Michelle Brugal

Can you just give me a brief description of who you are and what you do in New York City?

I grew up in Miami, went to high school in Miami and then I moved to the city to go to Fordham University for college to major in dance. They have a BFA program with Alvin Ailey where you get conservatory style training at the Ailey school and then you get a liberal arts education at Fordham University. 

I graduated in 2006 and started working as a professional dancer right away. I started touring with “The Lion King” and about three months in they asked me to join the Broadway company. I was a part of the Broadway company for almost four years. That show is amazing and so fun but it’s really taxing on your body and I started getting injured a lot. So around 2011, I was out of the show with an injury and I started getting desperate for something to cross train my body other than physical therapy and dance class. So while I was injured I discovered the Tracy Anderson Method. However, it was an extremely expensive and super elite type of workout so I thought, “oh, I can’t go there” but then I saw that they were hiring trainers so I applied and got the job. It was a very long and extensive training process – it took about three to six months until I was a hired teacher who could run my own classes.

I ended up leaving The Lion King and joined a show in Las Vegas a couple years later – it was my first time leaving New York in ten years! But I knew Vegas wasn’t the city I would stay in. So I planned to return [to New York] but I didn’t want to return to Tracy Anderson because it was really taxing on my body – it is such high impact, a lot of dance cardio and jumping. As a trainer, the main thing she provides to her clientele is that the trainer is leading you not by speaking, but by doing. So you’re following the trainer and they’re doing it full out 100% so that you’re motivated to work just as hard, which is a great thing. But if you’re doing that four times a day, four hours a day, at a heated environment at such a high intensity, your body is going to start breaking down.

I had a friend who had just transitioned to FlyBarre and he reached out to me about becoming a Barre trainer. So I came back and started that training, I started my own business with my own clientele who I train on the side and I was also auditioning and doing freelance work on the side. That’s been my life since!

How would you compare and contrast the Vegas and New York City workout/dance scenes?

Vegas is amazing in terms of being able to train. They offer absolutely everything you can imagine at such an affordable rate – it’s incredible. I was practicing hot yoga every day, bootcamp, kettlebell classes. I started training in aerial yoga. It was amazing and so cheap that I knew I could pay for a couple classes and still go grocery shopping! This is versus New York where one class is almost $40 for a specialty class – that’s so expensive, especially on a dancer’s salary. There’s also a lot of outdoor activities like hiking, trailing, swimming, which is really special.

Interesting…. because when I think of Vegas I just think that everyone is drinking and partying.

Well, they are! But because it’s such a flashy, shallow type of place where there’s really nothing else to do by party, during the day, people are just working out. They just want to look good so that when they go out at night that’s what they show. Here, I find there’s a different motivation. Yes, people want to look good but we have a different culture. It’s not about being half naked all the time. It’s about working out and being healthy and having a balanced life. We work so hard and so much that I also think it’s a big stress reliever for a lot of New Yorkers to be able to go take a class. 

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Photo: Alex Braverman

Describe your barre classes in three words:

I would say challenging, musically-driven and fun. Having fun is a very important component of working out. I think sometimes as New Yorkers we tend to be so Type A and like, “OK I’m going to go get my workout!” but it’s just like relax. We’re just working out. So I really love to push people past their limits and get them to know their bodies better but I also want to make it enjoyable and let people laugh at themselves. I do this through my creativity and musicality. 

You teach classes but then you also take direction from choreographers. How do you manage these two different worlds?

It’s actually super complementary. It’s awesome to be in charge and motivating people because you have to figure out how to make them someone understand and do what you’re telling them to do. Everyone is different. So I could give you a physical correction or I could verbally tell you but then I have to find the words that you understand. The same thing goes for me when I’m being told what to do. This helps me learn how to manage and direct other people because maybe something they’re [choreographers] doing applies to something I could say to someone to help them [students] learn. So being the teacher and the student are both really helpful. It keeps you humble. You don’t know everything. It’s always a learning process.

If you could have anyone in your barre class, who would you have?

Misty Copeland!! I think she’s an exceptional, beautiful dancer and such a strong body on stage. And the type of workout FlyBarre is, it sculpts and tones and strengthens your entire body, and I think it’s incredible cross training for dancers. I think she would appreciate it. 

My friend, Allix, and I after we conquered Michelle's FlyBarre class.
My friend, Allix, and I after we conquered Michelle’s FlyBarre class.

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