Yosara Trujillo - Founder and Director / Danny Soto - Artist in Residence
If I asked you to think of three words that described the Bronx, what would they be? By any chance, would ‘yoga’ be one of those words? Probably not, but if you make a trip to Gerard avenue and take a class or two at Sweet Water Dance and Yoga Studio, you may begin to consider adding it to your list. We sat down with Yosara, the Founder and Director of Sweet Water, to discuss yoga — everything from its healing qualities to how it can be embraced by the community.
Before the interview with Yosara, we had a few words from Danny:
What is your background and history with The Bronx?
I’m Dominican and a “Quarterican” (my grandmother was Puertorican on one side). I was born in The Village and raised in Washington Heights up until about the fourth grade. After that, my family moved to Yonkers for a short spell and then to Queens.
By that point, however, my mother had also owned a travel agency in the Bronx on Broadway and 225th for about 10 years. We moved to The Bronx in 1985 and we’ve been here ever since. My mother had another travel agency and insurance brokerage here on 167th Street between Grant and Sherman for 30 years.
How did you get involved with yoga?
I had an aunt that told me about yoga. She took me to Interval Yoga on 13th Street in 1996. I remember that first day — it was amazing.
I was in a completely different state; my body reacted really powerfully to yoga. I stayed with it for a solid six years consistently. The changes in my life, decision making, stress levels, body, and how I cared for myself — it all changed. Yoga became something that was really necessary for me.
Because of it, I wanted to start dance classes as well. My body was alive and that’s what I want to share with folks. How good that felt.
When was the opening of Sweet Water?
September 14, 2014, was the first day of business. But we opened our doors on September 11th to commemorate the day. We had three free yoga classes and did peace ceremonies all day. That weekend we had free classes so that anyone could come and try everything out.
What is the significance of the name Sweet Water?
I’m of the Yuroba faith (religion originating from the Yuroba people found in Nigeria Benin and parts of West Africa). I’m a daughter of Oshun, goddess of the river. Sweet Water is river water and it is life giving. It was part of the inspiration for the décor. Once the (studio) design is completed, it’ll look more like a river. The conceptual inspiration for the space is movement and nothing moves more fluidly or naturally than water.
The inspiration flowing from that continued into my Yoruba sensibilities, and the personal connections with the Orishas that I’m connected to, is what lead to the to the selection of the colors. Obatala is the basic white; Oshun, Oya, and Ochosi are the gold, the orange, and the turquoise (respectively). It’s also conceptually very Oya/Oshun in that Oya is the dance and the heat, the fire and the spiciness and Oshun is the depth, maybe where yoga and meditation fits in just because she goes deeper. She’s about healing and nurturing and water all of those are very yoga-like concepts.
It’s interesting that your studio is for dance and yoga. The Bronx has a lot of dance studios, but we don’t really have a culture for yoga.
We don’t have a culture for yoga and that’s not by mistake. Westerners brought yoga to the West and commoditized it the way the West commoditizes everything. Yoga, up to now, has been the experience of the haves, not the have-nots. As usual, fitness and wellness are generally excluded — and so are our communities.
A part of the mission of this space is integrating yoga into the lifestyle of the people who, as far as I’m concerned, need it the most.
We are never taught to take care of our body. What we’re told is, “Here is the food that is available to you and here are the medical services that are available to you. Have fun going between these two entities. Have fun going between poor diets, hospitals, and poor medical care — because that is what’s accessible to you economically.”
Prevention is never really discussed.
Not to us, but if you go into Health and Wellness Centers that do address prevention, none of them take insurance. They are all cash commodities. They are things that completely exclude anyone who is not utterly wealthy. Because honestly, even a middle class family would have trouble paying for these things. So this space wants to, and intends to, make this knowledge accessible. And it’s a tough sell because we are not used to spending money on these things. We’ve got bigger things to worry about like, “Are our environments safe? Do we have food, electricity, and basic utilities? How far ahead are we secure on these things?”
These are issues that are really important to me and bringing this lesson here is really challenging. But if you introduce it together with dance — if you introduce it as an exercise — they might come to it quicker. I have clients here who have been with us for the full year, who are now yogi’s and swear by it. It’s incredible how yoga has changed their lives.
Has the community been receptive to Sweet Water being here?
Absolutely, I get hugs on a daily basis from complete strangers in my neighborhood — simply because they are so appreciative to have a space like this. They never expected it.
I’ve been in the Bronx for thirty years of my life and we’re not used to having spaces like this. We’re not used to having spaces or services that are accessible in this way.
For example, having a space for children and offering childcare to parents that want to take a class. My capacity for it is small but I do it. Sweet Water is a place in service of women, and this community is one of working women. And that is what has surprised me the most.
I honestly expected that the reason my business was going to survive, initially, was going to be because of the courthouse. You see court employees with their yoga mats going straight from work to a yoga place, or to the gym, and go home from there. I’m trying to access them so they can stop here and then continue their commute. I thought that was going to be easy and it has not been. The court makes their employees very difficult to market to so there’s no access to these people in terms of distributing information to them even if you’re trying to extend good stuff. So they have not come through. But who has come through are the mothers and women of this community. This house is full of neighborhood mamas, mothers of young children, grandmothers and families.
We’ve had a family yoga class that actually gets full families in here, families of color. Do you know what that feels like when I see families of color taking a family yoga class with their little babies? Very few spaces are as celebratory of the family as we are.
What other expectations have you had prior to opening that may have changed or confirmed since being here this year?
I thought the broader (arts) community would be much more engaged. In my younger years I was a poet and part of a large artist community. I thought they would be much more supportive, but we all have our realities. Because there has been an absence, for example, of dance studios. It’s been very difficult to entice those artists that I would like to feature the most, simply because I am a for profit business.
It’ll take me developing this space until it’s completely commercially viable — which may take the next six months — and making sure that I can get the business to survive. Once we’re financially capable, I can pay them a flat fee or whatever their time is worth. I can afford to bring them in here and I can absorb that risk. It’s really just a balancing act.
Sweet Water’s mission is to inspire people of all walks of life regardless of size, shape, age, prior experience or goal, to move and enjoy their bodies and with the variety of classes they offer, I would say they’re well on their way to meet this goal.
For more information on Sweet Water Dance & Yoga, please visit their website: www.sweetwaterdanceandyoga.com
Located at 876 Gerard Ave, Bronx, NY 10452.