HUMBOLDT PARK — Gabriela Cordero felt uncomfortable partaking in yoga classes before launching her own space in Belmont Gardens.
Cordero, the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, said she felt like she didn’t fit in — and didn’t speak the language — at most studios.
“When you come to a space and there’s no one that looks like you, it’s hard to connect and understand why you’re coming to yoga,” she said. “I’m trying to create an environment where everyone is deserving of self-care and it doesn’t have to be that expensive.”
Denise Ruiz, who is also Latina, had a similar realization as she was gearing up to open her own community space in Humboldt Park after co-founding Books, Brunch & Botánica, a creative collective made up of women of color.
“Chicago [has been] one of the most segregated cities in the nation for so long. How do we build intentional relationships with our communities that have been made to feel like we’re in competition for scraps?” Ruiz said.
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Earlier in the pandemic, Cordero and Ruiz each opened community wellness spaces that cater specifically to Black and Indigenous people and other people of color.
Cordero runs The Groove, a yoga, barre and pilates studio with an apothecary shop, while Ruiz oversees The Honeycomb Network, a co-working and “co-making” space that hosts regular events around herbalism, meditation and other forms of wellness.
Both spaces have seen their memberships and programs grow in recent months as more Chicagoans seek a reprieve from the pandemic and the stresses of daily life, the owners said.
“People have become more empowered to take their health into their own hands and begin a wellness journey,” Cordero said. “We were separated from each other so long during this lockdown. We’ve all been able to work our way back together.”
Cordero, a native of Avondale and Humboldt Park, teaches all of the classes at The Groove, 2920 N. Pulaski Road. But soon she’ll have to hire more yoga instructors to meet the growing demand, she said.
The small studio, which opened in 2021, has 80 monthly members and counting.
“I’ve been pretty booked out for a bit. Around January, you couldn’t get in for the entire month. I had to expand my capacity,” Cordero said.
What sets The Groove apart from other yoga and pilates studios in Chicago is it’s a safe and welcoming space for people of color to exercise and practice yoga, Cordero said.
The Groove offers an affordable “self-love” scholarship where eligible Chicagoans pay $36 for a month of classes.
In addition to yoga, barre and pilates classes, the studio hosts community events, such as a sandwich club where members get together and make sandwiches for the community, and mocktails and yoga with Bendición Dry Bar. Its apothecary shop is stocked with products and gifts made by local Black and Latino creatives, such as Art by Alexandra and Ari’s Wicks candles.
“I make a lot of events that are specifically for the Latinx community and the BIPOC community,” Cordero said. “I’m just very meticulous about the language I use because it has a lot of impact.”
Further south in Humboldt Park, Ruiz is also bringing Black and Latino entrepreneurs and creatives together for workshops, dance classes, art shows and other events that promote wellness and “collective care.”
The Honeycomb Network, 2659 W. Division St., is a co-working and event space with an on-site therapist, resident herbalists who create special blends on a seasonal basis and a boutique apothecary selling herbs, self-care products and art.
Ruiz, who is queer and Puerto Rican, said the community space is a place for people of color, along with LGBTQ people, to heal, express themselves and forge lasting creative relationships, though everyone is welcome.
“We know the reality of limited spaces created for us by us, we have felt the impact of segregation used as a strategic tool to divide and decentralize our collective power and brilliance — this is our solution. This is our offering,” the website reads.
A few years after opening the business, Ruiz is rolling out more programs to keep the positive momentum going. The space has three new working groups that will focus on floral art, taxes and marketing and herbal remedies, and its spring residency featuring performance group Kuumba Lynx opens 7-10 p.m. April 28.
Growing up in Humboldt Park, Ruiz didn’t have stable access to medical care or wellness providers who looked like her — and she hopes to play a role in “doing better for the next generation,” she said.
“It’s so important for us to have spaces where we can be cared for, get what we need, calm our nervous systems, get resources, get community. Because we need it more than ever,” she said. “I think these spaces are exactly what we need to prepare for whatever is going on in the world.”
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