Jess Gabrielli

MAR_0292

     JESS GABRIELLI

“I’ve learnt over the years that nothing should stop you from asking for what you want.”

I am an artist and a movement practitioner, primarily sharing my work through coaching in the field of strength and conditioning. Recently, I combined both these passions into a business called Foldenmove.

I grew up doing ballet and gymnastics, and perhaps through that I developed an interest in movement and fitness. At the same time, I loved art and that was my original direction. The subject I focused most on was always the human body; I was fascinated with ways that visually translated it, and my interest in human movement ended up feeding into it.

I am originally from Switzerland, however due to my parents’ work, we travelled throughout Europe while I was growing up. I finished high school in Amsterdam. My whole family was planning to move to Singapore in the year I started university, so I enrolled in a fine arts degree there.

However, at the last moment, my stepdad got a great offer to work in Melbourne, and my family moved there instead.

I had already set my heart on Singapore, and the idea of going to live on my own appealed to me. I decided to move to Singapore and go to LASALLE College of the Arts.

MAR_0261

As it turned out, it was an incredible cultural and artistic experience for me. The art culture in Singapore was in a bit of a pioneer stage at the time, and LASALLE was the only international art institution there.

It was really exciting to be a part of something so young that was developing and making new grounds so fast.

I started out thinking I would major in painting. But I remember very clearly a painting session where my senior lecturer said to me, ‘Jessica, your paintings are very engaging. They are technically sound. But if you want to talk about movement…. girl, you gotta move.’

I’m the kind of person who takes everything very much to heart, so his words made a big impact on me.

I decided that if I wanted to explore movement in art, I needed to get away from the framed edges of the canvas. I started doing performance and installation art. It was much more relevant to my areas of interest, and it propelled me into the physicality of the human body and its movement. That’s what I ended up majoring in.

After graduating art school, I moved to Melbourne to join my family.

I am very passionate about my art, which is why I never wanted to be pressured by financial concerns in developing my practice. So I knew I needed to do something else to earn an income to support myself, and my art practice.

Fitness had always a big part of my life, and as my understanding of human movement continued to mature and inform my artistic interests, I thought it was the right area to explore.

I had some vague notions of somehow combining my visual interest in representing motion and the actual physical aspects of the body moving, but I didn’t really know what that would look like back then.

MAR_0302

I started doing my certifications in fitness, as I thought it was a direct way to interact with the human body in motion, to observe it and to connect to people through that, as well as maintaining my own physical practice.

I started with my Certificate III at the Fitness Institute Australia, and then moved on to a Diploma in Exercise Rehabilitation.

Once I felt I had amassed enough theory, I felt the only and best way to increase my knowledge thereon was to put it all into application on the floor. I wanted to start working with people, learning through experience and witnessing the way different people move.

My first professional gig began with Power & Posture, as a coach for a yoga-based movement practice called The Controlled Strength Method. It is a very strong practice based on arm balances and inversions focusing conditioning and skill development to fast track the way towards the handstand and its transitions.

I had my first interview with the owner of the studio, and literally started training with complete dedication towards becoming assistant lead coach of the method.

I consider myself as having ‘grown up’ with the Controlled Strength Method and it now represents a huge part of my teachings.

Shortly after I started working at Power & Posture, I discovered a small strength & conditioning studio in the same building called Fitline. It was very different to most commercial gyms, which is exactly what I was looking for.

When I finished my studies in Exercise Rehabilitation, I very quickly understood for myself that I did not want to be a Personal Trainer in a commercial gym.

The atmosphere in commercial gyms is very competitive. It seemed to me that it was an environment dominated by PTs more focused on making money and building their client base, rather than improving the genuine connection with people and improve way they function and move. I’ve never been money driven, so I knew this was not the right environment for me.

MAR_0309

Fitline was different in that it took a much more holistic approach. Each client works with a coach to reach their own specific goals and constant development and ongoing learning is nurtured.

It was that passion and ultra-personalized approach that appealed to me.

I could see opportunities to really get to know people, understand bodies and observe changes in their physical structure, their mind and spirit.

I did my research about Fitline before attempting to take the extra the flight of stairs from the yoga studio, and walked into the door one fine day. The gym manager at the time was sitting at the office table and I literally just sat down and talked with him for two hours. We talked about our passions and concepts, shared ideas; it was not like a normal job interview at all.

At the end of the conversation, I said that Fitline was a group of people I felt truly inspired to work with, and that I would really love to ask for a chance, as a junior, to work there.

