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Santa Cruz Movement Brings Inclusive Philosophy of Fitness

After a year’s delay due to Covid, Leela Kalow and Dean Yerushalmy open Midtown studio

After a year’s delay, Leela Kalow and Dean Yerushalmy have opened Santa Cruz Movement with a distinctly inclusive philosophy.

Santa Cruz Movement’s Leela Kalow and Dean Yerushalmy were excited to open their beautifully renovated, airy Midtown studio in March of 2020. After teaching at the Tannery since 2018, they had leased a former furniture store and invested in turning it into a movement studio with mirrored walls, an appealing, light-filled aesthetic, hanging bars and rings, and a marley-type floor. Safe to say (no Covid pun intended), the space did not open as planned. Kalow and Yerushalmy pivoted to Zoom—followed by outdoor options when it was permitted to do so—and continued to pay full rent on the unusable indoor space. 

Worldanz founder and local fitness star Gina Garcia made a resonant point about gyms and business owners such as herself during the pandemic: while retail or restaurants were able to receive bailout money, the fitness industry did not.  

On March 9th, 2021, Kalow and Yerushalmy were finally able to hold their inaugural class in the space. Despite financial struggles, they were able to keep the lease, and community members are welcomed to the couple’s mask-optional, well-ventilated Ido Portal-movement style classes, held seven days a week.

With Santa Cruz Movement, Kalow and Yerushalmy aim to appeal to everyone regardless of fitness level or ability, age or any defining characteristic. Truly inclusive, it’s not just something for everyone—it’s everything for everyone. Kalow and Yerushalmy, who come from backgrounds of dance and yoga, and personal training and surfing, respectively, make a point to provide options in each class for clientele ranging in age from 18 to 70, whether its a pro-surfer looking to increase mobility, a teacher rehabbing old martial arts injuries, or someone who hasn’t exercised and wants to get moving in an accessible way.

Kalow and Yerushalmy emphasize a generalist approach. “It’s a wide-ranging practice, not one specific thing,” Kalow says. “We’re a very obsessive culture, because we like to do the thing that makes us look and feel good.” While you’ll look and feel good during SCM classes, it’s a byproduct rather than a focal point. 

“We have a lot of people who got injured dancing or other stuff, they come every day to practice with us,” Yerushalmy says. 

The only prerequisite: curiosity about movement.

CORE MOVEMENT

Kalow, a Santa Cruz native, met Yerushalmy, who is from Tel Aviv, while both were living there. In 2014, the couple met renowned movement master Ido Portal (for those unfamiliar, please stop reading, Google or Instagram immediately, and prepare to be amazed). Portal developed the methods taught. In 2016, Kalow and Yerushalmy joined the Ido Portal Mentorship, a core group of students meeting and studying with Portal. They’re the only members of this circle in the Santa Cruz area.

Yerushalmy and Kalow trade off as lead teacher in each class. The one who isn’t the main teacher serves as backup, going around the room to observe and give tips to each student, and to help the other demo movements and sequences. Their presence and passion is palpable. There is no “typical class,” because every class is different.

A new program starts every 6-8 weeks. “The subjects and systems are new, with new refinements,” Yerushalmy explains. “If you finish juggling three balls for a minute, you reach a certain point in a specific task and we update it. We move on to something else that is also connected to that subject, which is object manipulation. It’s all connected. Your body will become better at being more efficient and solving new problems when you’re challenging yourself in new ways. Look at it like a puzzle. If you know one piece you have to look at how to connect the next one, then start from somewhere else. It’s a puzzle that’s never ending, how to connect those pieces to a whole practice.” 

STICKING TO IT

On a recent Tuesday, I arrived for the hour-and-a-half long class at Santa Cruz Movement’s Midtown studio, which I was pleased to note is only a short distance from the Crepe Place and Lillian’s. 

The class is performed barefoot, shoes and belongings left in organized cubbies in the front. Hand sanitizer is available upon walk-in, and the clean, tidy space gives off a welcoming vibe, as do Kalow and Yerushalmy themselves as they take time to greet students and orient new ones. The style felt attentive and remained so throughout.

Our warm-up, in a circle, involved opening the thoracic spine—“the least mobile part,” as Yerushalmy explained. We then moved into a continuation of the warm-up that’s a game; another fun aspect to SCM classes is play. My partner held a long stick while I balanced on one leg. He moved the stick to different spots, low and high, left and right, and issued commands—“right hand,” “left hand,” or “foot”—while I had to touch the end of the stick with the body part named. The result was a very fun balance-challenge. We then switched roles. 

Next, allowable body parts were expanded: head, shoulder, elbow, upper/lower back, knee…one cannot help but laugh, wobble, and get a hell of a stabilizer and core training. The final part of the warmup was the “spinal wave,” which can move in two directions, head to hips or hips to head, and is pretty much what it sounds like, turning yourself into a kind of human snake and warming up all parts of the spine.

The main part of class entailed floor-work: locomotion including “rotational sit ups,” “helicopter” (on your back, legs travel above the head), “roll” (a sort of cartwheel where feet don’t leave the ground but go around behind the body) and a strength-training circuit involving push-ups, pull-ups on rings or the bar, and stepping up onto a box and lowering yourself slowly down.

My second class of the week was, as predicted, very different—no floor-work, we worked instead on some tricky coordination exercises followed by various kinds of handstands and hanging or pulling into an upside-down position on rings or the bar. Every class includes some strengthening elements like wrist-flexion, spinal engagement, and hip opening.

Toward the end of classes, mind-and breath-work come into play, whether it’s receiving a card with numbers 1-25 scrambled out of order and having to touch the numbers in the correct order (very confusing, in a fun way!) or learning to juggle, or breathwork and meditation, the mind feels as stretched as the body. That post-class crepe or bowl of pasta feels so well-deserved.

The class was both vigorous and restorative at the same time. I felt no soreness the next day, but definitely elevated in mood and challenged in my range of movement possibilities. This is a great class for any level because the instructors have a variety of modifications for injuries or immobilities. I’d recommend it to anyone, because if you’re some kind of pro athlete, it’s going to help increase strength, mobility, and flexibility, and if you’ve never exercised before, it’s a warm and welcoming environment, collaborative and noncompetitive. Some of the movements were challenging, and the teachers gave alternatives and modifications to some students who were rehabbing injuries or more limited mobility.

Email [email protected] or check out santacruzmovement.com.First class is free for Santa Cruz County residents Sign-up and membership options are at mindbodyonline.com.

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