Ultimate Barre and Pilates

Some young women, like me, have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. Some grown women, or perhaps just me, are still struggling. Toni Manzon is not one of these women. She is a firecracker, and the owner of Ultimate Barre and Pilates, one of the best studios in the area. It’s hard to resist the big personality of Toni Manzon as she lifts the women around her to a higher physical and mental place, in cadence with an upbeat tempo. In a lot of ways, Toni is the upbeat tempo in her sessions both in and out of her studio. She is that light.

Toni Manzon (left) pictured with her daughter

Her physical studio closing due to Covid-19 was no deterrent to this tenacious trainer, who’s classes have simply moved to Zoom without much of a hitch. Now a seasoned instructor, she joins me on a zoom call while sitting on a tree stump. A testament to her ever forward moving lifestyle, there’s paint on her hands from an unmentioned home reno project.

A Match Made in Heaven

Toni is passionate about her work- and her work suits her perfectly. There are benefits to being a fitness instructor aside from just the daily workouts. She’s glad she doesn’t have to deal with office politics, or spend every weekday in a building where people complain about nothing over the hum of a vending machine. (I agree with her on this. I never want to hear about the privacy fence your angry neighbor is installing). She’s grateful she can get people when they’re in their best moods, away from the conference calls and data entry sheets. “They’re not at work, they’re not with their kids…they’re doing something good for themselves,” she tells me.

Toni Manzon has always known what she has wanted to do. “My mother belonged to this little woman’s fitness club- tiny little whole in the wall place in Wellesley. And she used to go every day and I was intrigued by it…I went with her one day and I took one class and I remember driving home with [my mom] saying I think I’ll do that when I get older… I can do that.” So, she did do that. 

It took years of dedication for Toni to earn her license and start teaching independently. While she walked me through her journey to become certified, one thing became clear: Toni is not one to follow for the sake of following. Of her mentee years, Toni speaks of rigid practices and unwavering, by the book instruction. Everything had to be done “a certain way.” she says. But then, when it came time to put this into practice, she quickly found this stiff way of doing things was doing a disservice to herself as much as her clientele. People are not rigid or unwavering. Human beings are anything but “by the book.”

Instead of focusing on inflexible routines, Toni felt it was best to go by the vibe of her room. While reading the energy of her class might be the best avenue towards a successful and endorphin rushing session, it is the last step in a seemingly endless array of training certifications, years of determination and sustained forward movement. After all – how can one be expected to read a room if you’re not already owning the atmosphere? Toni speaks specifically to this challenge: “Getting your feet wet, getting that comfortability of walking into a room…you have to walk in the room with the attitude of – not ‘I’m controlling the room,’ but ‘I’m controlling the class.’” Spend just a few minutes with Toni, and you’ll find she’s mastered that one long ago. Throughout our conversation, she spoke as much with her paint covered hands as her voice. It’s easy to tell this woman is very go-go-go.  Juggling a dozen tasks on an ever lengthening to-do list appears to be her modus operandi.

Today, her classes brim with positivity, encouragement and joy, as well as with clients. “I’m a firm believer that if something isn’t fun, people aren’t going to stick with it. So I try and bring my personality into it.”

The Right Routine

Toni excels in marketing herself, almost unintentionally, through her steadfast zeal and infectious laughter. She is someone you want to be around. She makes you laugh. She makes you feel bigger than your insecurities. The popularity of her studio speaks volumes not only of the sweat you get, but of the magnetic pull of Toni. “I’m my product,” she tells me. “And I can kill it wherever I bring it.” This much is a fact. Can a workout be so intense, it’s a felony? Or am I just that out of shape?

I know several people who attend Toni’s classes, and they all express with such gusto how challenging her routines are, and how good they feel after. Having experienced one of Toni Manzon’s sessions personally, and the exhilarating flood of endorphins that followed, I had to know more about how she curates her workout routines. I’ve been to my fair share of fitness classes (well, maybe not my fair share, but a share anyway), and nothing has left me feeling like I could rip the Earth up from underneath my feet and then conquer it. Nothing, of course, until Ultimate Barre and Pilates.

Toni tells me, “That goes back to experience and doing it for years.” In or out of the studio, instructing a diverse class takes extreme multitasking. “You gotta do the public speaking, you gotta be encouraging, and then you physically have to do it and make it look like it’s not affecting you at all.” We laugh together and she adds, “That’s a tough one.” Toni’s classes are filled with women of all ages and all skill levels, so on top of managing the class as a whole, she needs to ensure she is monitoring her individual students- and right now, that’s all happening over Zoom. “I should be able to make sure that person gets a good workout, but it needs to be safe for them. It’s really reading your audience and that can take years to know. You have to know it mentally but you also have to know it physically.” And as for ensuring that over the internet? “We were all awkward in the beginning and we all kind of got over it. We adapted [after a couple of months].” As someone who once had a panic attack in a library because the cubicles were rearranged, any amount of adaptability is awe-inspiring to me.

Above all, Toni is especially proud that she has been able to create an environment that felt safe for women who might otherwise not be comfortable going to a larger gym.

“I really realized there were a lot more people than I thought – women – that were intimidated by going in.”

 Naturally outgoing and confident, Toni strives to instill her virtues in all of her clients. Upon reflection she tell me, “I really realized there were a lot more people than I thought – women – that were intimidated by going in.” What I think is so great about Toni’s classes is that she is aware of this reality, but she doesn’t force change on anyone. She does not outright tell you, “Be confident;” she does not outright tell you, “Be comfortable with yourself.” Toni knows this is something that comes from within, so instead she manifests it from you and before you know it, you’ve realized it yourself. This is truly what makes Toni Manzon a light. “When the studio was open-and I didn’t really plan for this- but this is what was told to me from the first few months that I opened until the day I closed [her indoor studio space] was people saying ‘I feel so comfortable here. It’s like a little community.’ And it just kind of morphed that way on its own.” 

Here’s the thing: it didn’t morph that way on its own. Self effacing even in her own creative space, Toni separates herself from the credit that belongs to her. She gives space for other women to share in the creation of her community, and that’s really what makes her classes so special.

“It made me really proud and happy that people felt that they could come and do something good for themselves and they felt like they weren’t being judged and it was safe and it was supportive.”

Now we’re seeing a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, and one might presume Toni will be reopening her Millis location. Toni, on the other hand, ever true to herself, has other plans. Looking back on the stress that came with operating in a physical space – the insurance, utilities, and other overhead – “That’s all gone,” she says. She has found happiness and peace in operating at a smaller capacity, either through Zoom or – hopefully soon – outdoors again. “I will always teach at some capacity,” she tells me, even as she gets older (or in her words, “Father Time marching across my face”). She speaks of the changes in her life, initiated both by the pandemic and the passage of time.

But as she sat with me on Zoom, on her log in her backyard, communicating mostly through gestures from her painted hands, I did not see or feel any passage of time had taken place. Exuberant, affable Toni Manzon is as go-go-go as ever; I’m guessing the moment she was first certified, she cartwheeled all the way home and never really stopped. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Her parting words to me, and to you, are indicative of her motivational spirit, determination, resolve, and light: “Give it a try, you’ll be amazed at what you can do.”

Check out what Ultimate Barre Pilates is up to, follow here. If I were you, I’d stretch for 15 minutes before clicking. Toni Manzon really is that good.

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