Atlanta teacher finds community by opening fitness studio
ATLANTA — A move to America pushed one Atlanta-area teacher to open her own fitness studio. Even after the pandemic forced them to close her physical doors, her community kept her open.
More than a decade ago, Claudia Fitzwater left her home country of Columbia to aid in America’s teacher shortage. This landed her in Atlanta, where Fitzwater eventually opened ProjectBody ATL in Cabbagetown.
Learning a new culture is complex, and the first place Fitzwater sought out was a place to work out. Between exploring her new community and working at her school, Fitzwater found a new subject to teach — fitness, and for 10 years, she’s taught all over Atlanta.
When Fitzwater was ready to open up her studio, she said the community came together to establish her space.
“Actually, the place that I rent belongs to one of the parents of the school. A lot of my coworkers teach fitness classes at the studio,” Fitzwater said, adding later that the school she works at, Drew Charter School, the studio and her home are just miles between each other.
ProjectBody ATL opened in 2019, and instead of balloons, cake and a party for their first year of business, Fitzwater had to close the studio’s doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were doing really well, like our forecast and our finances,” she said. “It was more than we were expecting at that time. So we were really excited going through that second year. And then, when (COVID-19) happened, we immediately pivoted to live streaming services.”
The studio stayed afloat through its virtual offerings, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, Fitzwater studio has been a hybrid.
“And we have clients that decided like, ‘Hey, we live like three doors down from you, but we’re going to stay online.'” Fitzwater said. “They were like ‘We were never coming back (in person).'”
Pilates for the culture
When Fitzwater started teaching Pilates, she agreed it was a great workout, but the class for her was boring. So when ProjectBody ATL opened up, she promised to do more with Pilates starting with changing the music.
“And so we develop our own method of Barre fusion Pilates,” Fitzwater said. “It’s really interesting to see when you tailor and, you know, listen to people and really try to learn and understand the culture, you can tweak a class or a product to your audience.”
One of the main reasons Fitzwater opened her studio is to provide a fitness community for those who didn’t feel welcome in those traditional spaces. Their full-body workout is similar to classes like Pilates and Barre, which she says may not have been inviting to others of different cultures and sizes.
“And we are clear with the message that you know, everyone is invited,” she said. “But what we designed here was mainly for Black bodies. If you don’t like it, well, there are 20,000 places.”
Her studio aims to be a place where she said people can take charge of their own bodies, where the tagline is that “everybody’s 100% looks different.” The community that has bubbled into the space is one of support.
Moving forward, she hopes to one day put all of her time into the business, but right now, she’s still teaching.
“I have an awesome team of over 7 instructors with whom I work at my school, too,” Fitzwater said. “And it’s neat, you know, because sometimes people don’t like to see people after work, but we really click.”
Fitzwater spends a lot of time in her Cabbagetown community, but other than that, she can be found on “Buford Highway for sure” with her family.
“I love eating,” Fitzwater said. “We don’t have any diet plans or any diet program for anybody because we talk about food.”
The studio stands by its mission to let people control their fitness journey and just be an anchor of support.
“It’s also our mission to detoxify that no pain, no gain culture because if you’re in pain there’s no gain,” Fitzwater said.
At ProjectBody ATL, Fitzwater says, “if you have a body, I want you.”
This story is part of a series highlighting local Black businesses and their embodiment of Black excellence in light of Black History Month. To view more stories, visit 11alive.com/blackhistory.