The fun-fuelled fitness instructor talks about the joys of hanging upside down, the age limit for pole-dance fitness classes (spoiler alert: there isn’t one) and the best ways to get the most out of summer in the city
By CHLOË LAI + Photos by KK LAW
There are two kinds of people who show up to fitness classes: those looking for fun ways to stay fit, and those seeking an instructor who can trick them into getting fit without them noticing. (Guess which one we are.) For both of these groups, Caroline MacGillivray is the holy grail of instructors.
During her aerial yoga classes, students sway gently from the ceiling in colourful silks. The poses are similar to those in a traditional yoga class, but maintaining balance in mid-air takes a lot more effort than standing on solid ground. “It’s a core workout,” MacGillivray says. “But it’s so much fun!” It’s also perfect for helping people improve flexibility and expand their comfort zone—most students are reluctant to go upside down at first but soon find themselves delighting in the experience. “The opportunity to be fearless like a child, when you would hang upside down on a jungle gym, makes you start to believe that it’s possible to be fearless in the rest of your life.” Newbies should wear layers to class, as the pressure the silks put on bare skin can be uncomfortable. For years, MacGillivray wore sweatshirts. “Some people have a little more tolerance, but I cry when I get my legs waxed, so…”
MacGillivray was also one of Canada’s first certified pole-dance fitness instructors. Her intro classes focus on engaging back and core muscles, so while students are strutting and spinning their hearts out to stellar tunes, they’re also getting a full-body workout. And there’s no age limit. “My oldest student ever was 82,” MacGillivray says. “She was not your average 82-year-old, of course.” Less ambitious octogenarians (or couch potatoes of any age) may be more drawn to MacGillivray’s Qi Gong classes. The slow, flowing movements and meditative breathing exercises improve focus and counteract chronic conditions such as arthritis. “It’s a great workout for people who haven’t worked out in a long time.”
In summer, MacGillivray likes to play outside as much as possible. Keep an eye out for her at outdoor yoga classes, or at Kitsilano Pool’s evening aquafit classes. “I pretend I’m in Club Med in the middle of my own city!” Her goal this year? Take a stand-up paddleboard yoga class at the Westin Bayshore’s swimming pool. “I’ve tried it on the ocean,” she says, laughing, “but I spent more time in the water than on my board.”