“GOOD People of Wilton” is GMW’s take on the popular profile series, “Humans of New York.” Rather than continue being derivative and calling it “Humans of Wilton,” we’ve decided to rename it, and “GOOD People of Wilton” felt just right.
Today, meet a woman who grew up in Wilton and after an experience that knocked her back a little from the path of her dream career, she discovered that she could find her way back to what she loved with just a slight alteration in the way she went about it.
Sometimes the fiercest, strongest things come in the tiniest, most compact packages.
That’s certainly the case with Heidi Freyer, who grew up in Wilton, and followed her dream to study ballet and dance professionally. She’s since moved back to Wilton where she not only teaches (and still studies) dance at Freyer Academy of Ballet, a studio she owns with her mom and sister, but she has also become a cult-like pilates and barre instructor attracting a devoted following as a teaching at JoyRide’s Wilton studio and its other locations.
But a few years ago, no one could have predicted that Freyer would achieve what she has after she suffered a devastating on-stage injury that was almost career ending. It’s something she credits Pilates with helping her overcome and eventually rebuilding her life.
Ballet, she says, was her life growing up, in the Wilton studio her mom had started shortly after Heidi was born.
“I grew up in a ballet studio. During high school, I had been really pushing into dance. I would take classes after school, work with my mom teaching and then take some supplemental classes in New York City,” she says.
After her first year at college at UMASS, she realized how much she missed the joy of dancing and wanted to return to the dance world back in New York. Freyer auditioned for the renowned Alvin Alley company and won a coveted spot in their certificate program, earning credits through Fordham and getting a college degree through UCONN.
Following college, she was accepted into a small modern dance company and started her trajectory–until disaster struck.
“I was apprenticing with this company and it was like my first real day on stage, at the outdoor stage at Bryant Park. It was like my day to shine–my whole family was there, everybody was there–and I had just been over-dancing. I had just over-done it and hours and hours and hours and being tired and everything and then,…” she mimes little explosions with her hands at the front of her hip bones, “…both hip flexors. So I limped off stage and I go to all these doctors in New York City and find out that I have these labral tears and you can’t do anything.”
Only 22 years old at the time, she opted for physical therapy over surgery; that’s when she discovered Pilates.
“The physical therapist said the only thing I could do was Pilates. So I started taking mat classes and reformer classes–I was soaking it up–and I found that I was getting a phenomenal workout. I was able to keep focusing on technique, which was something I was so focused on when it came to dance, but this was different technique, and it was really healing my body in a way that I needed. It was never going to heal the hips, but it was healing my body and strengthening my body in other ways and I was able to do it,” Freyer recounts.
She loved it so much she decided to get certified in it–a choice that was also very defining.
“I really had to make a decision, to heal and maybe be able to dance, maybe not–or teach. So, I chose the route of teaching. I came home to Wilton–brought the Pilates out here–and started teaching for my mom and really got into that. I had always been teaching for my mom since I had been young, had always helped her out here and there, with the kids and every once in a while would do adult classes, but this was really like I was going to start teaching,” she says.
Freyer eventually branched out and started teaching elsewhere, when she was introduced to JoyRide owner Rhodie Lorenz. It turns out, JoyRide was beefing up their Pilates and barre classes, just as the Freyer ballet studio decided to keep their focus on primarily ballet and phase out Pilates and yoga.
Since then she’s gradually increased the number of classes she teaches at the JoyRide locations and has developed a cult following.
“I do, I do!” Freyer laughs. “I have very strong followers. I think once you trust a teacher in spin, but especially in Pilates, when a lot of it has to do with the safety of your body, um, you now trust that I’m going to give you a hard workout. You trust that I’m going to check your technique, you trust that I won’t do anything that’s going to harm you in any way, that I’m going to do the things that you want in your class.”
She intentionally keeps her classes small and intimate, so that she can make sure she can pay attention to each student. Freyer says she also welcomes students of all levels and can make modifications for beginners or for students with injuries. Overall, she’s very passionate about how Pilates can benefit just about anyone.
