Main Street in Millerton, NY, is home to numerous small, independent businesses, many of them owned and run by women – from Carol Sadlon at The Moviehouse to Joanne Scasso at Country Gardeners Florist. We selected Masha Loucks, who trained as a ballerina in Moscow, Russia, as the subject for Main Street’s wellness issue, and conducted a socially distanced interview to discover her story and fitness philosophy.
Why did you leave Russia?
When I was studying economics in Moscow there was a program to work abroad and learn a language. I chose America because my father, who was a marine biologist, had been everywhere in the world except for the United States. I thought it would be so cool to go to a place he had never been and talk about it with him. As a little girl I always dreamt about going to New York City, so I sent in my resumé and got three job offers in three different states, but none of them were in New York. So I chose Connecticut because it was the closest.
For three summers I worked at the Interlaken Inn in Lakeville. I learned to love this part of Connecticut, which was very different from big city Moscow where I grew up. I worked as a waitress and it wasn’t easy to learn to speak American English. I learned British English in school and the pronunciation was quite different in the United States. I couldn’t understand and was afraid to speak in the beginning.
At the end of second summer I met my future husband, Jesse Loucks, at a party in Sharon. Unfortunately my student working visa was over after I finished school and I couldn’t come back to the US to be with Jesse. We dated long distance for two years. Jesse came to visit me in Moscow about seven times and we finally decided to get married and start living together in America.
Has physical fitness and wellness always been part of your life?
First, at the age of four or five my mom signed me up for gymnastics, which I did for about a year. Then I was chosen to join a ballet school. Ballet school instructors were looking for boys and girls in gymnastics or dance studios based on body type, ear (talent for listening to music), ability to move gracefully, and learn. Training was 15 hours a week and sometimes I had to miss school if there was a performance.
I danced until the age of 13, and then my mom decided that I needed to focus on my education. After tenth grade I went to a teaching college for four years studying psychology and then to university for global economics. In Russia all of this education was free. My dancing career was over, but I always knew body movements would be with me as I was a dancer from the soul. As a girl growing up in the USSR, ice skating and dance are like peanut butter and jelly. If you dance, you ice skate and vice versa. Ice skating was my hobby and I even got second place at age seven in dancing on ice at a local competition.
How did you discover Pilates?
When I started to work as a trainer, my clients always asked me about my techniques, as they were a little different than just usual fitness routines. I didn’t have a good answer for them as I was just using my body movement routine memories that I had learned in dancing school. Then one day I went to NYC to meet a friend. She was late and I decided to kill some time by going to a Pilates class. I had heard about Pilates but didn’t know exactly what it was. After finishing the class I realized that the techniques I used to train my clients were based on Pilates. That was a big discovery for me and I received certification training through Balanced Body with a former ballerina from NYC.
Were there any business role models for you as a young person?
Russia did not legalize small private businesses before 1988. But I grew up around self-motivated and hard-working people who set a very good example for me. I learned that if you set goals, work hard, and love what you do, you will be successful.
Do you go back to visit Russia or have family come here to visit? What do you miss?
Yes, we go to visit my family every year and they visit here with no problem at all. I am lucky enough to have friends who still come to visit once in a while. Of course I miss my family and friends. I miss the culture – museums, theaters, ballet, drinking 5pm tea with grandma, eating Russian candies, and talking about history. I miss the busyness of Moscow. Going to concerts and shows with my friends, sitting near the fire in the summer singing and making shashlik kebobs, New Year’s celebrations, the Russian sense of humor, the Victory Day parade in Red Square, and GUM, the big department store on Red Square.
Does the Russian idea of fitness differ from the US?
Pilates came to Moscow just two years ago and seems to be growing very quickly. Absolutely everyone can work on their fitness, but in Russia it’s mostly younger people who are concerned with fitness. It’s just now becoming popular for more people to work with a trainer on a weekly basis or go to a class. Russians are very creative people and the fitness industry has started to boom.
When did you start your business? What was most difficult?
