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The Beat Goes on

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A year of lockdown hasn’t stopped Ivailo Tonchev and Alyona Zarnitsyna growing The Beat into a state-of-the-art, dual venue fitness and-dance hub. Elizabeth Kerr reports

PHOTOS BY Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com

When Alyona Zarnitsyna comes bounding into the Starbucks in ifc, four years after I first interviewed her for this magazine, I immediately realise that a lot has changed. Make no mistake, she’s still got energy to burn, but this time around the workout gear has been replaced with a stylish jacket accented by a wide statement belt and slim trousers. Husband Ivailo Tonchev is right behind her, looking more casual in jeans and a navy pullover, but equally lithe, tan and fit – a year into a global pandemic lockdown.

It strikes me that the co-founders of DB-based boutique fitness-and-dance studio The Beat might be superhuman.

While Ivailo goes off to grab drinks, Alyona settles into catch-up mode, detailing how the couple’s daughters, Polina and Yana, are now Discovery College students, and how a trip to Central is a pleasant change of pace. Alyona and Ivailo enjoy an occasional evening out for dinner, but duty calls, as their growing business is pleasantly all-consuming.

“We were busy when we first launched The Beat in DB Plaza back in September 2016 but that was nothing compared to now,” Alyona opens. “Your first question then was ‘What is your vision?’ I remember that now, and it’s giving me goosebumps. We said that we believed we’d be able to provide all the exercise DBers want, and I’m happy to say it happened.

“You want to exercise? Come to The Beat. You want to dance? Come to The Beat. You want to relax, talk, get nutritional advice? Come to The Beat. We provide the whole package about health and lifestyle.”

Achieving this complete package hasn’t been smooth sailing, however. Alyona and Ivailo have had quite a year of it, like many Hongkongers. They decided to open a second studio in DB North Plaza in late 2019, after much hemming and hawing, and right after they signed a leasing contract, the pandemic erupted. Gyms closed for long stretches of time, and a now-notorious ‘dance group’ caused the city’s single biggest COVID cluster yet.

Now operating out of two locations in DB, The Beat is a boutique fitness-and-dance studio dedicated to meeting all your fitness, health and wellness needs. To join The Beat community, call 5721 3000, email [email protected] or visit www.thebeat.com.hk

“It was very tough, for everyone, and we felt it,” says Ivailo. “But we have supportive landlords and we’ve had several government subsidies, which we appreciate. We try not to think about the year we lost. There’s always some kind of silver lining. Instead of crying – which we did – we decided to reinvest in the business, in education, and in getting better at what we do.”

While the rest of us learnt to make sourdough bread, Ivailo and Alyona used the 2020 lockdown to take online courses and earn new training certifications that the studio is rolling out in classes now. And while they were working on new workout qualifications, they also focused on their instructors’ development.

The rest of us were baking because we had the time, Ivailo and Alyona didn’t. The extra hours with Polina and Yana never materialised to the degree they’d expected. Ivailo explains they spent so much time adjusting and adapting to constantly fluctuating bioprotocols and forging some kind of online workout, any extra downtime, while welcome, was negligible.

The couple agrees that the effort has been worth it. The Beat now provides a comprehensive range of fitness-and-dance classes out of two DB locations. Offerings include the increasingly popular resistance based Pilates reformer workout, high-intensity training, indoor cycling, BODYPUMP, boxing, circuit training, yoga, kids’ classes, nutritional advice and training, and a range of dance classes (including Latin American).

And that’s not all: Ivailo and Alyona have been investing in state-of-the-art, high-quality equipment to ensure clients feel “safe, welcome and challenged.” Look around The Beat and you’ll see Les Mills weights, top-of-the-range STAGES spin bikes and the latest Allegro II Pilates Reformer machines. It goes without saying that there’s rubberised flooring in the multi-functional fitness studio.

Despite all the ambitious expansion, The Beat remains a highly individualised operation, somewhere Ivailo says clients have called a “hidden gem,” that offers personal, boutique-style services, and a place to connect.

“What our clients miss these days is communication,” theorises Ivailo. “I’ve seen people grabbing coffee together after sticking to their exercise plan. They know we know them; they recognise each other even if they’re not ‘friends.’ That’s what we’ve been deprived of this year. We need to get back to socialising. Safely.”

Alyona backs this up saying, “I don’t like that feeling of going into a gym, doing your exercise and then leaving. If you come here, I want you to stay a little longer.”

The duo’s aim is to provide a workout space that is decidedly not like the ones found in commercial chain gyms. There’s nothing wrong with those, but it’s not what they want to do; it never has been. The lights are dimmed in The Beat studios these days, so class is not so intimidating. “We want to give clients the feeling of being detached from reality. We really believe in providing an ‘experience,’” says Ivailo. “That’s our motto now, too: ‘Experience the difference.’ We feel we’re different.”

“I don’t like that feeling of going into a gym, doing your exercise and then leaving. If you come here, I want you to stay a little longer”

Ultimately The Beat is a family business, and Ivailo and Alyona treat it as such. The studio runs as a collective and classes are small, so instructors that need to swap out classes can tell their sub who’s who in the class, and who’s got a bum knee. That goes for Ivailo and Alyona too – both still teach in addition to fulfilling all their managerial chores.

“A lot of our clients like the fact that we’re not just the owners. I’m happy to make coffee every morning. I know who only drinks tea, who likes to have a chat and who doesn’t,” Alyona finishes. “We’re always busy, often tired. But always, I can’t wait to go back to work.”

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