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Build a Happier, Healthier Life with The Melissa Black Method
Health and beauty
May 2024
Reading time 4 Minutes

Discover a unique and empowering approach to strength and fitness for women

We meet Melissa to find out how she's using her life-long love of dance to offer just that.

In some ways, the inspiration behind The Melissa Black Method is quite simple: ‘I’ve made a business out of all the things I enjoy,’ Melissa summarises. ‘Whether it’s being outdoors or walking or cycling or dancing, it’s all about spreading the things that I enjoy to other women.’

The journey that brought her here began with dance. ‘I basically spent my whole life in dance,’ Melissa tells me. She danced all through her childhood before training professionally and spending a few years working as a dancer and choreographer on projects in the UK and abroad. Eventually she decided to return to the North East, and ultimately ended up teaching at a secondary school in Newcastle. It was here that she first began to really think about the benefits of dance for mental wellbeing.

‘I saw so many people’s mental health in the education system – students and teachers – decline,’ Melissa says. ‘I started setting up staff wellbeing sessions and the sixth formers used to come along for stress relief during their A levels. We were the only school with aerial dance, so I had teachers up in trapezes!’ It’s been six years since she left teaching, but she clearly made an impact. ‘A lot of my students from that time come to me now,’ she says. ‘They found their way back which is lovely. You get that gorgeous feeling of: “actually, I did make a difference to these young people”.’

After leaving teaching, Melissa initially went into the fitness sphere, teaching barre classes under the name Black’s Barre, as well as yoga. Eventually she joined her old business partner, Steph Shilling, to create Shilling & Black and run yoga and dance classes from a studio in Whitley Bay. With all this experience behind her, she finally launched The Melissa Black Method with the aim of pursuing her passion for teaching dance as part of a more holistic approach to women’s wellbeing. This takes the form of an expanding programme of indoor and outdoor dance classes, yoga, retreats and wellbeing sessions. The business is going from strength to strength, and she is currently in the process of renovating a dedicated studio under the arches of The Space, a converted 18th century church in Tynemouth.

Melissa tells me that there are three foundational principles that underly everything she does at The Melissa Black Method. Whatever the activity, her classes and programmes encourage women to ‘prioritise themselves, prioritise nutrition [and] prioritise movement,’ she says.

It may not be the sole focus of the business, but the emotional benefits of dance are still a big part of what she does. ‘What is gorgeous about dance is allowing women to come out of their heads completely and concentrate on their bodies,’ she explains. ‘That sense of escapism is huge for women who’ve got careers and families and all these other stressors in life. They can just get lost in dance.’

These classes range from barre to pole dancing, bachata and even dance yoga, and the impact on her clients is often profound. ‘I’ve had so many women get emotional when they dance,’ she says. ‘They’re so apologetic!’. However for Melissa, these moments are proof that her methodology works. ‘They’ve got emotional because they’ve surprised at themselves and what they’ve achieved,’ she explains. ‘It’s just a beautiful moment – they’ve understood why dancers dance!’

For women searching for more all-encompassing changes in their lifestyle, she also offers a 90-day Strong Woman Programme, which is currently helping its third cohort. There isn’t a prescriptive outcome for this programme, but rather she hopes that it will give women a toolkit relevant to them.

‘They decide their own goals,’ she says, with the caveat that she prefers not to fixate on weight loss. ‘I’m not saying that weight loss isn’t a valid goal, but I don’t like to base my work on that because often where there is weight gain, there are underlying issues,’ she explains. ‘It’s addressing the underlying issues and allowing the weight loss to be a byproduct of having a happier, healthier lifestyle.

‘That sense of escapism is huge for women who’ve got careers and families and all these other stressors in life. They can just get lost in dance’

Personally, I find it boring focusing on weight loss unless it’s for a medical reason,’ she continues, ‘I don’t think it motivates women to make changes. It’s counterproductive.’

Clearly there is a relationship between wellbeing and appearance which they don’t ignore. ‘We quite openly talk about weight goals and gains and body changes and body image,’ she says, ‘but I make it clear that it isn’t my focus. I measure the gain of muscle tissue if people are going down that route, but a lot of women aren’t, a lot of women actually are just trying to find a sense of purpose and identity.’

It makes sense that this would be her approach; dance is one way to think about how bodies occupy space that isn’t about size and Melissa is clearly very aware of its wider implications. ‘I think fundamentally women of all ages can be quite apologetic for their own presence in a room,’ she says. ‘Women are notorious for putting themselves at the bottom of the pile. They will cater for everybody else, everybody else is happy in the room, make sure that everyone else’s list of jobs is done. When I go in to do wellbeing at work, I see women bending over backwards to do everything else before they even look at their own jobs list.

‘As a coach I’m helping women to find a way to do that, to bring in more joy, bring in the things that they love, and ultimately when we do that we’re building healthier habits in our lives anyway by prioritising our own needs. There’s far more things you need to address before you get to the point where you’re working out sometimes.’

She tells me that although she has had requests for private wellbeing coaching, she thinks that the dynamics that form between groups of attendees are crucial. ‘One of the most powerful things I’ve experienced is having a group of 25 women in the Lake District ranging from 20 to 75 and seeing the impact that the different generations have on each other,’ Melissa explains. ‘I think that was a turning point when I realised how powerful women being together actually is. The power in that community where women thrive regardless of age, regardless of what their background is, and they support each other. All I need to do is facilitate the space and let the women take over.’

Although her classes are generally for women, she was recently persuaded to make an exception for North East icons Robson Green and former Newcastle United player Shola Ameobi. Both men joined in with a pop-up at one of Melissa’s signature outdoor barre classes at Earsdon Hill Farm in Northumberland for the TV series Robson Green’s Weekend Escapes.

She was initially approached for the show when a producer from Whitley Bay saw her teaching on the beach. Building on her love for the outdoors, women can now join her on free Walking for Wellbeing rambles through Northumberland, or there’s Beach Yoga, Beach Bachatta and Barre in the Bandstand at Northumberland Park. These ventures have their roots in the Sunrise Barre class which uses the railings along Tynemouth seafront for the ultimate workout with a view. This class predates The Melissa Black Method and continues to attract committed attendees regardless of the temperature. It’s easy to see why.

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