Eagan sisters find a market with multilingual fitness studio

Huitzil Wellness Center offers Zumba, yoga

Leila Rodriquez and Cristina McNamara, sisters from Eagan, recently opened Huitzil Wellness Center after finding a lack of places targeted toward Latino women.

Two Eagan sisters recently opened a fitness studio with hopes of guiding an under-served market along on their fitness journey.

Cristina McNamara and Lelia Rodriguez opened the doors of Huitzil Wellness Center in March in Inver Grove Heights, 3105 65th Street E, Suite 600, after observing a hole in fitness market for Spanish-speaking women.

McNamara said she used to attend Zumba and other fitness classes at other gyms with her mother, but they always felt a bit lost.

“My mom didn’t quite understand what was going on,” McNamara said. “She didn’t feel comfortable in the setting, but we loved Zumba.”

They tried a few studios with Spanish-speaking instructors, but they found them to be informal and cramped.

The language barrier was a challenge. Phrases like “down dog” and “namaste” didn’t translate well.

Plus, for their culture, it was strange when no one would interact.

“We’re used to being more social, but in a gym you just go to your class and go home,” Rodriguez said.

At Huitzil Wellness, McNamara said people will stay well after class to visit.

It’s built a community for their clients. People have made connections, which has inspired them to keep coming back.

They felt there would be a market for Latino women looking to improve their overall health and they’ve been right.

Their studio features a store, bathrooms, a large dance floor, mirrors and mirror-balls.

The name comes from the Nahuatl language, which is known historically as Aztec. Huitzil is the word for hummingbird.

They wanted the name to reflect an swift, agile creature they both are fond of, and feature a name unique to their culture.

“It’s a bird represents beauty and strength even though it’s really small,” McNamara said.

They primarily offer Zumba, which is a instructor-guided, Latin-inspired dance class, as well as yoga classes. Classes are taught by a team of about 11 instructors weekday mornings and evenings along with a class Saturday morning.

“Zumba is a big party,” Rodriquez said. “People love it.”

Bringing yoga to the Latino culture has been a bit of a challenge, McNamara said.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions as to what it is,” McNamara said. “Yoga can sometimes be seen as another religion or cult. It’s a new concept for them, but it’s just another fitness tool. It’s a way to make a mind-body connection, heal your body faster, relax and gain some flexibility. We tell them you don’t have to do anything or say anything you don’t want to.”

Zumba has had no trouble attracting a crowd.

“There’s not a lot to explain,” McNamara said. “You just follow along and dance.”

The gym is open to anyone who speaks any language, but the primary clientele has been Latino females. About half of their classes are in Spanish.

“It’s really open to everybody,” Rodriquez said. “You don’t have to speak Spanish to come here.”

They also offer weekly workshops that go beyond physical health including workshops focused on mental health, nutrition and personal development.

Huitzil Wellness Center hope to offer more classes by next month once their client base expands such as Zumba Gold for the older populations as well as a Zumba class for children.

They offer both memberships and drop-in prices.

Clients also have access to a kids room because the sisters recognized a lot of parents would be interested in using the studio.

Although they live in Eagan, they choose Inver Grove Heights because of its close proximity to South St. Paul and West St. Paul home to a higher concentration Spanish-speaking potential clients.

But they also have clients who come from all over the south metro.

More information can be found at huitzilwellness.com.