Making It: Saschie MacLean-Magbanua on overcoming grief through community with Formation Studio

Saschie MacLean-Magbanua is moving through grief with dance and community. Learn how vulnerability has helped this mixed-race Filipina Canadian find joy again after losing loved ones.
A still of people dancing in Formation Studio from Making It, While Making a Difference
A still of people dancing in Formation Studio from Making It, While Making a Difference

Tracing the beginnings of Saschie MacLean-Magbanua Formation Studio

At Formation Studio, a crowded room of dancers are seen sliding and grooving under flashing lights. In the midst of their smiling faces is founder Saschie MacLean-Magbanua alongside her husband and partner, Roman Magbanua. Since 2019, MacLean-Magbanua hasn’t simply opened a dance studio. She has created a community that has helped her and many others cope with challenges in their lives.

In this episode of Cold Tea Collective’s four-part docuseries Making It, we trace how Mixed race Filipina Canadian MacLean-Magbanua was able to rise from the loss of a loved one and turn her grief into joy. This is; a story about strength, a supportive community, and how to keep pushing through adversity. 

See more: Making It: South Asian creative Harpo Mander on joy and creativity as forms of resistance

Picking up the pieces

When her younger sister Chantal passed away in 2014, MacLean-Magbanua could barely get out of bed. Engulfed with grief, a period of potato chips and Grey’s Anatomy seemed like an endless abyss. That is until a Beyonce dance workshop struck MacLean-Magbanua’s interest. 

A 60 minute dance class of body movement and learning challenging choreography became something this mixed race Filipina Canadian truly needed – “a break from her own head” that relieved her from the depths of despair. While she initially felt uncertain of her body, it was this vulnerability that helped MacLean-Magbanua discover how to move through grief with dance and community, helping her find joy again after losing loved ones. 

A still of pictures of Mixed race Filipina Canadian MacLean-Magbanua and her late sister Chantel from Making It, While Making a Difference
A still of pictures of MacLean-Magbanua and her late sister Chantel from Making It, While Making a Difference

MacLean-Magbanua decided to organize her own Beyonce dance workshop which, to her surprise, many strangers attended. A high demand quickly led to more dance classes as MacLean-Magbanua realized that people just wanted a space to freely and joyfully move for themselves. 

By opening Formation studio, MacLean-Magbanua was able to pick up the pieces to form a community of dance. This not only served her but turned out to be something the entire community had needed.

See more: Making It: Actor, writer Curtis Lum on using artistic platforms to break barriers for the Asian community

 Learning to express oneself authentically 

MacLean-Magbanua recounts how the car accident that took the life of Chantal and her boyfriend Cody was all over the news. As the media turned what was a private experience for MacLean-Magbanua into a widely known, heartbreaking story, she found enormous support in a larger community who was concerned for her mental wellbeing. 

As the tragedy helped the entrepreneur discover a new sense of community, it has also helped her become more open about her life, internal issues, and embrace her authentic self. 

From then on, she began sharing her genuine experiences through artistic forms, as well as writing. Creative outlets became natural and cathartic practices, encouraging more empathy and compassion in her interpersonal relationships.  

A still of Formation studio's sign from Making It, While Making a Difference
A still of Formation studio’s sign from Making It, While Making a Difference

As she practiced being more open about internal experiences, MacLean-Magbanua saw how it inspired several people including students from dance workshops. They were able to regularly connect and heal with MacLean-Magbanua about their own private issues.

See more: Making It: Vietnamese Canadian Chef Patrick Do on a journey through food and identity with Do Chay Restaurant

Creating a welcoming community

As a mixed race Filipina Canadian, community for MacLean-Magbanua means creating a sense of affirmation; a “sense of belonging no matter who you are,” where one can show up and be welcomed. 

She believes community is about allowing self-expression through joy and movement, encouraging people to connect first with themselves, then with others. The studio owner describes this aspect of community as important in helping shed barriers to allow new connections to form beyond oneself. 

A still of dancers in Formation Studio from Making It, While Making a Difference
A still of dancers in Formation Studio from Making It, While Making a Difference

Knowing that dance and fitness can be intimidating, MacLean-Magbanua wants to cultivate a space that embraces all dancers. No matter their level of experience the class allows room for mistakes, playfulness, and self-expression. 
Even today, the memory of her little sister continues to inspire the way she operates.

The community-builder recognizes how strongly an individual can resonate with others and have the power to generate positive change. The tragedy of losing her sister has taught MacLean-Magbanua to keep moving and carry on. 

More than just a public persona

Open communication has not only been an important element for MacLean-Magbanua’s identity and community, but also for her marriage. 

MacLean-Magbanua’s husband and creative director of Formation Studio, Roman Magbanua, describes how the most inspirational part of MacLean-Magbanua’s journey is her resilience and ability to bounce back stronger after the loss of her sister which was only more difficult because Chantal was a “magnet,” “infectious,” and “energetic”.
“It’s unbelievable” Magbanua says.

A still of founder Mixed race Filipina Canadian Saschie MacLean-Magbanua alongside her husband and partner, Roman Magbanua from Making It, While Making a Difference
A still of founder Saschie MacLean-Magbanua alongside her husband and partner, Roman Magbanua from Making It, While Making a Difference

He explains how they have navigated difficulties in newest chapter in their lives, starting a family.

As they grow together and face new hardships, the couple continues to learn how to support one another. The two miscarriages in the last couple of years have particularly been difficult. Magbanua confesses the first time he “said all the wrong things, did all the wrong things”. But even as this was a process of learning, he wanted her to tell him when this happened because he “didn’t even want to begin to think [he] understand what that felt like.”

It’s easy to see how the same consideration of holding space that cause many flock to Formation studio comes from the basis of care in their very relationship. Even today, as MacLean-Magbanua envisions herself as ever evolving. She plans to continue to bring joy to others through the supportive dance community that she has cultivated. 

This is how she honors the legacy of her little sister, by making a difference. 


To see more episodes of the Making It documentary, visit our YouTube. Episodes releasing weekly starting May 4, 2022. 

Cold Tea Collective proudly presents Making It, While Making a Difference, celebrating Asian Canadians who are following their dreams while uplifting their communities. This production was created with the support of TELUS STORYHIVE. 

Thank you to Formation Studio for allowing us into their beautiful space. 

If you’d like to see more Asian-led productions for, by, and about the experiences of the Asian diaspora in North America, please consider making a donation to Cold Tea Collective.

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People chatting at the Making It documentary screening.

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