Gayle Boxer was a young ballet dancer with an injury preventing her from doing the pointe work that’s such an important part of classical ballet, so she decided to try to get into musical theatre in New York instead. While there, she also tried fitness classes for the first time and fell in love with the new types of exercise. Loved them so much that instead of staying in New York, she returned home to Toronto and used her connections at Glendon College, from which she had graduated with an Honours B.A. in Language and Dance, to set up fitness classes in available space. Now, more than 30 years on, Gayle is still a force to be reckoned with in fitness. She believes that she is the first and longest running fitness studio sole proprietor in Toronto.
Gayle Boxer (Duncanson) has been running classes at St. Cuthbert’s Church since the early 1980s. When she first looked at Lamb Hall, she knew the space would work for her. It was large, with high ceilings, natural light, and doors that opened for fresh air. Early on, when she was looking for a name for her business, she sought input from her clients. The unanimous choice? Gayle Force.
She was the first to introduce Pilates to Toronto – studying with the master, Joseph Pilates, in New York at a time when you needed to be a professional dancer to be instructed by him. She still visits New York every year or so to take courses and learn what’s new. Here in Toronto, she checks out other fitness venues to find out what others are doing, see what she can learn, or confirm that her teaching methods are right for those attending – and for her.
A recent addition to her roster of classes is chair Pilates, which she started when one of her regulars said she’d have to stop coming because she couldn’t get down on the floor to do mat work. At the other end of the spectrum, an assistant, Rachel, runs a cardio jam session on Thursday mornings that is said to “guarantee to burn 1,300 calories per session.” As well, Gayle has always offered stretch classes. At one time, there were at least six other studios with a similar offering. Now, Gayle is the only one.
Gayle’s musical theatre wishes lived on in a different way. While she and her family lived in Leaside, she first put together musicals for Rolph Road School. She then ran an after-school program at St. Cuthbert’s for more than 20 years that put on musical theatre productions each year, with teachers for drama, dance and choreography.
As the classes switch over, there is always a pleasant buzz in the church foyer as people come and go. They actually talk to each other. Even during classes, the music isn’t so loud that it overpowers Gayle and her instructions, and people chat during breaks.
And my connection to this story? I’m a member of St. Cuthbert’s Church, and Gayle tells the story that when she first wanted to use space at the church, the priest at the time, Fr. John, said she needed to talk to me as a member of the church advisory board about the rental. And no, even though I probably should, I don’t attend Gayle’s classes.