I started my business in Russia about 20 years ago teaching water aerobics and regular Jane Fonda-style exercise in the basement of my local school and swimming pool. When I moved to America in 2003 I continued teaching in the basement of churches, legion halls, Canaan YMCA, Housatonic High School, and Noble Horizons. I also worked as an in-home trainer for a while until I opened Masha’s Fitness Studio in Millerton, NY, in 2010.
My son was born that year and I couldn’t go to clients’ homes with a child in my hands. That’s when I came up with the idea that maybe they could come to me instead. That’s how Masha’s Fitness Studio was born. To be a new mother with the new business and the family in a not very populated area was difficult. Owning a small business is, of course, time consuming and at times overwhelming, but exercise helps me deal with these stresses both physically and mentally.
What help did you seek out?
In the beginning I hired a web designer to build my website. But ended up doing everything myself. It was difficult to find a technology teacher. It was also challenging to find the time and not be with my family as much as I wanted. I just wanted my website to look inspirational and to motivate people to understand that everything is possible for everyone, and that Pilates is very friendly. The movements are simple but very effective – it’s never too late to make changes and be safe at any age.
Can you describe your client base?
They are very successful, smart, open-minded people who want to improve their body. They understand the importance of living with high energy and that their body is as important as their mind. They come with many different issues – neck, back, knees, hips, and ankles. We then set goals and get results.
Why do most clients come to Pilates? What sort of person is it best for?
Clients understand that Pilates works from within the body toward the exterior, unlike the usual gym approach, which works from the outside toward the inside. With the gym routines, when you stop, the results do not last long and the body becomes out of shape very fast. With body control exercises, results may not be immediate, but in the long run, the benefits will become obvious. When you stop practicing for a time the results still stay with you and when you restart, even after a two-year break, you will feel like you had stopped only yesterday.
By working from the inside out, you develop a greater understanding of your body. Smaller muscle groups come into use, and you begin to discover muscles that you never knew you had or you may realize that what you once thought was fat actually hides a muscle!
The aim of Pilates practice is to produce fluidity and awareness of the body’s movement. It creates a mental focus and control over movements without the need to concentrate on them – the body thinks for itself.
What is most satisfying about your business?
To see the results my clients achieve, like more mobility, better posture, greater strength, healthier backs or even improved confidence – the way they look and feel.
What happened to your business during the Covid shut-down this spring?
I was forced to close mid-March and it was a challenging time financially to pay rent and other overhead costs, but the silver lining was that it forced me to bring my training online. This was something that I had wanted to do for a long time but Covid gave me that push and opportunity. The studio is still only open for private training.
How does online training work? Has it been popular?
It’s been very popular so far. Some of my clients were already doing it with me for a year and love it. It was challenging in the beginning, as it was new for everybody, but now works just fine. We use small Pilates and other equipment or even no equipment at all. We prefer to do FaceTime when one-on-one, but use Zoom when is more than one person. I am not a technology-oriented person and it’s not super easy for me, but it’s something new and exciting to learn! It seems like my online business is definitely growing.
What other health/fitness needs do you address?
Aerobic activities like walking, running, swimming, biking, jump roping, trampoline jumping – it will keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system healthy. I love yoga as well. I also conduct group classes.
Can children do Pilates? How do you encourage the physical fitness of your own child?
Absolutely, it’s super healthy for children. With my son, we do fun morning routines, jump on the trampoline, abdominal exercises to wake him up and increase his focus. We like to hike and walk, I still believe in the expression, “Monkey see, monkey do.”
What sort of professional resources help you with your business?
Before Covid I was very active in going to Pilates and fitness conferences all over the world. I have my favorite groups of Pilates and fitness professionals and we continue to exchange knowledge and ideas. The best source for me is talking with my colleagues and reading books about the human body.
How do you market your business? What has proven most effective?
Of course my favorite place to advertise is Main Street Magazine, but other than that, I don’t market much. I have been fortunate that my clients spread the word for me.
What should people look for in a fitness instructor?
I think the teacher should be attentive, helpful, and kind. They should also encourage safe movement rather than just working you so hard that you feel the burn regardless of your form. A good Pilates instructor will be highly qualified, appreciate different learning styles, and have a passion for what they do. •
To learn more about Masha and Masha’s Fitness Studio, visit her online at www.mashasfitnessstudio.com.