Written and witnessed by Brandi Ortiz (daughter of Michele Park, owner of the SOUL brands) and self-proclaimed NON-exerciser!
Hi, I’m Brandi 👋 By now, you’ve learned a lot about me. I’m Michele Park’s eldest daughter and a writer. I have dealt with certain insecurities toward fitness and have struggled madly with my health and self-worth. I prefer a good book over an hour at the gym any day, but thanks to Mom, I have been opening my heart to changing my unhealthier habits and focusing on what will make me happy in the long run. Joining her at these conventions for the past year has been a whirlwind adventure. I still prefer Comic-Con, but I love supporting Mom whenever possible; we were set to attend SCW Boston Mania 2023 this time.
We had been planning for this convention for months. On Wednesday, November 1, we spent the day traveling from sunny California to brisk Massachusetts. It was a long travel day, consisting of me drinking Shirley Temples and Mom drinking Mimosas to calm our nerves, so once we reached the hotel, we stayed in the rest of the night watching reruns of the crime show Castle. It was a simple and satisfying way to end our first day.
On Thursday, November 2, we explored Salem, bundled up in layers. As someone who has always been fascinated by Salem’s lore and its historical significance, I was ecstatic to explore the city and its many curiosities. There were many tourist attractions, shops, and walking tour options, but Mom and I ultimately decided to walk at our own pace. Getting lost was arguably part of the magic.
We visited a wand shop and a book shop and eventually sat down for a cup of tea at Jolie Tea Company. It was DELIGHTFUL ✨ We ordered their Petite Tea set with an orange blossom Madelaine, a birthday cake macaroon, a lemon scone, two separate small pots of tea, and a quiche that was to die for. I ordered their Pixie Dust blend, and Mom ordered their Hot Cider Honeybush blend. I wasn’t entirely sure I could finish an entire pot, but after I took my first sip, I was hooked. Their Pixie Dust blend was a pretty pink color with a delightful taste that made me smile. We finished both our pots. Mom bought boxes of macaroons, and I bought an ounce of their Pixie Dust and was given a free sample of their French Lullaby blend. Overall, I loved the chill in the air and the atmosphere of Salem and hope to revisit it one day closer to Halloween. We finished with Salem within a few more hours and started going to Danvers for our official first day at SCW 2023.
On Friday, November 3, I woke up with a bagel from the hotel buffet and started the morning with Mom’s SOULfusion class. It was a great turnout, with many energized attendees who seemed genuinely having fun. It gave me the energy to keep up. I did half the choreography right, but ultimately, I had fun. Afterward, I operated the booth with Master Trainers and instructors Mac Carvalho, Sara Vandenberg, Tanya Patruno, Tracey Juliano, and Dawn Cianci. Mac co-taught the SOULfusion class earlier, and seeing his energy pump up the audience was a delight.
We only needed one to two people at the booth, so when I inevitably took a break, I explored the convention area, talked to the Two Diamond Fit co-owner, Angelica Carr, and bought a pair of their vibrant red biker shorts. I’m a sucker for the color red and biker shorts. I eventually returned to the room to shower and attend a Zoom meeting with my writing group while Mom went to dinner with her Master Trainers.
Day 1 from the mouth of MOM:
I woke up EXCITED to see the team and to teach my FAVORITE class, SOULfusion. Tracey had set up our booth the night before, and I added a few more tanks and stickers, pins, pens, etc, so the opening Friday morning was a breeze! I never get nervous about teaching FUSION, but I get anxious about how it will be perceived. Mac was on stage with me; if you know MAC, you know he is a magnet! Full of energy with movement quality like a professional dancer. So I begged everyone, as hard as it might be, to keep their eyes on ME 😉. They tried! Needless to say, FUSION was a success. The energy in the room was perfect.
On Saturday, November 4, I woke up again with a bagel from the hotel. I’m a sucker for carbs and cream cheese. I returned to the booth, talked to passersby, and Mom and I explored the convention together when it was time for my break. Since the convention was reasonably small, exploring further and speaking with the other vendors did not take long. Eventually, we found the official SCW booth, and I was thrilled to see they had a 50% off sale on most of their clothes. I’m also a sucker for sales. I bought an athletic black dress, a skirt, and shorts. I may dress to impress when I’m exercising, but I feel like these are clothes I could wear any time.
At some point, Mom mentioned Sara and Mac were teaching a WATERinMOTION sample crash course and suggested I give the course a chance. I was on high school varsity Swim and Water Polo teams, and she thought getting back into the water would be healthy. Still, I was oddly nervous to participate in an aquatics class (mainly because I remember being repeatedly drowned in Water Polo). But since I was confident no one would try dragging me down, I gave the class a chance and was surprisingly pleased by the pace. Likewise, when I took the SOULfusion class, I failed to meet half the choreography, but I did my best to keep up and have fun. It was not easy, but it was fun to try something new. It encouraged me to start swimming again.
During my aquatic class, Mom taught SOULkickboxing with Sara, but she visited me in the pool afterward. I was tempted to get out and follow her back to the booth, but when I noticed the pool area had an adjoining jacuzzi, my decision to stay was set. The hot, bubbly water was a fantastic way to soothe my muscles. I only got out once other hotel patrons joined in. I like my space when I’m trying to relax.
I returned to the hotel room for a hot shower and relaxed for the night. Mom took the liberty to invite the Master Trainers and instructors back to the hotel room to chat. Listening to them laugh and chat was lovely, even if I was done for the day.
