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Hidden Gems: Meet Vanessa Woods of Vitality In Motion and Vitality Ballet

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vanessa Woods.

Hi Vanessa, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I’m a former professional ballerina who moved to St. Louis from New York City. In 2010, I got an offer to fill in for one of the injured swans in the ballet Swan Lake with the Saint Louis Ballet. Although I was hesitant to leave the excitement of New York, I was eager to dance so jumped at the opportunity. From then, I kept getting my contract renewed with the company moving up the ranks and spent a majority of my professional career, seven seasons, with the Saint Louis Ballet. Not long into my second contract with the ballet, I was looking for additional work to help supplement the modest income of a dancer, and it was a conversation with my mom on the phone that gave me the idea to start a business merging my passion for ballet with helping others.

My mom is a certified Occupational Therapist and lifelong arts enthusiast. She gave me the idea to create a dance program that would be for older adults to do from a chair to help them improve their balance, mobility, coordination and flexibility through the beautiful art form of ballet. I loved the idea and immediately started my research putting together a program and pitching it to local senior living facilities.

The program was a hit! While my first priority was always loyal to my performing career, I was enjoying my “side job” of running and building up my own company, which at the time was called Vitality Ballet (now called Vitality In Motion). Today, I run Vitality In Motion full time helping bring the beauty and benefits of ballet to hundreds of seniors across the region and virtually to communities all over the country.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
We’ve definitely had struggles along the way but COVID-19 hit us really hard. My company, Vitality In Motion is an arts-based fitness company that serves senior living communities. It felt like the trifecta of worse-case scenarios for a small business. After a few months of sadness and stress watching my company of nine years unravel before my eyes, I started a few pivot options.

The first was I started offering all my classes virtually either live or recorded so senior living communities could still provide our classes, but in a way that didn’t require us to visit in person. This allowed us to reach out to communities around the country helping to share our dance programming with seniors outside our immediate area as well as our communities we visited before the pandemic.

Next, I took my old company brand, Vitality Ballet, and transformed that into a virtual adult beginner ballet studio for adults of all ages. I started offering some free classes on Instagram and gradually formed a community of adult dancers all online. Today, we have adults ages 30 through 70 who take live or recorded adult ballet classes with us. This has included students from the U.K., Germany, Austria and fifteen states around the U.S.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Vitality In Motion and Vitality Ballet?
Vitality In Motion is a unique dance exercise company providing adaptive arts-based wellness activities to senior living communities. The company was founded by a professional ballet dancer, Vanessa Woods (me!) in 2012. We are known for our chair ballet classes which provides an adaptive ballet fitness class done from a chair that takes participants through beautiful stretching, unique combinations of seated ballet steps and exercises done right from a chair or wheelchair all paired with gorgeous ballet music. We hire and train professional dancers to teach these classes in authentic ballet form so participants get a chance to experience dance and self-expression through dance, no matter their age or fitness level. We make the classes upbeat, fun, easy to follow and emphasize moving with great posture, improving coordination, flexibility and strength. We are the only organization that we know of offering ballet-inspired movement classes for seniors.

We want readers to know that if they are not a senior but they want to take ballet, it’s not too late for you to start! We offer adult beginner ballet classes through our virtual dance studio called Vitality Ballet. This is an inclusive space inviting dancers of all abilities to learn authentic ballet from the barre to learning classical choreography in center floor, right from the comfort of home. We currently have students from ages 30 through 70 studying with us at our virtual school, Vitality Ballet.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
Most people don’t realize that while I was a professional dancer, I went to school at Washington University in St. Louis for a degree in marketing. I’d be in tights and a leotard all day at the studio and then rush out to go to academic classes at night. Right after my foot injury that caused me to have to retire from the stage, I got a job in a marketing and advertising agency as an Account Executive. I was there for exactly one year, and while I was thankful to have a job, I was really miserable. Sitting at a desk for hours and working late hours without any chance to exercise or move for self-expression felt like I was letting a huge part of me die. I was also running Vitality In Motion on the side so I was trying to do my full-time job while also trying to manage my business on the side keeping my customers and instructors happy while I was rarely available to them. Ultimately, it took that experience working a more traditional job to realize that my goal was to put my passion and many years of ballet experience into creating and running my own company.

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Image Credits
Kelly Pratt Photography

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