Breaking Down the Gender Barrier, One Jumping Jack at a Time

Sadie Kurzban in her 305 Fitness Midtown studio (Photo Credit: Madison Roberts)

When Sadie Kurzban struts in to teach her Monday 5:30 p.m. class in Midtown, the live DJ at 305 Fitness is experimenting. The clients stretch, staring at themselves in the wall of mirrors that line the front and side of the studio. The back wall boasts two large illustrations of pouty lips, one with its tongue out and the other being bitten. Right now, the lights are up, but later on, they’ll transform into a bright array of pinks, reds, and blues, sometimes switching to black lights to give the allusion of a nightclub. Dressed in a black 305 Fitness sports bra, black Nike spandex, knee highs and tennis shoes, Kurzban ties her brown curly hair into a bun, puts on her microphone, and yells “305, how are you feeling?” A petite 27 year old with abs that make it seem like she does crunches in her sleep, she is definitely not lacking in energy. She is greeted with whoops and claps, but it’s not enough.

“Come on, y’all,” she says. “I said, ‘HOW ARE YOU FEELING?”

The 14-person class erupts in cheers.

“I’m doing great because it’s a Monday,” Kurzban says to her class, “and tomorrow we’re going to elect our first female president!” (When Hillary Clinton was not elected, Kurzban Instagrammed a photo of herself dressed in all black with the caption: “When you’re such a millennial feminist that you have to laugh at yourself because you legit have been crying nonstop in your cropped turtleneck all day.”)

She shakes hands with new clients at the cardio-based dance workout studio she created, stemming from her hometown Miami’s area code (305). Kurzban has turned working out into a party, creating studios that feature live DJ’s, black lights, and hype instructors for a 55-minute-long workout that will honestly kick your ass. Standard classes incorporate 30 minutes of nonstop cardio, five minutes of toning, a five-minute sprint, and 15 minutes of hip-hop choreography, followed by stretches.

Nasty Don’t Quit Tank Top (Photo Courtesy: 305 Fitness)

During her senior year at Brown University, Kurzban won $25,000 when she entered a fitness studio plan in a business plan competition, moved to New York City, and gave herself six months to test the waters. In 2014, she opened the first 305 Fitness studio at 8th Street. Two years later, 305 expanded to Midtown at 33rd Street, a studio in Boston, and one in Washington D.C. In September, the company launched a new active wear line, featuring crop tops, leggings, tanks, and hoodies, and they added sculpting and yoga classes to the original studio’s lineup. In the week following the election, 305 released a “Nasty Don’t Quit” tank top, in response to Trump’s election, and to keep fighting for the diversity of 305. Fifty percent of proceeds from the tank will go to Planned Parenthood.

When announcing the tank in an email, 305 included the following statement: “Women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and immigrants have worked tirelessly to create our #MakeSweatSexy revolution, and we support their enormous contribution and identify with their struggle.”

There’s a level of sass the 305 Fitness brand embodies, from the “Girls Girls Girls” neon pink sign in the window of the 8th Street location (which tips a hat to the old Times Square strip clubs), to the wall illustrations of girls in mini shorts with visible butt cheeks, to the blaring music, and club lighting. One thing’s for sure: 305 Fitness is Sadie Kurzban.

“We don’t censor ourselves. We don’t censor music. We are very open,” Kurzban says. “I think a lot of the qualities I like about myself have been passed onto the company. One of those things is, I’m not afraid to make mistakes. I like to try things and see what happens, and you find the same culture from everyone here. It’s really an environment that prioritizes creativity over perfectionism.”

Kurzban’s younger brother, Ben, who is also the CFO of 305, makes an important distinction. Sadie is not who she is because of 305 Fitness, but 305 Fitness is what it is because of Sadie.

Carrie Morgan, a friend of Kurzban’s since they studied in France together in college, describes Kurzban’s attitude as “zero fucks given.” Morgan recalls a time when the pair worked out early one summer morning. Kurzban got on the subway wearing only booty shorts and a sports bra.

“First of all, it was hot out,” Morgan says. “Second of all, she was going to a workout class. Third of all, her body is awesome, so why not flaunt it? She’s worked for it. People were looking, and you could tell they were like ‘oh my gosh,’ and she was like ‘I don’t have time for you. You are not important enough for me to waste my energy on.’”

Sadie Kurzban (Photo Credit: Madison Roberts)

People close to Kurzban have always considered her an empowering figure for women, but following the election, she began using social media to express her experiences as a female business owner. She posts videos encouraging women to love their bodies, confront catcalls, and discuss women’s issues.

In one video, she says she once asked one of her male employees for feedback on her performance. He told her that she was hot and cold, sometimes refusing to look up from emails to say hello and ask employees about their days. When she told her boyfriend at the time, he laughed, saying that his male boss was never viewed as cold for acting the same way. He’s just been seen as busy. Kurzban admits she doesn’t believe acting that way is great management, but highlights the double standard.

