In Conversation with Chantal Deeble
Chantal is a master trainer and owner of Kinespirit, a bicoastal Gyrotonic and Pilates studio. She takes us through the arc of her dance and movement career. We’ll see how one craft led to another and interconnect.
We tend to look outward for best practices to move our business forward. Along the way—while we pick up important information about what’s going on in the world—we might lose sight of our particular circumstances: our resources, situation, and audience.
How might we fit best practices into our specific context?
I think this is where the power of intuition comes in. Following our nose and steering onward based on informed decisions that FEEL right in our world. No two people are alike, no two companies are alike, and no two situations are alike. So, opening up our channels and listening, intuiting, helps us stay flexible and tweak continually based on what our distinct situation calls for.
I can’t think of a better person to talk about intuition with than Chantal. She’s been a business owner for over 13 years and built teams in New York and Portland. Her clients and her teams stick around for years. You’ll hear all about that too.
Music: Ben Tyree
Transcript, edited for length and clarity
Ioana: I’m so happy you’re here.
Chantal: I’m really honored.
Ioana: Let’s dive in.
Ioana: You started out as a dancer. What brought you there, and how did you transition from there?
Chantal: I came to dance late. When I started dancing, I felt like there were a lot of years lost. But pretty soon, I realized that having a “normal childhood” was a gift. The focus and discipline you have to have to be a dancer, I cherish that I had a carefree childhood – and not that. And the decision to become a dancer was truly mine. It was 100% mine.
As a matter of fact, my parents put me in a dance class when I was five. And I came home from my very first ballet class saying, mom, dad, “I want to be a dancer.” And they swiftly, promptly took me back out of the class. My father was an engineer, and he didn’t think that was the best career choice.
So the question is, how did I come to it? In the high school years, when you start to think about your future. I was good academically. I had good grades, but I was also very active in extracurriculars, which included sports and theater. I was part of our school drama club and our community theater group.
So it became pretty clear that I loved to be on stage. I don’t know if I was any good, but I loved it. And you know, I got a couple of good reviews even though I didn’t have big parts. It was just something I was doing because I was drawn to it, and it was fun.
I was always an active ball of energy, so my parents just kept throwing me into different activities. Gymnastics, horseback riding, swimming, basketball, baseball, literally anything to get my yah yahs out.
In high school, when getting further towards deciding what to do, I was focusing more and more on academics, and I had less physical outlet. For the first time in my life, I felt like what it would be like to be unhappy.
It became so clear that without that physical outlet, I wouldn’t be happy. It was the 80s, and there was the aerobics trend. So the way I managed that at first was, I joined the local aerobics studio, and I would go twice a day because I needed to move.
And then I did the math. I need to move. I love to be on stage. I should be a dancer.
But I had no formal training, so I literally started my formal training to become a dancer in university. I was accepted into McGill University, and I ended up turning that down and flying across the country to go to Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. This is all in Canada. I auditioned for it, sight unseen, and got in, thankfully.
My mother and father were very excited when I was accepted to McGill. It’s Canadian Ivy league, and for me to turn that down, they were like, “What are you doing?”
Ioana: They were nervous for you.
Chantal: Yeah, of course. Their kid, her future.
I was clear that academics would always be there for me and that to pursue this physical dream, I needed to do it now.
I was going to give it everything, two feet in. And if you’re two feet in, you don’t have a date. You don’t say, “If it doesn’t work out in two years, then I will do dah, dah, dah.” Because that means you’re not two feet in.
I knew I had what it takes to be successful in dance or to realize I needed to do something else at a certain point. But I never had to make that decision. I was dancing professionally within two years.
Ioana: That’s amazing.
Chantal: Yeah. And that’s how I found Pilates and Gyrotonic.
I wasn’t just taking dance classes. I was searching out anything and everything that would help me catch up because I was behind technique-wise and being able to use my body as a physical instrument. I was so lucky, the university I went to had Pilates as part of the curriculum. So right from the beginning of my dance training, I also started Pilates, and two or three years later, I was introduced to Gyrotonic.
Ioana: What’s Gyrotonic?
Chantal: I tend to use Pilates as a point of departure because more people tend to know what Pilates is. There’s a mat class or a group class version of it, and then there’s an apparatus version of it. Gyrotonic is in the same wheelhouse as yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonic. Like Pilates, it has a group class format that doesn’t require big, expensive equipment. And then also the part that does require the specialized equipment developed for it.
In the Pilates syllabus, the resistance is spring-based. The resistance is push-pull texture. There are key principles applied and specific results you can expect if you follow the principles in Pilates. And that includes strength and core, proper alignment, integrated system, all that stuff.
