Photo courtesy of Raina+Wilson
Taking a class taught by Amber Joliat is a distinctly unique experience in a world saturated by monotonous group fitness. At MISFITSTUDIO, exercise is transformed into a social gathering, a meditative retreat, and a place to let one’s hair down and simply move—all the while breaking a sweat. From the carefully curated playlists to her mindful words of wisdom, Joliat’s vivacious spirit and love for her craft shines through each time she guides her fellow misfits through a movement class.
Joliat’s knack for leadership comes as no surprise. At 12 years old, she was approached by her then–ballet teacher to help lead the class; by 14, Joliat was teaching on her own. “Teaching movement has been the only thing I’ve ever done,” she explains. Her career as a dance instructor continued through high school and university, and she eventually obtained certifications in yoga and Pilates as well. At the peak of her so-called “teaching hustle,” Joliat was biking from class to class between each of the 15 Toronto studios where she was teaching—but she longed to create something entirely her own.
In opposition to the negative old-world mentality prevalent among studio owners in the city—namely, not respecting or adequately paying their employees—Joliat founded MISFITSTUDIO in 2010. She vowed to “always honour the people who choose to work with me, to take the time to get to know who they are and hear their unique voice.”
The studio quickly stood out for its distinctive classes that blended together the three modalities Joliat was trained in. This was completely out of the ordinary at the time, garnering her the reputation of “this wacky girl” making waves in the Toronto movement world. Yoga had always been inextricably linked to spirituality, just as Pilates was seen as strictly rehabilitative, but Joliat saw movement as the unifying missing link: “My classes and my philosophy are rooted in yoga, informed by Pilates, and inspired by dance, and it’s all the entry into living with mindfulness.”
MISFITSTUDIO’s innovative philosophy and glowing reviews from class attendees led the business to grow through word of mouth. The road to success wasn’t without major setbacks, however, including three floods—one of which completely destroyed a studio space and forced Joliat to start over from scratch. Such challenges caused her to implement some internal rebuilding as well, learning to lead by overcoming her ego. “I had to recognize through all of these crazy breakdowns and breakthroughs that I was the person that needed to stand in front of the circle and guide it.”
Joliat named the studio after her life journey of always being “a bit weird,” which had led her to gravitate toward the worlds of art and dance, where difference is welcomed, rather than deemed a weakness. In her eyes, being a misfit is “the most empowering way to really get to know who you are”—a magnetic pull that draws a broad array of “weirdos” and “rebels” into her studio.
This wholehearted embrace of weirdness is also reflected in MISFITSTUDIO’s first-ever dancewear collection, created in collaboration with lingerie label Fortnight, which launched this year. Growing up, Joliat always stuck out for her eclectic in-class attire, opting for ripped-up dance tights and body suits instead of so-called “yoga gear”, which is often confining. The four sensual black velvet pieces in the collection were crafted to be both beautiful and functional: “It’s almost like you’re not wearing anything…so you can get lost in the sensation of movement itself and not feel restricted by your clothes.”
Joliat’s creation continues to adapt and blossom. Besides expanding into the dancewear market, MISFITSTUDIO launched a video subscription service this year, inspired by Busby Berkeley films. The studio is also offering more wellness retreats abroad, including an upcoming excursion to Morocco.
But most importantly, Joliat is continuing on her endless journey of self-improvement and understanding, something she believes is integral to her teaching practice. “I have such a value and a respect for the people who go through the work it takes to get to know themselves, rather than just following a way that they think they’re supposed to be,” she reveals. For Joliat, movement is a way to achieve such self-awareness: “I think it’s like brushing your teeth every day—to move your body is so essential.”