Fitness is not a fad for these ‘bunnies’
NADIA BRANCKER and Leslee Ann Reynolds-Holder both have day jobs they love. Nadia, in her early 30s, is a business writer and Leslee, also in her early 30s, is an actuary. so both are seen daily in their business wear.
But they have alter egos. In the evenings they transform into Fitness Bunnies, so called by their clients and also the name of their fitness company.
Nadia and Leslee are no joke. With boundless energy they change into their workout gear and put down a routine that will leave you dripping in sweat and feeling like you’ve run a marathon.
Their friendship from high school has strengthened even more now they are business partners.
They spend hours with each other perfecting Zumba routines, mostly at Leslee’s home.
Both have a creative and athletic background. They started out with Dance Theatre and then moved to Dance Strides.
Nadia is a past student of Erdiston Primary and Combermere and was dancing from age four with Dance Theatre and then Dance Strides.
“I went to Bahamas to do my bachelor’s degree in tourism management and then I completed my masters in international business. I always had a love for seeing the development of Barbados as a tourism giant and I came back with the mindset of getting big projects for Barbados. I wanted to tie in the international business with offshore projects. Now I work as a business journalist at the Barbados Advocate covering the business beat for the past seven years.”
Leslee is a past student of Merrivale Preparatory and Combermere (“we were both on the cheerleading team; that is how we met). She did her degree at University of the West Indies, Mona Campus (after doing her first year in Barbados) in actuarial science.
“I am still in that field. I have been working as an actuarial scientist for the last ten years, eight of those at RBC Insurance.”
Leslee said she first wanted to be a doctor, as she was drawn to the sciences. She then looked at genetic engineering and then realised her real love was mathematics.
“I loved math so when I looked at careers that used those skills I landed in this field.”
With the background in dancing, both girls said they never stopped being active in that genre.
“We were in NIFCA, we did a little teaching at Dance Strides, we danced for Crop Over events and any shows we could get into,” they said.
To help keep in shape both girls were members of a gym.
“We would come up with routines and make the aerobics class into our own thing,” said Leslee.
“Sometimes I would go over to Leslee’s and do our own workout and do our own thing and we would come up with our own choreography,” explained Nadia.
A chance glance at the TV one day and they spotted a Zumba class. They decided to come up with their own Zumba routines.
“It was easy with our dance background to come up with our own routines for Zumba. And one day Leslee said ‘hey why don’t we go and get certified in this’.
In 2011 both girls jetted off overseas, Leslee to Texas, Nadia to San Diego and they became Zumba certified.
Back in Barbados the girls wanted to get the word out so they organised a free class.
“We did a whole production. We were prepared and we had the numbers and no one could follow the routine,” they said, laughing loudly at the memory.
“We had spent months coming up with the choreography,” said Leslee, as Nadia added, “It was like a NIFCA piece” as both girls again burst into laughter.
But what it did was allow them to tweak and “wheel and come again”.
More hours were spent trying to make sure the next time was better.
“There were days when we probably didn’t want to see each other,” said Leslee, “but we had to remain dedicated and committed”.
Sometimes at 11 p.m. they would catch themselves still at it, redoing a section to make it better.
Music also played a vital role, so on their way to work they would try to pin down the best ones to get the routines more hyped.
The girls approached a couple of gyms which allowed them to start to teach classes there.
“We wanted to do that to get a feel and rhythm before we tackled another class outside,” said Leslee.
With word of mouth the numbers started to steadily increase.
The classes are 99 per cent women.
“We are women and we understand women. One of the reasons why I wanted to do Zumba was that I found that being at a desk I was losing interaction and touch with people. And I thought doing something like Zumba I would get to meet people and meet females. It would also be fun to teach it,” said Leslee.
The duo is celebrating five years teaching the class and said that the classes became popular when they started asking clients to dress up in themes such as Diva Days, Ah Like Muself, among others.
“The classes are a cross section of different ages, sizes, different strata . . . .”
The name Fitness Bunnies came about because clients said the girls moved really fast and had a lot of energy.
The routines the girls come up with are indeed fast-paced but catered to make sure that clients can follow.
“Zumba gives you the option of using their choreography but we prefer to come up with our own spin. We really don’t use any of their routines,” said Leslee.
“Some of the routines are sexy to give you that little edge. It isn’t a strict gym routine,” said Nadia.
At first the Fitness Bunnies were doing a class every evening (“because we wanted to get into the market”) and everywhere. In 2013 they cut back those numbers to three days a week and they were now full steam ahead as a fitness company, doing classes for corporations, and at events around the island.
This past Crop Over the girls were busy. For ten weeks they had full complements as people used it to get into shape for their costumes, to learn the songs for the season and to get an extra edge with some dance routines to do at parties.
The genres are not limited to just soca, as they do reggae, hip hop, salsa, modern, jazz . . . a little bit of everything.
The feedback the girls say is uplifting.
And with that the Zumba classes have become a sisterhood.
While the goal is to lose weight it is also for women to feel good about themselves.
“We are now a community,” said Nadia. “There are women we come up to us and say that they were going through stuff and after doing the class they feel better.
“We stay back after class and talk about any and everything under the moon,” added Leslee.
“Our target market is women. And we like to hear some of the testimonials when the classes are over and we stay back for like 20 minutes to even an hour for a powwow.”
“Some women say they have more confidence, they feel more empowered and even sexier,” chimed in Nadia.
The girls say that it works well for some businesswomen who use the class to network and make new contacts and new friends.
“We see some women hanging out and said that they made that friendship through our Zumba class,” said Leslee.
The girls have taken on two “protégés” – Rhea Chase and Abbie Matthews.
They started out as part of the class but were soon pulled to the stage to help Nadia and Leslee teach some of the routines.
“They have a dance background, seasoned dancers on the hotel circuit also. It was a natural fit to ask them to help as sometimes Nadia and I take on a bit too much with the routines and when we go for two hours we need that help,” Leslee admitted.
Fitness Bunnies are looking to take the concept regionally: “We would love to go to various islands to showcase our skills. There is a girl that comes here every year from India and attends the classes. She even invited us to come there. There are people from Trinidad who tell us come and do the classes there,” said Nadia.
For now the girls are looking to brand themselves more with shirts and accessories before dipping their toes in overseas waters. And who knows, a YouTube video might pop up with Fitness Bunnies showing you how they Zumba.