Day 2 from the mouth of MOM:
I woke up NERVOUS! 😳We were about to introduce SOULkickboxing into the convention circuit. Even though we KNOW the format is fantastic, presenting it to a room full of instructors is another story. Well, it was a HUGE success. People were moving, grooving, singing, dancing, and having the BEST time. Sara V was on stage with me for this session and did terrific. Her energy was off the hook and contributed to the entire experience. And full disclosure: I was proud of myself. You see, I used to teach TurboKick for YEARS. It was my JAM! But since TK started changing under Beachbody Live and I started to focus on PiYo, I stopped teaching a cardio kickboxing class, not for lack of love for the modality but for lack of passion for how it was taught. Now, I am excited to say I am back in LOVE!!!! SOULkickboxing is the real deal! Saturday night, I had the team over to my room to connect. I love them truly. They are all a gift. We shared some stories that night that I know made us closer.
On Sunday, November 5, Mom taught an early morning SOULstrength with Tanya and taught a midday lecture on brand building, so I operated the booth by myself for most of the last day. It reminded me of running the booth during canfitpro earlier this year. Since SCW was on a smaller scale than canfitpro, it offered an intimate opportunity to connect with attendees on a deeper level. I took the time to talk with the surrounding vendors and eventually interview Dawn.
Me: What drew you to the SOUL Fitness Brands?
Dawn: I was a PiYo instructor, and after PiYo went bye-bye, your mom took over and grabbed our hands, and I just went with her. I have been with the SOUL Brands since the beginning.
Me: What’s your favorite SOUL format, and why?
Dawn: SOULfusion. It does something to my heart, soul, brain, and body. It brings out the passion in me. I love the moves and music. At first, it was a challenge. I worked at it, and now it’s second nature.
Me: What would you say to people considering joining the SOUL Fitness Brands and promoting the program?
Dawn: I would let them know how passionate I am. I would tell them how great the formats are and that they’re safe, easy to teach, and easy to learn.
Me: How is fitness special to you?
Dawn: I was always exercised when I was younger, and when I had my son go away to school, I returned to the recreation center, and this lady was teaching, and I thought, “I think I wanna do that.” I spoke with her, and she said, “Just practice, and you can sub for me as a start,” that’s when I decided to get certified in 2008.
Me: Beyond the SOUL Fitness Brands, how do fitness and health play a role in your life and career?
Dawn: I’m always learning, growing, and researching.
We packed up our equipment at the end of the convention, and Mom and I left for downtown Boston. We arrived at The Bostonian Hotel. We explored the city and walked down Newberry Street. The atmosphere was refreshing, but the stores were too expensive, and I had no genuine desire to revisit it anytime soon. We eventually sat down for dinner at Hennessey’s Tavern, but the burger was charred and not my favorite. The fries were, frankly, the best part of the whole meal.
Day 3 from the mouth of MOM:
I woke up early! Today is SOULstrength and Brand Building. You never know what a Sunday will look like. Sometimes, your sessions are full, but sometimes, only a little. Well, SOULstrength was AMAZING. I can honestly say every time I teach this format, I am reminded how INCREDIBLE it is. The instructors fell in love, like me, all over again. Tonya presented STRENGTH to me and did such a great job! I love her, her energy, and her family…who walked in to support her while we were teaching. It’s a FAMILY affair for sure.
After STRENGTH, we did a booth breakdown prep, and I was off to the room to change into regular clothes to present The Beauty of Building a Brand. I love the opportunity to help fitness entrepreneurs find their FOCUS and build a brand foundation. Sharing the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beauty is VERY fulfilling.
When Brand Building was done, we packed up the booth and our room, hugged the team goodbye, and headed to drop off our rental before getting an Uber into downtown Boston. It is time to celebrate a successful conference with some shopping, lots of walking, great company, and great food!
On Monday, November 6, we woke up with one of Boston’s famous “Duck Tours” and explored the city with the help of our assigned guide, Ernie. He was insightful and delightful to learn from. After the tour, we explored downtown and visited Seaport Village and Chinatown. We bought dresses from Primark. I bought books from two individual stores. One book was from a run-of-the-mill general bookstore; the other came from a hole-in-the-wall used bookstore. I admit: I buy books based on the covers.
We were initially going to another restaurant for dinner, but when we saw they were closed, we had to find someone else for dinner. Mom had bought a necklace from LIT next door, so we returned to the store and asked the workers for dinner suggestions. Another woman spoke up in the store, suggesting another nearby restaurant called Parla, where she worked as a server. I know her name was Alex because we took her advice and sat in her section. I highly recommend her services. She was super friendly and accommodating.
Mom ordered their Spaghetti Cabanara, and I ordered their Chicken and Waffles. I’m a sucker for breakfast for dinner. We shared our meals and loved them. The carbonara was deliciously cheesy with a subtle taste of pepper on top. Meanwhile, the chicken and waffles were savory and sweet. It was, by far, my favorite meal for our entire time in Massachusetts, and it was a perfect way to end our last full day in the city.
On Tuesday, November 7, we walked to the nearest Thinking Cup for a light breakfast. I ordered a breakfast sandwich, and Mom ordered a quiche. The quiche wasn’t nearly as good as the one we ordered from the Jolie Tea Company. It tasted tasteless, and my breakfast sandwich was little better. However, I took the opportunity to test their chai latte. Since I am not a coffee drinker, I like to taste chai lattes whenever I go someplace new. I ordered a plain chai latte with a hint of honey and cinnamon, which was delicious. If you’re like me and don’t like coffee, a chai latte is the way to go for that extra caffeine boost.
We returned to The Bostonian to pack our luggage, hailed an Uber, and went to the airport for our return home. Of the three hotels we stayed at during this trip, I loved The Bostonian best. Mom arranged for our room to have a Juliet balcony, giving us a full view of city life. I loved the option and opportunity to observe city life and people-watch. It was fun, and I cannot wait to come back!