SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Turning challenges into opportunities has been the modus operandi for South Orange resident Claudia Aarts-Schreiber for as long as she can remember. Now this former professional dancer is looking to provide health and fitness opportunities for others with the opening of her Pilates and dance-based fitness studio ChaiseFitness Madison, located in Madison, on March 15.
Aarts-Schreiber’s introduction to the world of dance happened accidentally, but it soon became a permanent fixture in her life. After being diagnosed with childhood leukemia at the age of 3, Aarts-Schreiber was declared to be in remission at the age of 7, and in need of assistance with getting her strength back.
“Right after I was done with my treatments, I was really weak and my mother was looking for something to get me back healthy,” Aarts-Schreiber said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “I needed some sort of physical therapy and the woman she found used to dance professionally for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.”
Though as a young child she didn’t realize that the therapy she was receiving was beginner’s strength training for dancers, Aarts-Schreiber knew she enjoyed the activities and that she felt healthy and strong as a result of doing them. At the age of 11, she began to train professionally, commuting into New York City to train with dancer Elena Kunikova.
Aarts-Schreiber participated in performances around the New York City area where she lived and studied while attending high school at the Professional Children’s School, but even at that point was not set on making dance her career.
“I didn’t know that I would become a professional dancer, I just liked the intensity and discipline of it,” she said. “I proceeded through high school with the intentions of attending college and maybe continuing to do gigs on the side as I had previously been doing.”
As a high school senior, Aarts-Schreiber knew she was dancing at a professional level, but applied to college as well as to dance companies. It wasn’t until she started receiving professional contract offers that she realized that she could, in fact, make a career out of something that both excited and challenged her.
Her talents took her across the United States, and she had the opportunity to dance with such renowned companies as the Fort Worth-Dallas Ballet and Carolina Ballet before achieving her ultimate goal of becoming a professional dancer in Europe as part of the Norwegian Ballet.
“The style of dance in Europe is totally different than how things are done in the United States, and growing up in New York City and seeing a lot of dance companies come through, I had the opportunity to be exposed to their diversity,” she said. “In the United States, modern dance and ballet are very separate from each other, but in Europe it all blends together and you can really make them work together.”
Aarts-Schreiber also said she enjoyed her time working professionally in Europe because there is a great deal of respect and admiration for the arts there.
“There’s a lot of government funding in Europe for the arts because, depending on what dance company you are with, you are an employee of the opera house, which is state funded,” she said.
After five years with the Norwegian Ballet, Aarts-Schreiber returned to the United States, ready for the next phases of life for her and her husband, which included parenthood and graduate school.
Though she had stopped dancing professionally, she had not lost her passion for it and decided to get certifications in fitness-related activities. These included Pilates certifications from the PhysicalMind Institute and the Kane School, among other certifications.
Aarts-Schreiber quickly found that, although she wanted to maintain a healthy lifestyle that included exercise, going to the gym was not satisfying for her.
“I heard about ChaiseFitness in the city and I liked the community feeling that I got from being in there, as well as their approach to fitness,” she said. “After working with their team in New York City, I wanted to bring those same methods to New Jersey.”
Thus the first New Jersey location of ChaiseFitness was born, with Claudia Aarts-Schreiber leading the way.
“There are five other class instructors besides myself, all of whom were trained in New York City, and although we have high standards of instruction, these classes are for any and everyone,” she said. “It’s about spinal health, posture and strengthening your body to become your best self, and who doesn’t want those things?”
Activities done in the classes can be tailored for any fitness level, so Aarts-Schreiber believes anyone can get something out of the classes, which are a blend of Pilates, ballet and strength training.
“What we do is truly dynamic: We move to music in unison and it gets you to move beyond where you think your body can go,” she said.
The soft opening of ChaiseFitness was Feb. 7, and the grand opening will take place March 15. For more information, visit www.chaisefitness.com/nj.
Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Hudson