I started from the ground up, running group sessions of 3-4 people, and slowly building up to having personal clients.

At Fitline, I coach people into weight lifting, body weight strength and mobility. My biggest love is to develop strength and resilience both in the body and mind. I love working with clients one on one, getting to know them, listening both to their structure and to their minds, to facilitate their progress and see them grow their own potential.

My specific focus is teaching my clients to train movements and not muscles, to become attuned to their capacities and let themselves explore what is outside their comfort zone, in order to become more self aware, learning to appreciate both the challenges and the ease that comes through hard work.

When you do this, you learn resilience, you learn how to address fear and be comfortable in situations of discomfort.

Being able to feel the burn, do that extra rep though you thought you couldn’t, can give you a lot of insight and confidence that can in turn support many different aspects of your life – whether you’re dealing with people who make you uncomfortable or difficult life situations.

MAR_0269

I find that yoga and strength training are two disciplines that really feed each other.

Yoga requires a lot of mobility and awareness of your own body.

Balancing upside down, you need to have a strong notion of where your weight is in space. You learn to be aware of your core structure and your own body in space, and develop a more sophisticated understanding of your surroundings.

This translates directly to a practice like weight lifting, where you have to deal with and manipulate objects that are external to you, let alone of considerable load. Weight lifting is a skill which takes a long time to learn properly and develop, and part of that is having total awareness of your body weight, how to create tension and balance from within out.

In the past three years in the fitness industry, I realized that yes, the floor is saturated with PTs and coaches, but it is not hard to stand out if you’re really dedicated to your craft and if you are passionate about developing yourself and helping other others do the same. There are people who go in the industry for the wrong reasons, and it’s easy to spot.

I loved every moment I spent working at Fitline and Power & Posture to this day.

I knew I was in the right space, doing what I’m meant to do. There was, however, always at the back of mind the idea of doing something for myself that would involve both physical training and art but I still didn’t really know what this might be.

At the same time as my coaching work, I continued my artistic practice.

Funnily enough, it was through Fitline that I got the opportunity to have the space in my life to commit to it.

I needed a space where I could do my painting, my research, set up my studio. Financially, it was not possible for me to hire a place in the city, whilst commuting back home between training sessions was not viable either.

MAR_0331

I saw that Fitline had a tiny back room that was intended for storage but was chock-a-block with old rubbish no one used. So after about a year of working there, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

I put together a proposal and pitched it to the owners. I was very thorough, presenting them with schedules, floorplans showing how I’d use the room, and what I could afford to give up from my monthly wage towards the rent.

I couldn’t believe my luck when they agreed, without even charging me!

All I had to do was clean it out and maintain it. So now I had a studio right at work, where I could leave my art practice and that I could go to between sessions.

Who has an art studio in the middle of the CBD? It was almost too good to be true.

So I’d work with clients in the mornings, until 9am, then go into the studio to paint, and then come back for the lunchtime sessions more inspired than ever, because I was simultaneously engaging in both my passions: visual art and human movement.

They were still separate practices, but a tenuous link was forming – mostly in my mind.

Things started to come together. One of my clients was running a café/gallery in North Melbourne, and the agreed to let me have an exhibition there. So my first exhibition was held in Lulu café & gallery in August 2015.

However, this also started me questioning myself.

I felt there was still a disconnect between my art and my work in the realm of human movement and rehabilitation. I had a lot of people telling me that I needed to choose one or the other, that otherwise I was spreading myself thin and not reaching my full potential. I started wondering if that was true.

Add to that some financial stress, being tired through overworking and overtraining, feeling like I was missing something.

MAR_0263

That was a dark time for me, and I shared my worries with my mother, who I’m very close to.

During one of our conversations, she said, “Why don’t you just take a canvas, put paint on your body and dance.”

I said, “Well, that’s actually been done before, many artists and dancers have already done that and created beautiful work.” It didn’t feel like this was something coming out of my deepest self and that I could make my own.

But on that day, a few things clicked together.

I was down, and I needed to paint and to move, as these are my two outlets. At the same time, I didn’t want to start painting with a preconceived notion of what I was going to do. For once in my life, I wanted to create a work of art without any preconceptions or expectations of myself.

Then, I remembered a childhood memory of a kindergarten art project, when you splatter some paint on a piece of paper, fold it and squish the sides together. When you unfold it, you get a beautiful colourful butterfly shaped symmetry print.

On an impulse, I decided to explore that idea… life size.