Gyrotonic is similar, but the primary resistance is weight and pulley. If you’ve got a gym background, you’d be familiar with weight and pulley, but it’s used differently in Gyrotonic.
The way that you stack the weights in Gyrotonic, it’s not just merely to increase the weight as you increase your training. What you’re trying to do is create as close as possible an underwater environment.
So imagine being underwater and, if you move a limb, you will experience, at the same time, assistance, the water assists holding the limb up, as well as resistance as you move the arm through the water. So the weight and pulley system is basically doing that, providing resistance and assistance. The apparatus allows the body, whether the straps are on your hands or feet, to move through its full and natural range of motion.
So it’s not limited to linear motion. It’s three dimensional. That’s why it’s called Gyrotonic. Gyro. It’s not a sandwich. Gyro stands for circular and tonic for movement or tone. So it’s circular, fluid flow. The movement patterns are based on circles and spirals, which of course, trickle down to our source, our DNA. You look in nature, everything is circles and spirals.
Gyrotonic is an incredible movement form that uses and applies principles derived from physics, physical truths in our world. The way the suspension bridge works, the way trees root into the ground, and yearn up to the sky and have incredible stability, yet a fluidity.
Ioana: It sounds like poetry.
Chantal: It is. It’s poetry in motion.
Ioana: Were you doing this while you are building out your dance career?
Chantal: When I started Pilates and Gyrotonic training for myself, I had no intention ever of being a teacher. My aim was to become the best physical vehicle of expression that I can be. That was my goal as a physical artist.
I ended up choreographing a little bit later in my dance career, but I never had a real yearning to do that. My true wish was to hone my physicality, to be able to be expressed, to be able to use my body for expression. I was much better at working with choreographers who had clear visions. I was a perfect person to have in a creative process coming up with physical ideas based on the choreographer’s vision.
Ioana: What drew you to the Gyrotonic path?
Chantal: It became a part of my ongoing training. I was a practitioner for over a decade before I ever considered teaching it.
That’s how it used to be. You didn’t see it in a magazine or go to a few classes and then decide, “Hey, I’m going to teach this.” You did it for years and years and years and years before you ever dared to think that you could teach it, you know?
So that was me. I did it for over 10 years. As an artist, I had always subsidized my life with waitressing. At a certain point, I realized I would be great as a personal trainer. So years before I decided to become a Pilates and Gyrotonic trainer, I got my credentials as a personal trainer.
I was also an aerobics instructor for all kinds of group fitness classes. There was the kickboxing craze, I was teaching yoga then as well. So yeah, I was active in the fitness industry already. That part of the skill set was honed. So when I did finally decide to get my credentials to teach Pilates and Gyrotonic, I did it within the same year.
There was no bridge. It was like it didn’t skip a beat. The day I finished my basic training course for Gyrotonic, within an hour or two, I had my first client. They set up a standing session with me and was a client with me for years. It literally took off from there. I set myself a goal of how many sessions I wanted to be teaching per week within a couple of months.
Well, I hit that goal in two or three weeks.
Ioana: How did you do that?
Chantal: My gut answer is I didn’t do that. It just happened. Everything aligned. I had been developing the skillset for years, holding space for somebody for an hour, and letting them know you’re there for them.
In any given session, you’re always checking in with clients. How are they coming in, presenting themselves to you? What do they need to work on that day? What’s feeling good? What’s not? What are their goals? There’s a whole protocol you go through, whether it’s your first time working with that client or your fifth year.
I was able to be present with them, hold space for their needs, and have enough expertise with the syllabus to create a session that’s going to meet their needs.
Ioana: You’re in response, right?
Chantal: That was coming naturally. I had the experience of if somebody booked themselves into my schedule, and I worked with them, they became a regular client. My schedule built really quickly. It had a momentum of its own.
That saying of “meant to be,” I was like, “this is what that feels like.” So I just followed it. There were forks in the road with decisions to make, but it felt like they were being presented to me.
When this all started, I was still dancing professionally, and when we were in season, that’s full time. So I had my teaching schedule around my rehearsal schedule. It was a lot, but whatever.
Ioana: You had the energy.
Chantal: Yeah. As I said, when you come to dance late, you’re catching up. It’s all day, every day. I had the energy, and it was all interesting and something I loved. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I would wake up tired, but I’d still wake up in the morning and kind of bounce out of bed and go.
But there came the point when I was invited into the master trainer program for Gyrotonic. I looked at how it could fit with my schedule at the dance company. And it started to seem like it would be pushed further and further and further, that it wasn’t really gonna fit.
