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Women In Wellness: Colette Dong Of The Ness On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Hack Your Water: If you’re finding it hard to stay hydrated (like me, who hates water), figure out some options that help you drink more. I love Mab & Stoke sticks, which are plant remedies that you add in. They are delicious and I look forward to hydrating!

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Colette Dong, Founder & CEO of The Ness.

Colette Dong is a movement addict with multiple degrees in dance performance and exercise science. After pioneering the Dance Science department at Elon University, she went on to work in the research department at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. Prior to founding the ness, Colette gained experience in the fitness industry as trainer and operations director for several boutique studios across NYC.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I have always loved moving. My parents enrolled me in dance classes from a very young age and my entire upbringing revolved around my training. After public school I would attend a pre-professional ballet school in New York and take class/rehearse for 6+ hours before getting home at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. to start my homework. Dance taught me discipline, organization, hard work, poise, confidence and provided me a community of friends who always understood me. Towards the end of high school I started going to the gym with one of my dance friends after class. We had no idea what we were doing, but we liked riding the elliptical and gossiping about boys before stretching for far too long, so that kicked off my interest in other forms of movement and exercise. I further explored that passion in college where I got my BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography and BS in Dance Science, which is Exercise Science with a focus on dancers. I was the first one at my college to mesh the two degrees together and it’s still a program at the university today, which I am really proud of. People always want you to choose a lane, but I always believe you should try to have it all. After school I moved back to New York City and started gaining teaching experience at different studios. Boutique fitness had just started gaining traction so there was a lot to be discovered. I worked at a running studio, a pilates studio, a dance studio and one that had everything. I eventually worked my way up to holding operations roles at these places as well and got a ton of experience running small businesses. It was at one of these studios where I met my business partner Aly, and the rest was history.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Taking the leap to start my own business with my partner Aly has definitely been the most interesting move in my career path. We started by private training at a generous client’s house who would let us invite whoever else we wanted and charge for the remaining spots. The only deal was that he got to pick the schedule, so we would alter the times every week and drop the schedule out to our network on Sunday nights. After doing that for three months, we were able to move into the studio we have now. The biggest lesson from this story is that energy creates more energy. You have to capitalize on momentum and seize opportunities when they come to you. We thought this client was joking when he first made the offer (we were maybe a little boozy), but the next morning it was game time once we realized it was serious.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have definitely made the mistake of not standing up for myself multiple times in my career. One time at the first studio I worked at, a client called and wanted a return on a package. I turned to one of the owners and he authorized the return, so I processed it. Several minutes later another one of the owners came in and bit my head off for taking action without asking permission. Not only did the owner who authorized it sit there in silence pretending he didn’t just give the go ahead and watch her scream at me, but I did as well. It was that moment where I realized you are the only one who can advocate for yourself. I was relying on him to speak up but it never happened. It’s tough because you don’t always know what’s happening to you at the moment. You can think of a million things to say after the fact, but when you’re in shock you’re not always processing as fast as you would like. Over the years I have tried to slow down and receive the energy of others before reacting. It helps me navigate, digest and respond quickly and appropriately. I wish I could say that was the last time it happened, but it’s something that constantly needs to be fine tuned.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

Movement is second nature to me. I’m not myself if I don’t move my body everyday and for most of the population, finding the motivation to do this is really difficult. I didn’t realize what a daunting task this was for most people until later in life, which is when I knew this is what I was meant to contribute to the world. I wanted people to look forward to movement the same way I did because it always leaves you an amplified version of yourself, without fail. The ness method is designed to help you look forward to moving. Our goal is to make you love your workout because in turn, it’s going to help you love yourself, and when you love yourself, you’re better able to care for others. Like I said earlier, energy creates more energy and whether it’s bad or good, it’s going to snowball into your life and onto others immediately, so having a movement practice that uplifts you is crucial.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. Small Luxuries: I am a big believer in indulging in small luxuries everyday like your favorite candle, handsoap, $6 coffee etc. — the things that feel outrageous to spend money on but that bring you frequent joy. I have a face oil that I love. I pat it on morning and night and everything about it feels calming, glamorous and grounding. Working these small moments in daily life is definitely a tweak I suggest. It helps you feel less burnt out when you do finally get a day off.
  2. Sleep Space: Make your sleeping space your sanctuary. We all know how important sleep is for your wellbeing and creating a space that is conducive to regular relaxation is key. Leave your phone and devices outside of your room. The blue light keeps your brain moving and stops you from easing into sleep.
  3. Release Guilt Surrounding Productivity: There is a lot of pressure today to hustle, grind, and compete with your peers. Comparison is the thief of joy and I often find myself feeling guilty for things I “should” be doing, even when what I am currently doing is completely valid and contributing to where I want to go. Practice releasing this and intuitively taking on the tasks you’re up for each day.
  4. Consistent Celebration: Celebrate the small, the large and the in between! And don’t forget to share it with your friends.
  5. Hack Your Water: If you’re finding it hard to stay hydrated (like me, who hates water), figure out some options that help you drink more. I love Mab & Stoke sticks, which are plant remedies that you add in. They are delicious and I look forward to hydrating!

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would say I have already started with the trampoline. It packs the most amount of wellness into one method and everyone needs it in their life.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

You can stand up for yourself without being emotionally attached to a situation.

Having pride in your work isn’t the same as bragging about your work.

Don’t waste energy on trying to rationalize an interaction with a person who is irrational.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Everything is figureoutable.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental health is the dearest to me because so much of the fitness industry is about taking advantage of people’s insecurities in order to profit. There is so much body talk that can be really damaging to a person, so we’ve made it a point to attempt to stop this narrative. First and foremost, we want our clients to feel good.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Follow along at @colettedong and @thenessnyc.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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