In uni, I studied Jackson Pollock, as I loved the choreography aspect of his work. So I grabbed a big piece of canvas and started splattering some acrylic paints on it, in a process similar to Pollock. Then I folded the canvas in half and sealed the edges with masking tape.

Then I put a yoga mat over it, and started doing my routine.

At first, I was very aware of the paint squelching underneath me, but as I moved and got into it, I lost all notion of what was underneath me. For forty minutes, I got absorbed in the flow of my movements, pushing myself into the red zone. Then as I felt at the right level of physical exertion, I stepped off the mat.

I unsealed the canvas edges and unfolded it.

MAR_0324

It was an overwhelming moment. I felt like I had just created something that was bigger than myself, a direct reflection of my soul. It was an imprint, a mapping of the body, the expression of my movement and a physical manifestation of it.

The two had finally merged together in a way that I had not seen coming.

Remembering that moment from childhood, when I was at my most effortlessly creative and authentic, this is the state that led to this. Years of researching, studying and teaching movement, while building up my own capabilities and strength, had led to this.

I began thinking about getting other people involved in the same process, and what magic might come of it. How would their movement me impacted and reflected by their choice of colours, the patterns, and their own feelings.

If I could try it with a small group, I’d see if it was something worth developing.

I decided to set up a small yoga class that would incorporate the painting process. Again, Lulu gallery agreed to let me have their space for this.

I didn’t yet know what to call it, so I called it a movement painting class. I put the word out via friends, Facebook, some flyers. I managed to get enough to lead two small classes, which allowed me to create a prototype of what I was trying to do.

After the initial trial classes, I got a clear idea of what was needed to develop it as a proper workshop. I started figuring out the details: how much time, what materials, how to lead the workshop, the yoga flows, what to charge and so forth.

Once I had a full workshop prototype, I started talking about it with people, getting feedback and advice.

I shared my knew venture with my principals at Fitline who told me that I needed to find a name for this thing I had created, and needed to start marketing it. I took the advice straight on and started working on developing a trademark.

MAR_0319

I came up with the name Foldenmove. In fact, still today I am convinced ‘IT’ found me.  It felt right, it conveyed a good flow and I liked the implications of the word ‘folden’. I contacted a lawyer and registered the trademark, got a website and set about organizing more workshops.

I approached dear friends, a couple that owns an osteopathy and Pilates studio in North Carlton for the first official workshop, and held the second at Power and Posture.

My clients come from the clientele of the places that hosted the workshops, my own clients and now, slowly, word of mouth.

My initial goal was to have 4 workshops this year, but after two workshops sold out very quickly, I started realizing how much of an impact it was having on people. For my third workshop, I had returning participants who wanted to do another painting and see the difference between them.

Now my goal has shifted to ten workshops this year, having completed my eighth one recently. I love the vibe and the energy of the classes, and I love it when people send me pictures of their paintings framed – it is so gratifying to see them make these pieces part of their living space.

At the same time, I am continuing my work teaching and coaching, as well as upskilling myself, doing personal development.

I’m currently doing a holistic lifestyle-coaching course, with the CHEK institute based in California. Parts of it have to be completed in Sydney, and parts in California.

So I saw an opportunity to set up my workshops there also, working together with the course organizers. I figured that I had nothing to lose by asking, and the faculty being extremely supportive they helped me secure a space to run the workshop FOLDENMOVE® in Sydney in October, as it really encapsulates their own holistic approach to personal development and human potential.

My vision for the next 5 years has always been, since its inception, to expand and establish Foldenmove on an international base around what I call my ‘Golden Triangle’, leading workshops between Australia, Singapore (South East Asia) and Switzerland.

Foldenmove is barely one year old and the dream is slowly taking shape.

In December this year, Foldenmove will be travelling overseas for the first time. Invited to guest teach and share my practice in the 6th International Interdisciplinary – NO BORDERS Project – organized by Unity Space Arts and Healing Productions, Hong Kong, I see this as an incredible opportunity to take a first step into the world and start sharing Foldenmove crossing geographical and cultural boundaries.

Something that I’ve learnt over the years, is that nothing should stop you from asking for what you want.

It costs nothing to ask and there is nothing to loose. Even a ‘no’ leads somewhere or to something, if you remain open to see it from a growth perspective. And it’s amazing how often, people are willing to help – especially if you have passion, and are genuine.

I feel so extremely grateful for all the incredible individuals I am surrounded with daily, and how much love and support I receive on this journey. Every time I’ve taken the courage to ask for something in life, it has led me somewhere and left me wanting to give back so much more in return.

My greatest wish? I want to share Foldenmove with the world.

 

 

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