“You may not think about it, but Pilates is your core. It is the way we sit, your posture, what holds us when we walk. It’s the difference between us slumping and us sitting up straight and having better digestion. When I was working with the rowers, for instance, rowers are always in a position using their back muscles and also in a tight hip flexor position so they need to strengthen and stretch this whole hip flexor area, and the hamstrings. You need a tight core because otherwise you are yanking on the shoulders and the back. If your core is tight then your back is going to be strong; if your core is not tight then you’re going to be pulling on the back muscles. If your arms aren’t strong and your core or your frontal body isn’t strong then you’re going to be pulling on that.”
Freyer also has the perspective of someone who was so seriously injured, and who was helped by Pilates work.
“A lot of what I’ve learned too are physical therapy exercises–I spent 10 years in physical therapy. People will say all the time ‘I did that plank in physical therapy.’ Well, so did I. So I know what’s beneficial for your body. I know a lot of what I’ve taken feels good also on my body which has been injured for years. I’m not going to give you something that’s not going to feel good because I’ve dealt with injuries. And I think that’s helped make me a better teacher because I’m just so aware of myself and I’m aware that I’m not going to leave you in a position that’s going to start gripping your neck or any part of your body that’s going to be vulnerable.”
One of the other things that Freyer is so excited about is being able to do what she loves in Wilton, whether that’s teaching dance with her mom and sister or leading Pilates classes in JoyRide’s Wilton studio.
“Wilton is my life. I was born and raised here. I’ve done everything here in Wilton. I was a Wahoo. I was on the Wilton High School swim team. Now, I’m the head of the youth board at my church, Wilton Congregational Church. And I love that community. This is where I belong, and you know, I’ve built my clientele around here, my family’s around here, my community’s around here, my friends. I love being in Wilton.”
Wilton will have an opportunity to get to know Freyer better as JoyRide Wilton (3 Godfrey Pl.) is offering free classes all this week in their lower level Studio 2. The schedule and class descriptions are below, but contact JoyRide Wilton with specific questions at 203.762.6122.
9:50 a.m.: JoyHIIT with Tara Snow
9:50 a.m.: High-Fitness with Ali Miles
11 a.m.: JoyYoga with Merri Mueller
5:30 p.m.: JoyCircuit with David Reyes
8:45 a.m.: JoySculpt with Tara Snow
9:50 a.m.: JoyStrength with Erik Soyland
11 a.m.: JoyYoga with Merri Mueller
8:45 a.m.: JoyCircuit with Stacia Howard
11 a.m.: Mat Pilates with Vicki Lopez
8 a.m.: Mat Pilates with Heidi Freyer
9:45 a.m.: JoyStrength with Erik Soyland
Class descriptions are as follows:
JoyHIIT: JoyHIIT is an off-the-bike high intensity interval training class, combining strength and cardio movements. Training with high interval repetitions and quick recoveries is one of the fastest ways to improve fitness levels and torch calories. Be prepared for anything and everything (especially results)!
JoyCircuit: A high-intensity, circuit-style interval training that will complement your ride! Held in studio 2, off the bike, JoyCircuit creates muscular and cardio endurance. Chisel those hard-working muscles! It’s like having a personal trainer in a motivating group setting.
JoySculpt: Get your body toned and trimmed and strengthen muscles you didn’t know you had! A full body workout and another perfect complement to your JoyRide!
Mat Pilates: Mat Pilates focuses on strengthening the abdominal and postural muscles while challenging your cardio, balance, upper and lower body strength and core control. This class will create long, lean muscles, improve flexibility and increase core strength.
High Fitness: High Fitness is a hardcore, fun fitness class that incorporates interval training with music you love, and intense easy-to-follow fitness choreography. It combines FUN (pop songs of old and new that everyone knows and loves) with INTENSITY (interval, plyometrics, and cardio) with CONSISTENCY (each song has specific simple moves taught the same by all instructors). Together they make a recipe for success, repeat participation, and results! HIGH Fitness produces a high caloric burn and full-body toning through its carefully formulated choreography that alternates between intense cardio peaks and toning tracks.
JoyStrength: JoyStrength is an off-the-bike, weight-based routine that uses compound movements ideal for strength. It’s the perfect complement to all of the cardio we do in indoor cycling!