Zeal Aerial Fitness gives Grand Rapids a Place to Fly

In 2018, Christina VanDam started Zeal Aerial Fitness to give people a place to fly in Grand Rapids. The unique fitness studio houses all of the aerial arts –aerial hoop, aerial silks and pole– under one roof and welcomes anyone and everyone who wants to learn.

“I love when people come in and achieve a move for the first time,” VanDam said. “Seeing people realize that they can do it and that it is attainable… it’s so fun. We had a 75-year-old grandma come in and do a class with her granddaughter.”

Zeal’s classes range from beginner to advanced. Instructors demonstrate awe-inspiring physical feats and break down the steps to students. Students praise the environment as supportive, loving and inclusive of all bodies. One Google reviewer wrote: “This is one of the best studios. The staff and instructors are top tier, and they really love what they do and the students they teach. Not only LGBTQ+ friendly, but supportive and conscious of global issues.” And another: “I’m so happy to have found Zeal Aerial! I feel so comfortable coming to class and challenging myself to learn new skills. The instructors are encouraging and remembered me by name after my first class. I’ll be taking classes for as long as I’m in GR!”

VanDam opened Zeal with a micro-loan from GROW and continues to utilize GROW’s online education platform as her business expands.

“We received a loan from GROW, and they always ask what they can do to help,” VanDam expressed. “The online portal (Initiate) has been so helpful — it’s such a fantastic resource.”

In March 2020, VanDam found herself facing the harrowing challenge of maintaining a business that relied on in-person interaction during COVID-19 restrictions. She said it was difficult to keep up with the changing orders and interpret what they meant for Zeal.

“It was difficult learning to read executive orders and how to know when those orders were going to expire,” VanDam reflected. “It was really hard without clear guidelines.”

As vaccination rates rise and restrictions are lifted, VanDam looks forward to working on her original vision for Zeal.

“The past few months have been about survival,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to get out of that.”

VanDam says she loves how her business allows her to multi-task and connect with the community on a deeper level. One of her long-term goals is to develop classes for people with disabilities, as well as make classes available in Spanish to expand access to the aerial arts and their benefits.

“It is constantly evolving, there are always new moves, and there are constantly new ways to explore the apparatus and do new things,” she smiled. “It allows people creativity–it is ever changing.”

Click here for information on funding opportunities from GROW.

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