And so that was a fork in the road. I never made a decision to stop dancing. I came to New York to dance for the dance company Elizabeth Streb. I wasn’t part of the dance community in New York. I went straight into the culture of that specific dance company. And so when I made the decision, I realized that what was being presented to me in the Gyrotonic realm was starting to outweigh priority-wise, my dance work.
Ioana: You mean in terms of value, life benefits?
Chantal: Yeah. I started to feel like that was what I was supposed to be doing, the way that things were unfolding. That notion of purpose, that notion of being on the path that you’re meant to be on. And I didn’t want to stall it. As I said, it had momentum, and I didn’t want to detract from it.
That was a tough decision.
I moved to New York to dance for the best company in the world. That was how I felt when I came here. Elizabeth Streb is a unique, incredible, crazy dance company, and my first day, I was like, “And I’m in it!” It was a dream come true. It was amazing.
So to get to the point of deciding to not be in that company anymore was not easy, but the other thing was calling me really strongly. So like I said, I never made the decision to stop dancing. I made the decision to stop dancing for that dance company. I would have had to start over if I was going to immerse myself in the dance world in a different way.
By then, I was in my mid-thirties, and that was not where I wanted to put my energy. So I never made the decision to stop dancing, but that’s what the end result ended up being.
Ioana: It seems so natural.
Chantal: Yeah. What you just said is so true. There was no mourning for it. There was no looking back.
I was moving toward the next thing, and that next thing was so fulfilling, and it’s still movement. Everything I had done before was filtering into what I was doing. It felt so right.
And that momentum train never stopped. I worked for studios at first, and then I wanted to be my own boss, so I left studios and worked for myself for several years, and that turned into opening a studio or having a studio, and I had a business partner.
Ioana: How did becoming a business owner change your relationship with movement?
Chantal: Time management. When you’re dancing, your physical output in a day is somewhere in the range of six hours. When I left the dance company, I made a commitment to myself that I was not gonna lose my level of fitness. And for years, I stayed committed to that. I was diligent about my training, naturally, because I had been doing it for many years.
I was always a modern dancer at the end of the spectrum of modern dance, that was extreme. Like, how can you push your body? What are the limits? Pretty much every company I worked with, there was some element of exploration of limitations and pushing past boundaries. That was my specialty, pushing the limits. Pilates and Gyrotonic were essential because that’s what was helping clear the slate, so my body was able to do that extreme work.
Outside of Pilates and Gyrotonic, I was training like an athlete. I was running, weight lifting. So when I left the dance company, I continued, and it was easy because it was part of what I was already doing.
And then slowly, slowly, little by little, so many things need to get done. So many hats need to be worn.
And once I had a child, once I had my awesome daughter, I think there’s a switch that flicks in, maybe not everybody, but in women who when they have a child realize, “Oh my God, being a mom is the best thing ever.” Being a mom is my favorite thing to be.
Ioana: And you didn’t even know it was there.
Chantal: Didn’t even know it was there. I wasn’t a person who needed to have a child in my lifetime. If I didn’t meet the person I wanted to marry and we wanted to have children, I wouldn’t have been that person who bought sperm to have a child. I didn’t need to have a child to feel fulfilled, or I didn’t think, right?
But I met my amazing husband. We had that babe, and as soon as I was a mother, it was my favorite thing to be. Looping it back to where it came from, a switch flicked in me where it was all about everybody else.
It started out all about her. But then, it seemed like in my life, everything was about everybody else. And that’s fair. Up until that time in my life, everything I’d done had been in service of me being an artist. And to be an artist or a dance artist specifically, it’s about taking care of yourself.
I did spend a lot of time in my life, taking excellent care of myself. But when that changed, boy did it change. So back to your question, did it change as a studio owner or a business owner? Yeah. I did.
Ioana: How do you apply your instinct to hold space for people to build teams and studios and teaching teachers at this scale?
Chantal: That’s a great question, and it would be an interesting project for me to figure out how I could answer it. I don’t feel like I can answer that right now because it comes from such an intuitive place.
Ioana: Is there an awareness, as you’re teaching or guiding staff in a studio, that enables you to hold space and nurture?
Chantal: I think inherently holding space is about listening. There has to be a desire to create a space people want to be in. And what does that mean? Why do people want to be there? People want to be somewhere they feel good.
Fundamentally, the first tier of attention in the studio is our space needs to be welcoming and warm. When clients come, they feel that thing that makes it unique. And so first and foremost, that’s making sure that the trainers are qualified experts in their fields and able to provide the service we say they can provide.
