Sareena Nickoli of Vernon’s Soul Studio is carrying on her fitness classes amid widespread self-isolation with the help of video conferencing technology. (Contributed)

From Zumba to ZOOM-ba: Vernon fitness studio moves classes online amid COVID-19

Soul Studio now offers a variety of public virtual fitness classes during self-isolation

In the age of social distancing, one Vernon fitness instructor has found a way to keep people moving together.

Sareena Nickoli made the tough choice to close doors to her Soul Studio business March 17. Concerns around COVID-19 left her with no other choice, but the decision still wasn’t easy.

“I built a pretty great community here and I think it really broke my heart knowing that this was people’s happy place for just connecting with people and being fit,” she said.

Nickoli specializes in Zumba but has recently become an expert in Zoom — a video communications app that’s seen its stock price soar in the past month, as social distancing forces businesses to adapt to life without in-person interaction.

After several full days of research and camera setup, Nickoli hosted a private session with studio members March 20. As familiar faces began to appear, Nickoli said there was a collective outpouring of emotion.

“I flipped open the laptop and it was like — everybody’s faces just started coming up on the screen and it was instant cheering,” she said.

“Seeing familiarity was an amazing thing.”

Nickoli has worked in the fitness industry for 20 years and has built her business on the connections made in an in-person gym setting. She herself feeds off the energy in the fitness room, and admits she was unsure if that energy would translate to a digital format.

“That was my first worry,” she said. “Everybody loves Soul Studio because of the energy that’s in here and that’s the main comment when people walk through the door, so I was worried they wouldn’t be able to feel that energy.”

The pandemic has forced businesses in many industries to adapt in creative ways, but for some, the shift to digital could not only help strengthen public health efforts in the short term but also strengthen business post-pandemic.

“I feel like it was there for me and all of a sudden I’ve been pushed into this, and so I do see it being a part of my business after all of this in some form or another, because people are always looking for things online.”

Last Sunday, Soul Studio hosted its first public virtual Zumba class and had 70 people, from Chilliwack to California, log on to join her regular members in the dance-integrated workout.

“It’s crazy, but we’ve actually had record-breaking attendance in these classes,” Nickoli said.

“I have members from 20 all the way up to 85, and so these people have put fitness as an important part of their life and to get by what we’re going through right now, mentally, we need this.”

Soul Studio is offering a variety of classes including Zumba, Barre, yoga, pound and more. Classes are $5 per drop-in or $20 for an unlimited weekly pass. Instructions for joining virtual classes can be found at soulstudio.ca.

Virtual class schedules are regularly posted on Soul Studio’s Facebook page.

READ MORE: ‘We’re ready’ for COVID-19, says South Okanagan health care director

READ MORE: COVID-19 cases march higher despite restrictions and threats of punishment


Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
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