When Alexei Levine and Valerie Hood began searching for a location for their third massage school, the building at 801 Front Ave. in the Como Park neighborhood seemed like a perfect fit. The building had been home to a Baptist church.
“When we were first looking at properties in the Twin Cities, we saw the potential of the building on Front Avenue,” Hood explained. “It was our best option in terms of classroom configuration, parking and accessibility for our students. We learned more about the neighborhood: its close-knit, looking-out-for-one-another community mindedness. That made our choice seem even more suited to us, to our philosophy, and to the students we tend to attract.”
Levine, who has worked as a massage therapist in Los Angeles and Massachusetts, is no stranger to Minnesota. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in physical therapy at St. Catherine’s University. After a variety of career moves that included work in the film industry in Los Angeles, Levine felt massage therapy was where he belonged. For her part, Hood spent decades searching for her true calling, she said. After finding herself raising two young children on her own, she looked into massage therapy but found the cost of schooling to be prohibitive.
“I was interested in healing—massage therapy in particular,” she said. “Schools were very expensive and required full payment up front. With two children to raise, I just didn’t have the wherewithal. So that dream died in the bud.”
After meeting Levine and hearing of his goal of opening an affordable massage school, Hood said she was instantly on board.
“We were determined to open the kind of school that I wished had been available to me: a low-cost, practical program where students can graduate and start making a living right away, doing work that is meaningful and true to their nature,” she said. “Our mission was to make this incredibly powerful healing modality available to more people by making the education affordable and accessible.”
Levine brought his years of experience in massage therapy to their mission, and together they opened a massage school in Massachusetts.
“I was a massage therapist in Los Angeles, where the massage scene was unbelievably rich and diverse. I decided I wanted to learn more about how to help people work towards wellness,” he said. “My experience with the medical system in the wellness arena was that it was broken and inappropriate for the health challenges that most of us face, such as the effects of a bad diet and inactivity.”
Levine and Hood opened the Massage School in Amherst, Mass., in 2001. It was an immediate success, they said. Their second location, in Boston, was opened in 2013.
“We teach a blend of massage techniques, in a curriculum filled with tons of hands-on practice,” Levine said. “We’ve had a lot of success with our methods, and our graduates are highly sought after in Massachusetts.”
To Hood, making the school affordable was key.
“We structured our program to bypass the federal financial aid trap that the big corporate schools use,” she said. “We really dislike that model of for-profit education that indentures students to a large loan that is hard to repay and makes success so much harder for a new therapist just starting out,” she said. But that model made it difficult for the two owners to make a good living, much less save toward retirement.
“Because we give most of our profits back to the students in the form of scholarships, we knew that we’d have to open more schools if we were ever going to have any financial security for ourselves,” Levine said. “I always felt that we would do well in the Twin Cities, because the people are so great. The Midwestern work ethic, and a kind of wholesome goodness, is a real thing here, not just a stereotype.”
The program, which is 750 hours long, should take a year to complete. Once students complete the first portion of the program, they begin practicing in the student clinic. Concurrently, students will continue taking classes in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology and pathology, and business and ethics. Classes will be on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and all day Saturday. The clinic will be open on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Levine and Hood hope to open the school this fall, but the to-do list is long and funding is tight.
“The building was built in 1959 and it’s a little tired,” Hood said. “What we can’t do right away will go on our list of projects to do later when we start to generate some income.”
Both Levine and Hood say they are thrilled to be a part of the Como Park community.
“Already we have met some great people, been to an outdoor spinning class, met the charming councilwoman, talked to a yoga teacher, visited with a local potter and stayed at the beautiful B&B on the lake,” Hood said. “We feel so lucky to have landed on this little piece of the best of America.”
To learn more about the Massage School, go to themassageschool.org.