We have a high standard when we bring people in, and also bring in green people. That’s about cultivating intuition and experience about who has that thing that if they’re in the right environment, they’re gonna blossom. One of my favorite things is seeing somebody come into the fold green, but with talent, and go through their cycles of growth. See them end up becoming a senior trainer, a trainer of other trainers. End up being a person who is sought after for their expertise. I mean, it just makes my heart soar. We have a fair number in Kinespirit family, and it really feeds the heart, you know?
Ioana: It’s really emotional work.
Chantal: Yeah. And I’m a particularly emotional person. So to provide that for our clients, we need to have the trainers that are like what I just described.
And to do that, what makes trainers happy? Before ever having a studio, I was a trainer for many years with a very full schedule. I had a lot of experience with seeing multiple clients a day, so I feel like I know what trainers are going through.
Ioana: You can empathize.
Chantal: I can empathize. At any given time, when I’m making decisions, I need to juggle three key elements, which are: what’s best for the client, what’s best for the trainer, and what’s best for the studio. The ideal is equal.
That doesn’t always happen, and with my personality, what tends to happen is that the studio ends up taking a hit a lot of the time because I’ll want to make it right for the trainer and for the client when decision making is happening. It’s about the wellbeing of those three aspects.
And so, when you’re talking about creating space and listening…clients make their needs known. But we want to stay ahead of that. A good business is trying to solve problems preemptively. We try and cultivate that anticipating, with the goal of every single person who walks in the door from the moment they walk into the moment they leave, they have an extraordinary experience.
It’s better for everybody. It builds everybody’s business.
For me, leadership isn’t about being at the top. Leadership is what you just said. It’s about creating space for people to be their best. And I lead from the heart, and I am ridiculously, openly vulnerable with all of my staff and any clients I’m in contact with.
And I don’t know for sure, but my feeling is that those are key things for anybody. When I present myself as heart-driven and vulnerable and that my goal is always for the betterment of everybody involved, the track record shows that people stay for a pretty good amount of time. It’s still New York, so there’s always turnover, but we have trainers who stay for years and clients who stay for over 10 years.
Ioana: It sparks with me is everybody in this chemistry is essential, irrespective of how visible they are in the process. That’s really special.
Chantal: Absolutely. Admin staff and trainers, there’s no separation. We’re one. Our trainers rely on our admin team. There’s huge respect, and our admin team has a finger on the pulse. It’s not a small operation, and it’s not a position where you can sit and scroll through social media. There’s a lot to manage and juggle in any given admin shift at our studio, and our team is on it.
We have the best manager ever. We actually have a studio manager and an operations manager. We’re a team.
Ioana: You’re bicoastal, how did that come to be?
Chantal: Kinespirit was originally one studio, inaugurated in 2006, and the second studio was acquired in 2008. They were both in New York City.
When we brought the studio to 23rd Street in Gramercy, that part of the city wasn’t the booming area it is now. During our 10 years there, it turned into this high tech boom area. At the end of the lease, we were priced out. And relocation wasn’t viable either. We looked into all of our options but ended up closing that studio location.
Meanwhile, in the works, a colleague who owned a Pilates and Gyrotonic studio in Portland, Oregon, before she moved to Portland, she’d been in New York and was good friends with one of our trainers.
So she had attended Kinespirit. And this is the story as she tells it. She said when she moved to Portland, she searched to find her “gyro home,” and there were plenty of studios, but none that felt like her home base. And so she realized that she had to create one. Industrious as she was, she opened a studio and basically fashioned it on her experience at Kinespirit.
Ioana: That’s amazing.
Chantal: Pretty cool. And come 2015, though she loved being a studio owner and loved her client base, she wasn’t in a position anymore to own a studio. But she was clear that she didn’t want to just sell it.
She wanted to find the right person to sell it to. She had a shortlist, and I was on it, and she called me. Literally cold call, “Hi, will you buy my studio?” And I just said, “I’m really honored, but no.” At that point, I didn’t know yet that the closure of our 23rd street studio was around the corner.
I was stretched thin already and couldn’t envision taking on another studio. So we got off that call.
That night though, before bed, I told my husband, my amazing husband, and that was that. A few months later, he said in passing, “So whatever happened with that?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know, but I imagine if it had been sold, I would have heard of it through the community.”
And he was saying this on his way out the door anyway, he sort of turned and the last thing he said was, “You should think about it.” And then he left. And my thinking on it was still no.
