Hillary Lewis and Yaya Margarita Are Tackling Some of the Stigmas Around Fitness, and They’re Having a Lot of Fun Doing It

A new motivation.

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  • Written by
    Amber Klinck
  • Photographed by
    Lauren Pressey

Dance has always been a part of life for Hillary Lewis and Yaya Margarita. From a young age, dancing served as a source of inspiration for both of them, providing a sense of community and pushing them physically.

It also, at times, created moments of self-doubt. In the world of dance, the size and shape of your body are often scrutinized as much as your ability. Today, however, Hillary and Yaya pride themselves on being champions of body positivity. With their Redondo Beach fitness studio Shine, they’ve created a space that offers something for everyone—inspired by their appreciation for dance.

Hillary was 3 years old when she was introduced to ballet. “It turned into a passion I couldn’t live without,” she says. That passion led her to Loyola Marymount University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in dance with an emphasis in teaching and choreography.

“I went on to work for Disney,” Hillary notes. Her final days at LMU consisted of mornings stacked with exams and all-night dance rehearsals at Disney. Next was a job on Holland America cruise line, and then eventually she moved to New York City to pursue an interest in musical theatre.

Yaya also started dancing at a young age. “But I didn’t do the ballet/jazz route,” she says. “I went straight into Tahitian dancing and hula dancing.” In high school Yaya added jazz and lyrical to her training. In college she was on the dance team, and after school she joined a professional dance company.

Then, following the advice of her mother who didn’t see dancing as a career, Yaya took a step back from dance. She transitioned into graphic design, and the change was a shock to her system. She went from working out six hours a day to sitting in front of a computer. “You gain weight and lose muscle mass and all that fun stuff,” Yaya explains.

So she started doing graphic design on a freelance basis and began working part-time at a fitness studio, where she was introduced to the POUND workout. “I fell in love with the format,” Yaya says. “I lost 18 pounds in two months.”

In addition to the weight loss, the highly rhythmic, music-based workout triggered something in Yaya. She was ready to bring dance back into her life.

After her time in New York, Hillary returned to her California roots while also taking a step back from dance. “I didn’t know where I fit in, in L.A. anymore, in that scene, in the dance world,” Hillary says.

“From the beginning we’ve felt this body-positive movement, and I think there are even better ways to say it now, like body neutrality. We felt [driven] to have that as a part of our space because of our dance background.” 

She started teaching Beyoncé-style dance lessons just for fun. Yaya heard about the class through a friend, and when she and Hillary met, the two former dancers immediately hit it off. Their shared backgrounds in dance and fitness sparked a conversation on how to combine those passions.

“We [wanted] to find the joy in working out. For us it’s music and movement—that’s what drives us,” Hillary says.

“As dancers, we get bored really easily,” Yaya adds. “We can’t just be on the treadmill for an hour.” They wanted to create a space that merged fitness with dance—a workout that was both challenging and fun.

“We also wanted it to be inclusive,” Yaya emphasizes. “As ex-dancers, the weigh-ins and the constant comparisons to other women’s bodies can be mentally tough. We wanted to make sure we opened up a space for everyone, no matter what their size or ability.”

In October 2016, Shine Studio opened its doors. “From the beginning we’ve felt this body-positive movement, and I think there are even better ways to say it now, like body neutrality. We felt [driven] to have that as a part of our space because of our dance background,” Hillary says.

Both women are open about their individual journeys of self-discovery and coming to terms with the pressure they endured to maintain a certain body image as dancers. “There is still a lot of work to be done with body positivity and body acceptance,” Hillary says. “We felt like we needed to be champions of that, even if it meant we were still working on it within ourselves.”

Part of the work includes changing the conversation around fitness and nutrition. There are certain things you won’t hear at Shine Studio. “We will never say ‘summer body’ or ‘burn off that pizza’ or ‘earn your mimosa’! You do not work out to eat; that is not the point of life. You eat to live, and you work out for health and longevity,” Hillary says.

As moms, Hillary and Yaya are mindful of the conversations they have at home as well. “We have to show our kids that it’s not about bad food or good food; it’s how nourishing it is,” Yaya points out. “Like, ‘We’re eating from the earth today; let’s try that, buddy.’”

Fitness is often viewed as a punishment for overindulgence or as a means to an end, like a smaller pant size or an upcoming weekend away. Hillary and Yaya want to change that.

“Fitness is a journey. Health is a journey. Start now, do it now, feel good now,” says Hillary. “Put yourself out there and work out because it’s good for you. It’s not just about being a certain size or looking a certain way.”