Michelle Epstein is the quintessential Flirty Girl. She’s energetic (and currently obsessed with Zumba dance classes), ambitious (she quit her Bay St. job a few years ago to start her own business) and can do a mean little chair striptease (despite the fact that she’s about six months pregnant). Epstein is one of a thriving posse of women in Toronto who are looking outside of the confines of a traditional gym environment to get fit. Step machines and treadmills are great, but how can they compare with cardio burning workouts like Pole Dancing and XXX Power Strip? That’s the thinking Epstein was counting on when she took a leading role in the opening of the King West Flirty Girl Studio back in 2005. It took a leap of faith and a partnership with the super fit Knee sisters (they’ve since opened another Flirty Girl in Chicago), but Epstein hasn’t looked back since.
“It was a dream come true to be able to translate my experience into this,” Epstein told OurFaves. “I was in corporate communications – I worked on Bay St., I had the office and everything and then I met the two sisters who started Flirty Girl and they gave me a partnership opportunity to come on board and run this studio and do all the marketing and PR for the business.” According to Epstein, the experience was rewarding, but also grueling. “I’d never worked so hard in my life,” she said. “We did everything. We taught the classes, we checked everyone in, we hired all the instructors, we washed the floors. I was working 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, but having so much fun. But I loved, loved, loved it. Now it runs and it’s fabulous and we have an amazing group of women who work for us.”
Now that Epstein is nearing her last trimester, teaching a Hottie Body Boxing class is no longer on her daily to-do list. We caught up with her recently to find out if she still battles the stigma attached to sexy fitness and where they find their absurdly buff instructors. Here’s what she had to say.
Have you always been into fitness?
What’s your favourite class?
I love Zumba. I love to dance and I love cardio. That being said, I’m pregnant now, so I have to cut back on my cardio. I’m a big weights person so I just finished taking a class called Body Blast which is a full body weights class. Amazing. She forces you to lift heavy weights. A lot of women don’t know how to lift weights or they think they should do long reps with lighter weights. She makes you lift heavy weights. It’s the only way to change the shape of your body. I love having an instructor to force you to push yourself.
You already had the job on Bay St. Why did you make the leap?
You know what, I loved what I did. There was lots of excitement and action but I didn’t realize I had the entrepreneurial spirit. I was really just unhappy working for something that I didn’t honestly believe in. I was doing something for someone else and at the end of the day, I’d go home and think, what did I do today? Did I make the world better.
I always loved fitness. It wasn’t just the endorphin rush – I always had to make time for it. So when I met these two women who had left their jobs, it was an inspiration to me. They had the courage to do that, to make that crazy shift and take a big risk and that inspired me. It was the best thing I ever did.
You’ve been at it for more than five years now. What changes have you seen?
When we started, sexy fitness was a new fun thing. You saw pole dancing on Oprah and Carmen Electra had her videos out. So it was starting to build. The girls wanted to take a class in Toronto but there was no where they wanted to take it. There was pole dancing, but it was somebody’s pole in the basement or it was a strip club. So when they found out there wasn’t anything, they decided to create it themselves. So initially, it was full-on sexy fitness and the girls would come. We had packed classes.
Do you think you’re still fighting the stigma that comes with sexy fitness?
We get a lot of crank calls and a lot of people walking in thinking this is that kind of place. They learn real quick it’s very fun and girly and sweet and we just take that edge, that stigma right out. If you’ve taken the pole dance class, you know there’s some sexy fun stuff that goes on in there but it’s really safe. No one pushes you in your boundaries except maybe in XXX Power Strip. We had to call it triple X because she has a mouth on her. We warn you of that ahead of time.
Where do you find your instructors?
They find us because it’s a lot of word-of-mouth or a lot of referrals from the dance community and the fitness community. And when they come in, we ask them to take classes they get what it’s all about. And they have to put on a demo class or two for us. My instructors never leave. I’ve had instructors who’ve been with me from day one. And we compensate our instructors based on how full their classes are. So if they’re not filling their classes, we find someone who will fill their classes. We encourage them to Twitter and use Facebook to bring in their clientele and really nurture that. So we really want little entrepreneurs here.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I love seeing the transformation a woman goes through once she’s discovered how fitness can change her life – whether it be a physical change or an emotional change – finding a way to channel her energy. We have so many success stories.
What’s the most challenging aspect of running Flirty Girl?
Honestly, it’s a business just like any other business. A business with a super fun name but that still has to be kept running day-to-day. Managing operations, accounting, scheduling — all that is what takes up most of my time on a day-to-day basis.
What’s an average work day like for you?
I never know where my day is going to take me. Some days I’m immersed in numbers, working with my accountant on my finances. The next, I’m designing our latest promotion or direct mail piece, meeting with my partners and studio managers on marketing plans. The day after, I’m figuring out a creative way to fix the pole that has come loose in our pole dance studio. The best part is I get to work with an amazing group of young women. It’s a dream job. I thank my lucky stars every day.
My partner was like, how much time are you going to take off? I’m like, I don’t know, a month? I want to come back. I don’t want to miss anything.
Interview and photographs by Maria Cootauco