More than a dance fitness class, TRILLFIT offers a safe space for everyone


Co-founders Melisa Valdez and Heather White started TRILLFIT, a boutique Black-owned fitness studio and wellness center in order to create a space of inclusivity. Photo credit Harriet Rovniak.

Sanjana Sanghani, news staff

Beyond the large windows of TRILLFIT’s Mission Hill storefront, customers warm up, waiting for TRILLFIT’s signature cardio dance class to begin.

A sign displayed on the studio walls states, “You belong here,” encapsulating General Manager Alycia Lykins’ reiteration of TRILLFIT’s mission.

“I like that TRILLFIT’s mission is to give luxury to everyone,” Lykins said. “When you walk into a TRILLFIT class, you don’t feel like people are against you. You feel like you instantly belong. And I think having that place for the BIPOC community is very important these days because a lot of people don’t feel safe or have a place to call home. TRILLFIT caters to them and gives you that feeling.”

Co-founders Melisa Valdez and Heather White started TRILLFIT, a boutique Black-owned fitness studio and wellness center in order to create a space of inclusivity. The studio offers four different types of classes: Sculpt, Cardio Boxing, Restore and Cardio Dance. An in-house DJ typically curates a playlist for the classes to make sure the music is up to date.

For member Lisa Bello, TRILLFIT classes are different from her previous experiences in a fitness dance class.

“It’s cardio hip-hop,” Bello said. “It’s not like the knock-off stuff you might see on YouTube videos or people that are, for lack of a better word, appropriating hip-hop culture and turning it into dance. For TRILLFIT, most of the instructors are trained dancers … they’re really into the culture, they’re not just acting it.”

TRILLFIT has also developed an Instructors of Color Scholarship Program to encourage diversity among fitness instructors or trainers. Lykins said the program offers to subsidize the cost of the scholarship recipient’s training — something that is unusual in the fitness industry.

Instructor and TRILLFIT’s first scholarship recipient Mark Griffith said he appreciates TRILLFIT’s mission to counteract the wellness industry’s problems with inclusivity.

“What makes working here so special is that nobody feels like they’re the only one, but everyone at the same time feels unique and individual,” Griffith said.

As a cardio dance instructor, Griffith said he has the opportunity to develop and teach routines based on his choreography. Moreover, Griffith speaks of the importance in developing a connection to the TRILLFIT clients — either online or in-person — by shouting people out or talking to clients before and after a class.

“So far, I’ve really enjoyed the impact that cardio dance has had on people. I remember I had one review from a client that said they were a cancer survivor and were really self-conscious about working out in-person and having other people see them. So being able to move their body in a space where they didn’t have to turn their camera on was really gratifying,” Griffith said.

Furthermore, Lykins said TRILLFIT’s main priority is to help the surrounding community by making it more affordable either through partnering with nonprofits or BIPOC businesses. For instance, TRILLFIT clients are able to experience a hair salon in-store at the Mission Hill location.

“We never want to open in LA for example. We want to open in a lower-income part of California. We want to put luxury where there isn’t luxury in those areas, and then we make the price point affordable to that area as well, “ Lykins said. “We also lower the rent for other BIPOC businesses and collaborate with different brands at every location. So for example, we have a hair salon in Boston and a retail shop, spa, juice bar and therapy offices will be in our New York location.”

TRILLFIT’s commitment to entrepreneurs and BIPOC businesses can be seen through TRILLFIT’s makeup artist Yari De Jesus, who helps prepare for TRILLFIT team members before events. According to Jesus, White and TRILLFIT are helping her build business connections as instructors now approach her to do makeup for their individual events.

“I love partnering with TRILLFIT. … I’ve been able to build connections by getting introduced and meeting instructors that want me to do their makeup now. [White] is still bringing me business,” Jesus said.

For Lykins, TRILLFIT has come to represent something bigger and will be the new future of fitness. During the pandemic, individuals from around the world began attending classes virtually, something that Lykins says demonstrates the universality of TRILLFIT’s mission.

“I think it’s an exciting time that we have a voice to bring change and people are listening,” Lykins said. “All these brands like Puma and Footlocker want to work with us and I don’t think people would have ever thought that it was a boutique fitness studio bringing this kind of change.”