Danielle Carlacci, an instructor at 305, acknowledges that sometimes, Kurzban gets criticized, but she also faces challenges male businessmen may never encounter.

“I actually find it super empowering to have her in charge because it’s inspirational seeing women in charge like that,” Carlacci says. “She pursues what she wants in a fierce, intentional way, and while sometimes that is intimidating, especially since she’s a woman, and physically she is smaller, you might feel like ‘Is there something that I’m missing?’ But that girl, she just goes 100 percent for everything. She’s the best.”

However, 305 isn’t just for women. In fact, it embraces male instructors, employees, and clients. It’s not the gender that matters. It’s the forward-thinking mindset. Carlacci says staff gender tension doesn’t exist because the male employees are allies in the feminist cause.

At 16, Kurzban started teaching Zumba-style classes. Then during her time at Brown, Kurzban took her best friend home to Miami for spring break and went dancing at a nightclub. While dancing, they realized they could mesh the club atmosphere with high-intensity fitness.

“The idea is that I’m not a trained dancer, so everything is very easy to follow because I don’t have the technical background,” Kurzban says. “I think that’s what’s helped make this product more accessible. It makes it feel like people are just dancing at a wedding.”

As Kurzban enters the sprint section of class, she encourages people to make noise. The room turns bright red as she splits the class down the middle, leading a series of high knees, jumping jacks, and a kickboxing-style sequence with punches and side-to-side kicks.

People feed off of her energy. Growing up as the second youngest of five siblings, to a Jewish father and a Cuban mother, Kurzban attributes her sass to her “Jewban” roots. Kurzban was raised in a house full of noise, shouting, dancing, partying and laughing. When she was younger, she used to perform dances for her family, prancing around the living room, while she made Ben shine the flashlight as a makeshift spotlight, following her every move.

“She’s a hurricane,” Ben says. “It’s inescapable. If my sister is going nuts around the house, I am going to get dragged into it.”

Although Kurzban is not wearing makeup in Monday’s class, it is not uncommon for instructors to teach runway ready. “Make Sweat Sexy,” the 305 slogan, says it all. Instead of classes with drill sergeant instructors, Kurzban created an atmosphere where the instructors encourage twerking, air humping, and sexy poses.

At one point, Kurzban leads the class in a lunge, and rubs her hands over her body, making pouty faces in the mirror. When she jumps out of the lunge, she screams “Ah yes! Pop them titties!”

Sadie Kurzban (Photo Credit: Madison Roberts)

Naz Taghavian, a 31-year-old woman who works in the retail industry, has been a 305 regular since May 2016. She thinks she’s older than most 305 clients, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling empowered when she’s completed a workout.

“I don’t really go out anymore like to bars,” Taghavian says. “So this is kind of like my hour a day to just kind of be free and dance around and do whatever I want.”

Taghavian says she attended one of Kurzban’s classes earlier in the week, where they discussed body positivity.

“Sadie told us, it’s about loving your body, not changing it to how someone else thinks it should look,” Taghavian said. “Not necessarily making it better, just making yourself feel better in it.”

When she’s not at work, Kurzban’s main hobby is working out. Whether she’s taking a 305 class, training at another studio, or running outside, exercise is her therapy. Of course, Kurzban spends time with friends at movies, stand-up comedy shows, and clubs, but she has to prioritize work over her social life.

“It’s just some more sacrifices than maybe most 27 year olds are making,” Kurzban says. “But I feel very lucky that I found something that makes me so happy and has given me so much purpose at such a young age.”

However, these sacrifices don’t stop Kurzban from committing to relationships with the same full force she commits to everything else. Often, Kurzban will call Morgan, even if she only has ten minutes to talk. Morgan recalls an email exchange the pair once had, after Morgan graduated from college a year early and moved home. She kept in touch with Kurzban via email, and when Morgan was struggling to decide her next step in life, Kurzban coached her, asking about her hopes and dreams.

“She is a natural leader and mentor,” Morgan says. “But the best part is, I asked her the same questions, like ‘Sadie, what are your hopes and dreams?’ I have this email from her, and she just goes, ‘Carrie, one day I really just hope I can change people’s lives through fitness. I just want to open fitness studios around the country.’ And look, it took her five years and she’s doing it.”

Kurzban has created her own mini-empire, charging $32 a class, comparable to other boutique gyms, but to Kurzban it’s not about the class. It’s about what the class stands for. It’s about people leaving a little more confident than when they walked in the door.

“Giving people this gift of 55 minutes for them, where they’re so completely focused and just have a big toothy smile on their face,” Kurzban says, “it makes me very proud that I’m offering that to the world.”

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