What does someone do when they are an accomplished attorney and want more out of life? For Marc Santa Maria, the answer was to career 180 into teaching fitness. As of Jan. 1, 2013, Santa Maria has been the National Fitness Director of Group Fitness for Crunch Gyms. He left law after three years in 1998 to pursue his new career. His award-winning, unique teaching style has brought him throughout the U.S., Russia, Canada, Italy, Ireland and England. He is also an accomplished actor, having appeared on shows such as “Law and Order” and “Sex & The City,” and was also in Ben Stiller’s “Zoolander.” Santa Maria, 44, lives in the East Village with his fiancé.
Why did you switch careers?
I left law because I thought that the partners I worked for were ultimately unhappy and I knew I could do other things that would make me happier.
How did you get into fitness?
I used to sneak into Crunch gyms when I was in law school because I couldn’t afford the membership and that’s when I discovered how much I loved group fitness classes. I was always into dance; I was the kid who would choreograph for his cousins in the garage.
And how did you get into acting?
I went on an audition for “Miss Saigon,” the Broadway show, on a whim, when I should have been studying for the bar and I made it into the top five for this major part. The producers told me that I need a lot of work but I had a ton of potential and that planted the seed.
What do you do as National Director of Group Fitness?
I oversee all of the class programming and the instructors at a national level. Our four major markets are Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami. I just got this position starting Jan. 1st last year so last year I upped my travel to those four areas and Washington D.C. which is another up-and-coming big market for us.
What does fitness mean to you?
For me fitness is a focus on your body’s wellness. It’s an umbrella term for me; it comes to me in working out, exercise, movement. When I say fitness it has to do with the physicality of the body. I think the word fitness implies a form of wellness; it doesn’t mean being a sloth and treating your body badly, it also doesn’t mean getting a massage.
What makes your teaching technique unique?
Because I’m cool and fun and I don’t take it too seriously -- how’s that for humility? (Laughs) I think a lot of fitness instructors, they’re so passionate that they become either very bootcamp-y, like militaristic, or they become so om chant-y/new age-y. Working out should just be fun. I give a good work out and I want you to work but I don’t want you to take it like it’s a life or death situation, because it’s just a workout.
What’s the biggest challenge New Yorkers face in getting fit?
Lack of time and distractions because New York City is filled with a plethora of things to do and people to see that you can easily give up the time allotted for fitness and exercises.
How can they overcome this?
Have a workout buddy, a regular class they go to so that there’s a community of folks they’re accountable to and that they love. You’re less apt to ditch out on the people you care about.
You’ve traveled the world and been on television and in movies -- what’s up next?
I’m writing a book, it’s called “Step Touch.” It’s my version of “Sex and the City” meets the fitness industry. I’ve got down four chapters, there’s probably going to be about 12 chapters.
What is a pro and con of your new job?
The pro is the people and the flexibility. The people are just fun, especially at Crunch, they want to dance and make up classes. I get to test out classes, like a juggling class (that was a flop but I got to juggle). And then the freedom of the flexibility of the day, there’s nothing set. A con is the people, there are sometimes some diva instructors or members and they’ll complain and feel entitled to things.
Are you happy with your career switch?
Oh god I love it. I’ve been with crunch for I think 15 years now. As that guy who snuck into the gym and was a lawyer, I could never have guessed I’d be running this apartment and get paid to train instructors, it’s pretty cool.
Looking back, do you wish you had gone into this originally?
I’m glad I was an attorney and went to law school. It puts the divas in perspective and it sets me apart from other instructors. I have business skills that probably have helped me get this job. I run across a fair amount of talented people and artists that haven’t developed their communication and business skills and now I try to help them like law school helped me get to this place of being able to serve the others.
Do you have any advice for readers who are considering a career 180?
Look at what they did as a child from 4 years to 10 years [old] and they will provide major clues. For me, reading the comic books out loud with my cousins, acting out as superman, told me I should have been an actor. Choreographing in the garage with my cousins told me I should have taught dance. Eating all my parents good cooking and complaining about being fat [told me I should go into fitness].