Moving through emotions with dance at Formation Studio

Saschie MacLean-Magbanua mostly danced recreationally until she lost her little sister Chantal.

That’s when she went back to dance as a therapeutic outlet – it was a welcome break from her own mind. But opening a dance studio wasn’t on the road map, she simply wanted more of the experience dance provided because it created a sense of presence and had a grounding effect that she wasn’t finding anywhere else. 

Fast forward five years, MacLean-Magbanua and her husband Roman Magbanua opened the doors to Formation Studio driven by demand from customers who liked what they were doing.

Photo credit: @mrjeremywong

Cold Tea Collective sat down with the owner’s MacLean-Magbanua and Magbanua to learn more about their philosophy around creating an experience, building community, and processing grief. 

What makes Formation Studio special?

You can tell how much thought went into designing the studio space and experience as soon as you walk through the doors, but what takes Formation Studio to new heights is the philosophy behind how the entire experience is crafted to make you feel.

“It lets you take time away from whatever is happening outside the doors, but also lets you take time away from the noise that you create for yourself,” says Magbanua. “It’s the most honest place you can be. Whatever you think you can or cannot do, you decide for yourself. You’re in front of a mirror and it’s just you, you can’t hide from yourself. We support you every step of the way and break down walls from yourself and each other.”

After Magbanua touches on an important theme that serves as a connective thread for the studio, MacLean-Magbanua dives into the intimidating nature of dance and the power of showing up for yourself:

“I think dancing can be very vulnerable for some people to begin with, and that’s why we’ve crafted the experience to be so intentionally approachable. Because it is such a vulnerable experience, it’s also incredibly liberating for people once they go through it because you have to let go of the things you would otherwise judge yourself for and in letting go, you can embrace a new evolution of yourself.”

And that belief that sits at the core of the studio’s philosophy is truly what people connect with and feel motivated by. Amidst the loud cheers and high-fives, it’s the belief that even if you’re struggling through a movement or not nailing the choreography 100%, you’ll still take steps forward no matter what.

Photo credit: Formation Studio

“I think letting go of that expectation of perfectionism or of being good at something, that’s really liberating,” says MacLean-Magbanua. 

How did this idea originate?

During Thanksgiving of 2014, MacLean-Magbanua’s 17-year-old sister, Chantal, passed away in a car accident while she was on her way to a family Thanksgiving dinner. It was a couple of weeks into her grieving process after MacLean-Magbanua had spent a lot of time on the couch watching Grey’s Anatomy and eating a ton of BBQ chips when she saw a friend post that they were teaching a class to a Beyoncé song she really liked.

Although the entire class felt unfamiliar and super uncomfortable due to her years-long hiatus from dance, in going through the class, she found she had to focus so much on learning the choreography and had so much fun that she hadn’t thought about what was going on for a full hour. That sense of mental freedom became something that she chased and the presence she found in class was something she continued to search for. 

Galvanized by her new discovery, MacLean-Magbanua and Magbanua started RSVP 33 and brought Beyoncé dance classes to Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto. Speaking about their first venture, MacLean-Magbanua says, “I thought I was going to have to drag my friends into that class, but I put it online and it was completely full with a bunch of strangers.”

Photo credit: Formation Studio

The duo learned invaluable lessons operating that community and connecting with their clients. 

“When we looked at the experience we were delivering and how we were impacting people, it was way beyond just the choreography and the routines they were learning, it was the confidence they were building, the sense of self that people were gaining, and the sense of community they had been fostering. People crave that sense of connection, whether it be for themselves or with others and we thought about all the ways we could bring that to life,” says MacLean-Magbanua. 

The idea popped into her head during Thanksgiving long weekend four years after Chantal died. “What if we open a space,” MacLean-Magbanua said, and they started exploring that idea. 

Did having this business impact the way you processed your grief?

The genesis of the studio served as an outlet for both to honour their memory of Chantal, express their grief, and process difficult emotions, something that not many people do specifically in the Asian community. 

What came up for both was an observation about how different backgrounds and experiences inform such things, as there was a distinct difference in how her family and his family process emotions.

“I handled it how traditionally Asian people handle it. I was very quiet and Saschie was so vocal about it. Typically day-to-day, I talk about my emotions all the time but when this happened I was just silent,” said Magbanua. 

As for MacLean-Magbanua, she noticed something interesting during the process of grieving.

Photo credit: @mrjeremywong

“Maybe because I’m Filipino, it’s a particularly happy culture and there’s a nudge towards always being happy,” she says. “Even now when my mom sees me crying, she tells me to just be happy as opposed to working through or accepting that particular emotion. But there’s a recognition and an awareness that we now have in our emotional knowledge that you don’t need to just suppress those feelings and move onto ones that are more comfortable.”

What would Chantal think of the space and did that impact the experience?

Formation Studio is a place of community where people can share with one another, whether it’s knowledge or telling a story about your day, and Magbanua believes that that’s how communities are built. “For us, we want to strengthen everyone who already comes here,” he says.

Community is a fundamental part of the experience and is an unintentional ode to Chantal. Both agree that Chantal would have loved the space although she wouldn’t be great at dancing. MacLean-Magbanua recounts one of the things Chantal excelled at even as a 17-year-old, was her ability to connect with people. 

Photo credit: Formation Studio

“She was always able to facilitate a connection with somebody who may have been overlooked and it wasn’t about her. She just always made people feel really welcome and I think we do a really good job of keeping that spirit within how we operate,” said MacLean-Magbanua. 

Both are firm that any crossover that coincides with Chantal is coincidental because of who she was.

“All the good that we do here is an ode to her because it is who she was, but we don’t try to go out of our way to make anything so,” said Magbunua.  

From a minority perspective, what was the experience of opening a studio like?

One thing both Magbanua and MacLean-Magbanua noticed throughout this experience is that neither knew many owner-operators in the fitness space in Vancouver who are people of colour, which has interesting impacts on the challenges of diversity and inclusivity. 

“I don’t know why, but when we discuss with other business owners the topic of inclusivity to POC, different genders, ethnicities, and body types, maybe because we’re already POC, we’re Asian and a minority, everyone already felt welcome,” said Magbanua.

But for MacLean-Magbanua, her experience as a woman of colour opening the space, especially through the construction process, was different from other professional experiences she’s had.

“I think because you grow up Asian, you don’t know when you’re being treated differently until you could have the possibility of living another life. The only reason it was so apparent to me as a woman was because I had my husband and business partner, a male contrast immediately beside me so it was apparent,” she says.

Photo credit: Formation Studio

The purpose of Formation Studio

What propels Magbanua is his desire to disrupt how people teach, learn, and develop for themselves. Everything from the colour of the lights to a specific song that comes on is planned for how that changes how much someone thinks they can do when they’re about to give up.

Photo credit: @mrjeremywong

“We want to think about what a studio can mean aside from just sweating non-stop and then leaving,” says Magbanua. “To create a community from this and feel like you want to come here to hang out because this is where your wellness is from the ground up. Everything from what we sell, to relaxing and taking a shower, to being in the studio, I really want to disrupt how people think about fitness in a way that isn’t so far one way or another, it’s in the middle.”

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