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Caring for ourselves and our community: Suzette Smith adapts in challenging times

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on some Island businesses may be less evident than others, although just as stark.

Suzette Smith’s Barre studio has been closed for nine months, along with other businesses and restaurants that have been forced to close or curtail operations. The dance and fitness instructor has continually tried to adapt, turning to online classes to continue her practice, offering clients a safe way to exercise and relieve stress. “I’m not a techie,” she said, “but I had to pivot and go online,” to avoid going out of business completely.

She points out that such practices as yoga, pilates and Barre, ironically, are needed now in such stressful times more than ever, even if they can’t be held in person.

Speaking stressful events, she said, “I’ve heard from a lot of people because they were so stressed from recent events.”

A typical online session offers some meditation as well as stretching. It’s not only to respond to dramatically upsetting events, but to have the stamina to endure the long-term challenge of the coronavirus, she explained.

“It’s so important to keep our immune systems strong,” she said. “Stress really affects it. It’s so intense what’s going on. This is safe and effective. We have to prioritize taking care of ourselves.”

She reminds those who think they can’t allocate time to exercise that they only need to carve out one hour in their day. By viewing her recorded classes online, they also have to opportunity to do half a class at a time and finish later.

On her website, shelterislandpilates.com, she’s been offering specials like two-for-one to students, knowing that most are facing economic pinches themselves. She explained that being able to access classes from home leaves the student in control, able to stop and start as they wish.

Also, the exercises can be modified to be appropriate to various people’s agility and ability. “They know me. I’m not 24 and crazy,” she laughed. “It’s not like 20 minutes of abs exercises. I explain what we’re doing and help them feel safe.”

Her regimen specializes in body alignment, postural assessment and correction, and proper mechanics.

With a background as a dancer, choreographer and teacher, she credits her exercise and wellness practices with helping her overcome life challenges including breast cancer. A year-round resident of the Island, Suzette established Shelter Island Pilates & Barre in 2004.

In compliance with COVID restrictions, she is operating at 20 percent capacity, offering in-person, one-on-one classes at her Heights studio.

But she’s concerned Islanders may not realize their support is crucial to keeping their well-loved businesses here. “It’s important to support the local community and help each other,” she said. “When this is all over, some of us may not be here in business any more.”