“There’s no comparison here. There’s no doubt, no fear, no insecurity, and no competition. This is your workout – you just get to do it with all the other ladies around you,” said Stephanie Garrison, owner and instructor at The Balance Culture Winter Haven. The boutique fitness studio has been a safe and supportive workout space for women in Lakeland for the last eight years. This month, owners Ruthie Tait and Stephanie Garrison bring their heart-pumping, soul-nourishing brand of empowerment to Winter Haven.
Ruthie Tait, instructor and owner of The Balance Culture, moved to Lakeland in 2009 to attend Southeastern University. A former gymnast, Tait played collegiate volleyball for four years while majoring in Social Work.
During college, Tait and her friend Kirstin Czernek connected over their passion for fitness and nutrition, and with graduation approaching, both were considering their career options. Czernek opted to attend nutrition school while Tait started her yoga certification. The initial goal wasn’t to start a business but rather to teach.
“All these different ‘God things’ kept happening and opening doors to start The Balance Culture,” Tait said.
Czernek’s husband was looking for an office space and found one with an open room next door and thought it would make a good fitness studio. Ruthie and Kirstin began hosting pop-up classes, offering complimentary Pilates and barre, to gauge community interest in a group fitness studio. “It was such an amazing response,” Tait remembered.
For a year, the two women worked to build what they wanted their brand to be. The Balance Culture, a women-exclusive group fitness studio, opened in Dixieland on September 28, 2015. They were at that location for six years before moving to a new studio space last year. A year and a half ago, Tait bought out her friend and former business partner, who retired to focus on her family.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years,” Tait said. “We’re just doing what we love every day – connecting with the community, helping women feel empowered, and having fun working out while we do it.”
Tait is a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher. She is certified through the Athletics Fitness Association of America (AFAA) as a Group Fitness instructor and Mat Pilates instructor, a certified Spin instructor through Mad Dogg Athletics, and a barre instructor certified through Barre Intensity.
Stephanie Garrison has been an instructor for The Balance Culture since day one. She and Tait knew each other through Southeastern, where Garrison was first a student and then the Executive Director for Student Development. The Buffalo, New York native, moved to Florida in high school and studied Business Management at Southeastern, eventually earning her MBA. “I loved being there,” she said. “I’m a product of Southeastern.”
Garrison has been involved in dance her whole life. She toured, competed, and performed throughout New York and Florida. “I remember going into my first dance studio at three years old and thinking, ‘How can I do this every day of my life? This is the coolest thing ever.’ It’s honestly been a dream for that long to one: own a business, and two: have a space for women to feel equipped and empowered. I feel, 34 years later, the Lord saying, ‘I’ll give you generations of women to have in a studio.’”
The instructor turned Balance Culture Winter Haven co-owner continued, “To now have this opportunity to expand into the brand that I’ve loved and built, grown with, and been a part of is a dream come true.”
Garrison is certified through the Athletics Fitness Association of America (AFAA) as a Group Fitness instructor, Barre Intensity, and Mad Dogg Athletics for Spin. Her fitness training forte includes teaching barre, Spin, Pilates, stretch, hip-hop, and strength training.
The Balance Culture already has devoted members that drive from Winter Haven to Lakeland for their uniquely women-centric atmosphere. Tait and Garrison knew the Chain of Lakes city would be the perfect place for a sister studio. “Every day, it has been support after support from the Chamber to Main Street, Haven, the Sun. Everyone has jumped on board with what we’re doing here and supported us,” Garrison said. “They’re excited for us, and it’s been such a sweet surprise.” She relocated to Winter Haven in July and now lives just two blocks from the 5th Street fitness studio.
The 2200-square-foot Winter Haven space boasts an open studio for their signature group fitness classes, including a barre and mirrors along the wall. Cork beneath the gym flooring remains from the location’s former life as a dance studio. The fitness studio has a client lounge with cubbies and restrooms and an area for nutritional coaching.
Balance Culture’s bread and butter are group fitness classes, including Barre, Pilates, Endurance Training, Yoga, HIIT, Bootycamp, Strength Training, and beginner classes. The studio also offers personal training, small group classes, private sessions, and community events.
In addition to their variety of group classes, Tait noted, “We have a nutrition coach that meets one on one with clients that are interested in having that support in their nutrition journey of ‘What should I eat? How can I partner my nutrition with what I’m doing in the studio to feel my best?’”
The boutique fitness studio aims to create an atmosphere distinct from other gyms and workout spaces. “Our whole thing from the beginning was we want to make everyone feel welcome from the moment they open the door,” Tait said. “From our instructors to our interns, everyone is very much into the mission of empowering women, and that’s woven into everything we do.”
Along with building physical strength, the Balance Culture owners hope to encourage their clients mentally. “I think our clients really feel that and feel like their effort and the way they show up in the studio has affected the way they’re able to show up in other ways like in their profession and in their relationships,” Tait said. “That’s our heart, a holistic approach to health.”
The Balance Culture Winter Haven had a soft launch from December 29 – December 31, during which they offered two classes a day, free to members and $5 per class for non-members. Their grand opening is set for January 2, 2023, when a full schedule of classes is set to begin. Balance Culture members have unlimited access to all classes and are welcome to attend as many as they’d like. Visit their website to register for a Balance Culture membership or reserve classes. Members can also download “The Balance Culture” app to create a profile and reserve classes.
“I think it’s meeting new women in a new city, giving them a space of confidence and empowerment,” Garrison said. “That’s a huge part of our story – you’re not just walking into a gym. You’re not just walking into a fitness studio. You’re walking into your vulnerability and your story. If that means you get to stand next to your friend, do some squats, and laugh because your legs are shaking so much – amazing. If it means you get to come in here after a really hard day of being challenged or feeling defeated, and you walk out of here with something new and bright and strong – that’s worth it too. And if it means you get to sit at our table and talk through what’s going on in your life and where you need help – that’s a part of it too.”
As it is for many, this is a transformative time for The Balance Culture – new year, new digs, new community. Owners Ruthie Tait and Stephanie Garrison are up to the challenge. “Our heart is to create sustainable change and create something that people can work into their lives not just in January but for the rest of the year,” Tait said. The pair plan to make their Winter Haven space in the image of their flagship Lakeland studio: a place to gain strength, build confidence, make sustainable changes, and celebrate yourself and the women around you. And if you have the occasional slice of pizza or take a self-care day – that’s okay too. Life is all about balance.