Brynn Putnam, Harvard graduate, former professional ballerina, and Explo alumna, is the creator of the Refine Method, an award-winning boutique fitness studio with three locations in New York City. Brynn recently chatted with us about her experiences as an Explo student, a dancer, and an entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a bit about your Explo experience?
Explo was the best time I had in high school. I was a ballet dancer and I went to a performing arts high school. Explo helped me maintain an academic and social connection with “regular” kids. I loved meeting people from different places. Being at Explo convinced me that I should go to college and not just dance. It made me realize that I really enjoy learning, and it informed many choices that I have made throughout my life. It was an opportunity for me to develop new passions and meet so many cool people.
I made lots of new and interesting friends at Explo and stayed in touch with them for years. In fact, my husband went to Explo at the same time as me, but we didn’t know each other. We were on one of our first dates and started talking about things we had done in the summer when we realized the overlap. It definitely gave us a lot to talk about!
Do you remember any of your courses or special moments from Explo?
I remember that I took a mock trial class and an engineering class where we built soapbox cars, and both of those classes had a big impact on me. As a dancer, you don’t ever talk. The mock trial class gave me the confidence to express my opinions and really helped me have a voice in college. It has also stood me in good stead as an entrepreneur where I have had to pitch ideas and project confidence.
Can you tell us about your dance background and training?
I danced with the School of American Ballet and The New York City Ballet and performed all over. I was in the movie version of The Nutcracker as a girl and then I got to dance in the film Black Swan. I am very proud and lucky to have been able to dance at Lincoln Center and be a professional.
That’s incredible! When did you decide to make the move into the fitness industry?
After college I was dancing in New York City, and I also taught at various high end fitness studios on the side. More and more I began to feel that the intellectual side of me was not engaged in what I was doing. I needed a new challenge. An idea began to percolate inside of me that I could combine my love of intellectual rigor with some of the things I love about dance. I see myself as having two sets of passions: the creative/performance side of dance and a love of problem solving.
That’s a very cool connection. Where did that idea lead you?
Because of my past experience, I knew that I wanted to stay in the fitness industry, but I wanted to create something different. I spent a year and a half taking classes all over New York City and contacting everyone I considered to be doing a good job or running a top notch studio. I have really found that people are willing to help you if you do your research and ask good questions. I received a lot of excellent advice about how to run a business, and my plan kept changing based on everything I was learning. I realized that you have to embrace that your vision will evolve. Even now that is scary.
Where did all of your research lead you in terms of your business plan?
Well, I had to create the fitness product itself. The workout I created isn’t ballet based; it is more athletic. People have a lot of fears and misconceptions about their bodies and about what works, and this includes dancers. It is an industry based on fear and mythology. I have found that it is really important to pay attention to form and intensity, and to provide a well-researched, honest, and consistent experience. Because of the limitations of New York City real estate, I had to create my own equipment to pair with the cardio workout to get the intensity I wanted. I built my first product out of big rubber bands, pulleys, and bolts. Remember that soapbox engineering course I took at Explo? That actually really came in handy as I was creating my first “pulley station.” Now I have professional engineers from MIT making the new machines, but I am involved in every step, tweaking and adjusting things.
So cool! What’s next for you and your studios?
I opened my first Refine Method studio in 2010 and now we have three studios in New York. I have been approached by investors and buyers, and I could certainly have taken their offers and made more money, but so far I want to keep control of the experience. I want to keep Refine focused because my product is an experience and I believe integrity is a very important part of that. I travel among the studios, teaching and monitoring, and making sure the classes are consistent. I am so lucky, I have all of these small moments of satisfaction every week. Sometimes it is seeing a client doing something she couldn’t do before, sometimes it is a person telling me she feels more confident and energetic.
What advice would you give to Explo students and alumni who are also interested in turning their passions into a business?
You have to be passionate about exploring the things that are exciting to you. And then you have to make a life out of them. For me, this started at Explo!