Shay Kostabi is a multi-local fitness professional and personality. A rule-breaker, soul-shaker, and movement-maker, Shay’s workouts are designed to ignite and inspire strength and grace through the power of movement and music. As a Master Trainer and Mentor for multiple brands and modalities, Shay is dedicated to the education, refinement of skill and development of personal style and performance for the next generation of fitness talent.
Shay is an ACE certified Movement Specialist, Schwinn Cycling, Pilates Mat, Xtend Barre and Group X certified with a background in dance, choreography, and theatre. She is the Senior Master Trainer and US Ambassador for SpaceCycle Taiwan + Beijing, Master Trainer and Program Designer for ReXis360 Training Systems, Creator of her own class, PowerLines: Energy in Motion and co-founder of the fitness collective The Local Skill.
A maven at curating, directing, programming, choreography, creating atmosphere and cultivating community, Shay is available to host and teach at your corporate, charity and educational wellness events. Additionally, her innate business sense, years of experience and ‘risk it all’ attitude has led her to become a freelance consultant and mentor for fitness brands, studios, and independent instructors.
Hey, Shay, can you introduce yourself to us?
My name is Shelleen Kostabi, but I go by Shay. I am a native Angeleno but I consider myself a global citizen since I have lived and worked in many places all over the world. I come from a family of artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. My passions beyond fitness include movement, music, community, travel, creativity, and self-empowerment.
Can you tell us a little bit about you and your career background as a multi-local fitness professional and personality?
I started teaching in 2008 in New York City, right as the boutique fitness phenomenon as we know today was catching fire. I taught cycle, barre, and HIIT, all three of which I still teach today and I also train new teachers to teach as well as creating programs for boutique studios, gyms, and other online companies.
I moved back to Los Angeles in 2014 and have since been working as an independent contractor and consultant, I started my own business called The Local Skill, which is a local collective that produces events that merge together both art and wellness. I’ve created my own workout program called PowerLines; a restorative body-sculpt class blending elements of yoga, pilates, barre, dance and functional training, set to music.
I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to travel and teach for a living. I have some incredible boutique studio clients across the globe ranging from New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Taiwan to China and have taught workshops and events in many other incredible cities both in the US and abroad. I absolutely love teaching and training new trainers, I love helping a new business get started, I love immersing myself and learning about new cultures. The travel-work life is not as easy or as glamorous as you might think, but it is a rewarding and fulfilling adventure!
With a background in dance, choreography, and theatre, how did you get started?
My grandmother was a dancer and started teaching me ballet in her living room at three years old. I danced every single day, for hours and hours a day until I was 18 when a serious illness not only prevented me from dancing but forced me to drop out of college. It took me almost a year to fully recover and get back into any sort of routine. I have always loved theatre as well, particularly the classics. So I changed my major to performing arts and re-focused my skills and passion on an acting career and musical theatre choreography. I ended up getting a scholarship to a conservatory in New York and just went for it.
I had a really great stint in New York as a stage actress and had the opportunity to work on some really incredible projects, but movement and music were definitely missing from my life. I tried going back to dance classes, but my little ego at the time couldn’t handle the fact that I had to drop back down to a level one class. So, then I tried joining a gym, but that really wasn’t for me. I had never been what you would call “athletic,” I was never into sports and training or conditioning outside of competitive dancing, and it felt totally foreign to me.
I fell into fitness around 2008. I would say it was a challenging year for me personally and I was not making health and wellness a priority and I could tell it was really affecting other facets of my life. I saw an advertisement for a weight loss test group for BeachBody. It was 90 days of training, 5 meals a day with an opportunity to be in a commercial and I thought to myself that I really just needed to shake things up and do something different knowing that opportunity could be good for me.
I joined the group, I cried every day for the first two weeks. But I stuck to it and lost 22lbs, got in the best shape of my life and tapped into my inner athlete. My self-confidence, belief in myself and general outlook on life truly skyrocketed. Sure, I changed my body, but those 90 days really changed the entire direction of my life. I’ve been in it ever since.
At what point did you that you wanted to turn your passion for fitness into a sustainable career?
Shortly after the test group experience. I started teaching dance at 13 and doing choreography at 15 or 16, I have always been a leader and a creator. The transformation experience was so profound for me that felt compelled to pay it forward. I ended up becoming a personal assistant to a celebrity trainer, who became my mentor. I got a job at the front desk of a 24-hour fitness in NYC while I got my certifications and within 6 months I had a few personal training clients and I was teaching at a small boutique cycling studio.
