When Bloom Art Center closed its doors earlier this year, we knew it would take something special to fill the space. A 7,000 square foot warehouse with 35-foot ceilings and walls slathered in murals painted by various local artists isn’t exactly begging to be a Publix, after all.
The Movement Sanctuary takes on the challenge with gusto. Co-founded by friends Aaron, Jess and Erin, The Movement Sanctuary is a self-proclaimed acrobatics gym whose mission is “to bring yoga, circus and movement arts to the whole community in such an involved way that we elevate the fitness level of the entire city.”
And elevate it, they certainly have.
For some time now I have observed acro yoga from afar. Sipping my locally-brewed IPA at Green Bench Brewery, I wonder at the flexibility of those who spread out in the grasses of the beer garden, aerial poses and handstands a-flowing. It isn’t until now that I identify the place people go to learn these techniques: Acro gyms are making a name for themselves around the country and here in the Tampa Bay area as well.
My visit to The Movement Sanctuary is full of anticipation. The space is hard to miss: Sitting adjacent to I-275, the large warehouse is still covered in colorful murals and artworks. I find a vacant space in the dirt parking lot and make my way inside. Once indoors, I take note of the fluorescent rope lights strung across the walls on one side and the plush purple carpet beneath my feet. Memories of gymnastics classes flash before me as my toes dig into the springy eggplant floor.
Two smiling faces greet me as I climb down the steep steps to the main level, and I am welcomed warmly. I shake each of the instructors’ hands as they greet me and invite me to take a look around and make myself comfortable.
It only takes a few minutes for me to absorb my surroundings, and I am left to myself for another 15 or so before anyone speaks to me again. The “schedule” at The Movement Sanctuary is loose; I wonder if beginning class late is part of the practice. Am I too “inside of the box” for expecting a five o’clock class to begin promptly at five? Am I too rigid?
I convince myself I need this class more than I realized as my instructor approaches me apologetically. Class is about to begin and he is sorry for the delay. By this time, I welcome the wait and have begun to re-embrace my inner free spirit. Though there is only one other participant in the Mobility class tonight, I feel the intensity as soon as we begin.
The mobility class challenges me to push past my comfort zone, physically and mentally. We use small props to dig into our bodies’ pressure points and though it hurts, I am promised I am doing something good for my muscles. While I am hurting and a bit unclear on how to proceed, I look around and observe those participating in the open gym hours: Some twirling from hanging hoops, some stretching on the open floor, others being lifted in the air limb by limb. The Movement Sanctuary is extremely unique and pretty damn awesome; this is just the dose of flair St. Pete has been looking for.
As class wraps up, I gather my things and take note of the way I feel. The people scattered around various spaces in the gym busy themselves with lifts and maneuvers foreign to me. I am new to this type of gym, but I feel welcome and would not hesitate to return. Aaron, one of the co-founders, is eager to invite me back for additional classes (maybe a beginner’s acro class is next) and tells me about their monthly First Saturday parties. With fire dancers, acrobats and a live DJ, I'm intrigued and vow to return to check it out.
The Movement Sanctuary has a few kinks to work out, certainly. Lack of communication about what to expect as a newcomer is one of my pet peeves any time I enter a new fitness center, and TMS doesn’t provide many instructions even though this is my first time here.
Albeit slightly disorganized, The Movement Sanctuary is exactly what St. Pete needs: A space to maintain our "funky." Not many spots in St. Pete remain eclectic, fun and weird; The Movement Sanctuary delivers on all three. I plan on returning for an acro class, a party, maybe both — and I suggest you do the same.