When Alive asked its readers to send in their own nominations for People to Watch, the votes came pouring in for Mike Nicholson.
They relayed the fitness instructor’s tangible achievements —“[he] has made fitness accessible and affordable”— but it is his intangible qualities that have Nicholson turning heads and moving bodies. As one nomination said, “When I went to my first dance class I knew immediately there was something very special about Mike Nicholson.”
Nicholson’s loyal, diverse following has allowed him open his own studio in Gahanna (called Phlex Fitness, slated to debut next month).
He has also raised money for nonprofits by hosting donation-admission hip-hop classes. Hundreds of people attend. That philanthropic sensibility — and the instructor’s mass appeal — intrigued the American Heart Association; Nicholson is now head of the local chapter’s Community Teams Committee.
“I’m helping others, and you can’t ask for nothing better than that,” Nicholson said. “Always focus on what you want to do. … Figure out a way to help people and the money will come.”
The fact that dancing is Nicholson’s way of doing that surprised him. Rhythm courses from the Brooklyn boy’s tippy toes to the tips of his dreadlocks, but he didn’t start teaching classes until another instructor encouraged him to try teaching after seeing how well Nicholson could move.
As much as he loves choreographing, Nicholson almost quit about a year ago, feeling defeated by some professional disappointments. Instead, he started the M. Nicholson Hip-Hop Fitness brand of classes, using poems like Rudyard Kipling’s “If” as motivation.
“I don’t want to be famous,” Nicholson said. “I just want to be significant.”
Now he’s more determined than ever to build a place where fitness is a movement and sweat is only one component of making members stronger.
“It’s not about just teaching a class,” Nicholson said. “It’s about becoming a family.”