I was still acting, its challenging to do both when your play gets out at 10 pm and you’re hanging out off-Broadway until 12 am or 2 am and you have to be at work, ready to motivate an army of early risers at 6 am. I gave myself one year. I would put acting on pause and fully commit to building a niche for myself in the fitness world. After 12 months, if I wasn’t completely satisfied with the work, I’d go back to performing.
Shortly after I ended up at one the best well-known boutiques in the country and within in a year had become a very popular, sought-after instructor, and was asked to join the creative team for the brand.
The work was incredibly fulfilling and I felt like I could use all my skills in this environment; movement, music, dance, performing, fitness, teaching, training, building communities and inspiring others. After another year I become a Master Trainer and well, the rest is history. I’ve never looked back and I genuinely feel as if I’m living my purpose.
You are also co-founder of The Local Skill, which is a fitness collective and consulting agency. Can you tell us more about this and the one-of-a-kind experiential events, classes and workshops you offer?
The Local Skill has two arms. The collective is based out of Los Angeles with a satellite team in New York City as well. Our mission is to merge art and wellness (two things I love) through unique and immersive experiences. We host a class which is the Posing School that is a two hour, mobile, collaborative photoshoot.
We also organise a monthly Transcend LA hike, which is a total; mind-body adventure, as well as 1-day retreats just outside of Los Angeles, called Local-ish Adventures. We work with local talent, companies, brands, and products to produce all kinds of unique experiences that have included live music, painting, cooking, meditation, dining. If it can improve your health and well-being as well as spark your creativity, we make it happen.
The consulting arm is global. Our primary skills are class programming and manual development, teacher training and photography for website and marketing materials. We can also help with business development, operations, brand identity, recruiting and more. We often bring our local workshops to our global partners and clients and help them create their own experiences and their own local community.
Can you tell us about the team and the structure of The Local Skill?
The team is essentially me and my partner, Jesse DeYoung who is a professional fitness photographer. We work with other freelance talent and have a large network of people within our collective that specialise in marketing, logo design, web development, film and video production as well as teachers, trainers, movers, makers, and designers.
Whether we are producing a local event or working on a consulting project, the team is hand-picked and every element is carefully curated to fulfill the unique demands and desires for that particular project. We do not believe that there is only one way to do things or accomplish a goal. We are very fluid and we pivot with our clients and collaborators to make sure that the vision comes to life in the most authentic way possible.
What would be one thing you would like to see changed in the fitness industry for women?
I think equal pay has always been an issue. Yes, even in fitness. Also, I would really love to see the “fitness” progress selfie in underwear in front of a toilet on Instagram disappear. I have many thoughts on this that could be a whole other article, but all I’ll say is that it’s not doing anything for the women’s movement or the fitness industry’s reputation.
Can you tell us what is your most seminal point throughout your career?
I would have to say that it was definitely launching The Local Skill back in 2015. I was so nervous and felt like I had no idea what I was doing.
The most rewarding moment in your personal life?
Hiking an unrestored part of The Great Wall of China with a few of my most people on the planet. My partner and I had moved to Beijing to help open Space Cycle along with one of my best friends. The hike was long, challenging and breathtaking. I just remember sitting at the top and taking in the view and thinking “I’m in China! I’m so far away from anything I know standing on an ancient relic of incredible human accomplishment.” My career brought me to China, but the personal choices I’ve made and the risks I’ve taken are what allowed me to have an experience like this. It was one of my most days so far.
Can you tell us what areas you have struggled with the most whilst combining both the fitness and business worlds?
I’m an entrepreneur and a creator by nature and I consider myself to be business savvy but my organisation and financial skills need improvement. Both of which I recognise are extremely important. I’m actually looking for a partner who can come in and get excited about taking care of operations.
Have you ever had a fitness mentor? If so how has this benefitted you to grow in professional areas?
Yes! Mentorship is incredibly important to me. I have had mentors or ‘big brothers and sisters’ at every stage of my professional development. I’ve had a dance, theatre, film, business, and fitness mentors. The advantage of to having someone to shadow, that you deeply admire and respect, and who is willing to give you their time, allow you to take a peek behind the curtain and show you the ropes, introduce you to people of influence and status it’s priceless.
