Certified STOTT PILATES® Instructor Trainer
Co-founder, Full Circle Studio
Darcy McMurray didn't expect to become a Pilates studio owner. And she certainly didn’t predict opening a business just before the largest economic crash in recent memory.
But life has taught Darcy nothing if not how to roll with the punches, and spin gold out of setbacks.
Darcy McMurray has a habit of finding the silver lining in life-changing situations that at first seem insurmountable. Darcy first started dance class when she was four years old. And even at such a young age, the rhythm and movement of dance drew her in, and she knew what she wanted to do with her life. “I wanted to be a pro dancer,” she says.
For years, she worked toward that dream but the stress of such a physical art form took its toll. When she was 18 years old, she was diagnosed with four broken bones in her feet, effectively cutting short the career she had dreamed of. “It hit me pretty hard, my body breaking down on me. I wasn’t even 19 years old.” She quit dance, and stopped moving altogether.
Darcy was first exposed to Pilates during her physiotherapy sessions to help heal the damage in her feet, and she realized she had found a new calling. She flew to Toronto, where she did her STOTT PILATES® Instructor training during the heady days of the Pilates boom of the late ‘90s and early aughts at the Corporate Training Center. After her training, she decided to become an Instructor Trainer. By 2001, she was one of the youngest ITs at the time with Merrithew™.
Despite her age, “I felt like I was so ready for it,” Darcy says. But her youthful face was often the source of a double take when she landed in a new country to give trainings. “I’d show up in Mexico, or other places, and they’d ask “How old are you?”” she says. “But I was in my element teaching.”
By 2002, her Pilates practice had strengthened her enough that she could return to her first love of dancing with the renowned choreographer Robert De Rosier while she continued to do international trainings for Merrithew and was part of a team that helped develop DVDs and manuals. “It was the heyday of Pilates,” she says. “We could barely keep up with demand.”
But by 2005, Darcy was ready to return home to Vancouver. “I was ready to be close to my family again.” After the move, another opportunity unfolded. Tessa Crofton, who ran West Coast Pilates in Victoria, asked Darcy to open a studio with her in Vancouver. It was the summer of 2008 and Darcy was on the cusp of turning 30. They opened the studio and enjoyed a few busy months before the economic crash rippled throughout the world economy and cut into the Pilates market.
“I hadn’t dealt with the market much before,” she says. “We started out with huge momentum, and then it crashed.” Business slowed. “We went from full classes to running classes with just three people in them,” she says. Darcy began studying marketing and working on community connections to help keep the business afloat, and diversified Full Circle’s offerings with IT training courses. But it was tough. “I had no idea how hard it would be,” she says.
But even though times were lean, Darcy didn’t take it out on her Instructors. Some of the ITs that joined her when Full Circle opened in 2008 are still with her, and she goes to great lengths to ensure that she’s treating them well. In addition to asking what the ITs want in terms of props and environments, she also offers perks such as snacks and free classes, and a generous compensation rate.
Darcy has made a point of being choosy with the ITs that she takes on, looking for those with a strong foundation in rehab, deep anatomical knowledge, confidence with hands-on, tactile cues and the ability to modify while keeping the energy up in class. “I want it to be a place where people find joy in movement,” she says.
“You take what you are given in life and you go with it.”
When the landlord sold Full Circle’s original small studio and it was slated for demolition in 2013, it “was a blessing in disguise,” says Darcy. Business was beginning to pick up, and Full Circle moved to a larger, more open space that enables Darcy to integrate art into the studio, with an artist on location, exhibitions, plays, music concerts and poetry readings. “I provide a full spectrum of what I consider wellness,” she says. “Physical as well as mindful expansion.”
Darcy relies on word of mouth to grow her business, and in the three years that Full Circle has been in its current location, she’s seen positive results. “The word of mouth in this community is very strong,” she says. She also made the choice to hire an administrator, Stephanie, who is “crucial. She is detail-oriented, incredible with customers, caring and has an incredible memory.” With Stephanie helping shoulder the burden of running Full Circle, Darcy has been able to get back into teaching and start a family—she had her first baby this past year.
Though tumultuous at times, Darcy’s unexpected life path has taught her not to assume that a situation is inherently good or bad, an attitude that that has served her well throughout the years. “You take what you are given in life,” she says. “And you go with it.”