike ride. Unfortunately I was hit by a car and broke my neck and suffered a number of injuries. Obviously I didn’t write my exam and ended up being thrown into recovery for five years.” Fortunately, Holly found a great Physiotherapist who agreed that she should try Pilates. And the rest is history.
Moving beyond Physio
“I found a Pilates studio [Living Well Pilates] in my town of Oakville, ON which happened to be run by a Body Harmonics certified teacher. And so I went there for my first session. And literally within five minutes—all we did was pelvic tucks on the sit fit—I was pain free.” This experience inspired Holly to do as much Pilates as she could and led to her becoming a Body Harmonics Certified Pilates Comprehensive Teacher in 2008.
Pilates certification in hand, Holly returned to the very clinic where she spent many years in Physiotherapy [PT Health] in Oakville. She approached the owners about opening up a Pilates business within the clinic and that was the start of ReActive Movement. The marriage between Physiotherapy and Pilates was so successful Holly ended up opening a couple of other locations (in Guelph and Mississauga, ON) as well.
Then came the next big event in her life. Fortunately for Holly it didn’t involve any physical pain. When her husband floated the idea of transferring his long-time management position in tech to California, Holly’s first reaction was a firm “No!” until the two visited San Francisco and fell in love with the area. “And that was it. We left … it was the best thing we ever did,” she says.
Holly’s business tips for success
In 2016, Holly found her perfect brick-and-mortar location for her business in Oakland, CA and built it up based on the principles of authenticity, integrity and specialization. When asked what tips she might have for other aspiring Pilates studio or business owners, she offers: “The two big things I learned were to differentiate from everyone else around so we often talk … a lot about functional Pilates and therapeutic exercise … because that’s where I come from. And, to talk about things in a very client-centered way—focusing on what the client wants and what the client needs, in the client’s own words, so then they can relate.”
Here are few more marketing tips courtesy of Holly:
- Word of mouth (WOM) promotion of studio services is by far the most effective.
- Know who you’re talking to: Use social media posts just to talk to other teachers and build an industry presence but WOM for promoting studio services.
- Align yourself with other types of practitioners! Being able to refer to other professionals, even if they don’t necessarily refer back, builds trust and demonstrates that you prioritize your clients’ wellbeing over your business interests.
- Find your niche!
On teaching teachers
Speaking with Holly it’s easy to feel her enthusiasm for helping others—clients and students alike. It’s one of the reasons that, just before she left for the US, she was selected by Body Harmonics CEO and Education Director, Margot McKinnon, to become a teacher trainer and to make ReActive Movement an Education Partner in California. “I almost cried,” recalls Holly. “I was so excited and so honored that Margot would ask. And so that’s how it started. And then once I got to California, once I got settled, my first priority was making a space where I could start doing the teacher training. The happiest time of my life is being able to teach teachers.”
Today ReActive Movement, with Holly as its fearless leader, runs a wide variety of Body Harmonics Teacher Training and Continuing Education courses.
Here are some of Holly’s insights on becoming a Pilates teacher:
- Do your research and figure out what course or program works best for you and what you’re trying to accomplish.
- Choose a teacher training organization that will help you find your own voice as a teacher, not just teach you the Pilates repertoire.
- Learn how to communicate with clients in a real way—”to be human and a real person with them and to be honest about how you will try to help them.”
Being honest about pain
In spite of how far she’s come and how many figurative lemons she’s crushed along the way, when asked whether she still struggles with pain, Holly gives an honest answer—an answer that no doubt helps her to connect with both her studio clients and her teachers-in-training in a meaningful way:
“I’m in pain every day, but I don’t think about it as pain anymore. Now, I think of it as my body giving me messages. And I just listen to what they are. Is it a message I need to rest? Is it a message just to change position or do something a little bit differently? As long as I’m listening, my body cooperates and it’s happy and I’m happy … I just always pay attention and just keep moving.”
Watch the full interview with Holly here.
Read Holly’s full story here.
Learn more about teacher training with Holly here.