The disadvantage is that you can feel as though you are eternally indebted to this person. But, inevitably you must surpass the role of menteè and step into your own power, which in some cases means sacrificing the relationship with your master, in order to truly thrive. I personally mentor a few young women. The relationship is something special. The passing down of information, trade secrets, wisdom, tips, tricks advice is as old as time and absolutely necessary in order to sustain any industry.
What outlets do you use to market The Local Skill?
We are grassroots gorilla style! We have ambassadors who wear our gear and attend industry events, we’ve put stickers and postcards all over town, we studio hop, network, send personal emails. We also use Instagram and Facebook, but we’re not at a place where we’ve had to pay for marketing, PR or ads. We’ve had some great press, most recently the cover of the Health section of the LA Times.
Our events sell out and we’re booked back to back with clients with almost zero self-promotion. Somebody out there just threw their hands up in dismay, I know it sounds like we are super lucky. But really, we’ve worked really hard for many years building our relationships as well as making sure our creative work is ahead of the curve. We have a loyal community and a rock-solid network, so our word of mouth is super strong.
What is the best piece of advice you have received to date?
As someone who works with the body, I can tell you that your own instinct never lies. It knows what to do and where to go and is constantly sending you signals about what is best for you at that moment. However, I need this reminder just as much as the person reading this article. It’s a process of learning to trust your own inner voice and not rely so much on the thoughts and opinions of your community or society.
What is the number 1 critical lesson you have learned along your path to success?
Do the work, then let go. Nothing is permanent, nothing is absolute, there is no one right way. Trends change, opinions change, interests change. Also, you can’t control the outcome or response to your work, you can only control the time, attention, affection and skill that you put into it.
Ideas aren’t worth anything without action and services don’t matter unless you connect with people and you’re able to provide a solution to something they need, want, desire. Do everything you can to produce the absolute best work possible, but don’t be too precious about it. Great ideas bomb all the time, and I’ve had plenty of those. Don’t quit. Keep doing the work. Keep letting go. Repeat.
How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?
This is really hard for me. I’m sort of a work-a-holic, and I get it from my Dad. I have to schedule time throughout the day, week and month to take care of myself or else I won’t do it. Luckily my job is in health and fitness so I’m around that all the time. But I’m just like everyone else. My job is to motivate, coach and keep my clients accountable. I need that too! I like to try to find ways to merge work and play. During the summer I take all my phone calls by the pool three times a week between 11 am and 2 pm.
During winter months I go to the infrared sauna once a week and use the time to either meditate, read or catch up on less important emails, depending on what I feel I need. I do my best to attend a sound bath or yin yoga class a few times a month to recalibrate. If I travel to work, which I often do and sometimes for months at a time, I build in a week-long vacation at the end of it. I collaborate and create events and workshops with my incredibly talented friends so that we can work and play together. It’s one of my favorite things about operating a collective. We create every day and we get to chose whom we work with and how, which, I feel, really helps maintain a sense of balance.
Which other female fitness enthusiast and talent do you also admire and why?
I am a fan of Jen. She is an awesome trainer and incredibly strong but I think she is so kind and authentic and down to earth.
What Youtube or online space channels are you watching currently?
I’m currently watching Master Class. I purchased the entire online series. It’s amazing and I highly recommend it. I also listen to Alan Watts lectures on YouTube.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
If you haven’t read ‘You Are A Badass’ yet, get on that train!
What does your Podcast playlist look like?
I’ve only recently gotten into podcasts, I need someone send me recommendations! Fitness Career Mastery and by the which I feature in episode 5 and 24. Also NPR, TED Talks, The IVY podcast. And I really loved listening to Missing Richard Simmons.
What does success look like in your eyes?
I think success is being able to create a lifestyle that suits you without sacrificing your core values.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
Everything you have ever needed is already within you. Mentors, teachers, gurus, opportunities, lucky strikes are called to you to awaken the thing you are searching for and show you that you already have what it takes live your purpose and achieve your dreams. Be your own boss, your own luck, your guru, your own guide.
Lastly, what is next for you and how do you plan on expanding The Local Skill?
This year we are launching one of our workshop creations, Posing School in 6 cities on the east coast. We’ll start off with a summer tour in July. Local-ish adventures just got accepted as an Airbnb experience and we’ve partnered with an app that will launch later this year. More details to come on that so make sure you follow us on Instagram and sign up for our newsletter. I can also say retreats are in the very near future.
Twitter: @thelocalskill @ShayKostabi
Instagram: @thelocalskill @shaykostabi @jdy_photography