He thought it was a great idea. He hooked into the idea of being bicoastal, and I said, “Yeah, it’s a great thing for you to be able to say, my wife has studios on two coasts. You realize that our lifestyle will affect the family. I’ll have to leave regularly.”
You know, I already leave and teach regularly, but this felt like a lot more. He just said, “Yeah, we can all handle it. You should do this.” And there are plenty of steps along the way, but clearly, we ended up signing and acquiring that studio in 2016. So it actually ended up coinciding with when we closed the Gramercy studio. Closed one in New York, acquired one in Portland
Ioana: Perfect timing. What is it like to move between coasts?
Chantal: It’s fascinating. One would sometimes think with a business, it’s about creating a template and duplicating it, and on some level it is.
We have the same mission and vision for both studios. But our work is so personal, and humans are so different in New York and Portland. Every single time I’m taken aback. It takes me a day or two to readjust to the different ways people interact.
It’s subtle but different. Therefore, running a business there is different. And since I don’t have my feet on the ground in Portland all the time, it was really clear from the get-go, we needed a manager to run with it.
That took a minute. That moment of transition is tricky on many levels. The first mandate was to not rock the boat too much, because everybody is a little bit on sea legs, wondering what will happen. Clients and trainers alike. My job at first is to keep things going as status quo until everybody’s confident and comfortable.
Once we got past the initial tricky transition, then it was about nailing down the point person, the manager, that person who lives in that community, who does know how to reach people and how to manage. It’s a bit of a different approach with some things there than with our client base in New York.
We had virtually no turnover. One person left. All the trainers stayed, all the clients stayed. It was a successful transition.
Ioana: I would chalk that back up to creating space for listening. It’s like you said, it’s not about you. It’s about all of the other people who are inhabiting the space. That’s why they stayed.
Chantal: It’s lovely that you’re articulating it this way. I’m in another space right now of wondering what’s coming.
Ioana: Where are you steering next?
Chantal: The trajectory has gone from caring for people on a one-to-one basis. I still see some clients one-to-one, but I transitioned my focus, my time, my expertise to more of the teacher training, which is where I’m interacting more often in a group setting, teaching teachers to teach.
But there seems to be some kind of inner yearning or sense that some way, shape, or form, I should be creating that space, being in contact, in relation, or in communication with even more people. I don’t know what that looks like yet. I’m open and curious and vulnerable and back to curious.
Ioana: Vulnerability and curiosity go hand in hand, right?
Ioana: You’ve trained for this your whole life. You said it earlier, you explore the edges. When you danced, you honed your craft by exploring the unknown and getting cozy with it.
Chantal: Cozy with the uncomfortable!
Ioana: Yeah. It’s okay not to know, right?
Chantal: It is. It has to be. There is no other way, really. It feels like there are cycles in my life. Maybe you concur. I feel like it’s cyclical. You perch on the edge of the unknown, and it hopefully takes you to the next place. You know, that caterpillar-butterfly analogy. And you dwell there for a while, not necessarily feeling that you’re on the edge of the unknown. You feel like you know your jam. You’re in it. And then something starts to whisper deep down. And that whisper begins to churn and bubble up more and more. And then, there you are. You find yourself on the edge of the unknown again, wondering, “What’s next?”
Ioana: That’s what you’re feeling now?
Chantal: A little bit. I plan on having these studios until I retire. I’m thinking of it, “as well as” not “instead of.” But I don’t know what it looks like.
Ioana: What’s your relationship with awareness? What does it mean to you?
Chantal: Opening up your senses and listening, inwardly, and outwardly.
If you’re with somebody, you’re opening the channels to really listen, not just with your ears. I think that’s awareness.
Ioana: Dive a little deeper.
Chantal: It’s not something you have. It’s something that you work on and that you do all the time. It’s a verb. It’s not a noun, you know? And you have to want to do that.
We can so easily move through our days and turn our senses off and turn those damn screens on, and then you’re kind of numb. Awareness is wanting to connect and feel, I think.
Ioana: You know what that sparks with me? When your channels are open, it’s an invitation to explore the unknown. I keep going back to what you said before. It’s so simple and so beautiful. That it’s not about you, it’s about your surroundings, your environment. So when your channels are open, you can take in information, and it guides you where to go.
Chantal: And you know, then there’s a whole other aspect of the unknown if we want to branch off into the quantum potential.
There’s an infinite possibility at any given moment. And when we cultivate openness and awareness, those possibilities become possible. In terms of quantum possibilities at any given time, there are different versions of what is currently happening.
We’re sucked into the illusion that we live in linear time, but in the quantum approach, it’s all the same time. It’s all the same space. It’s all the same. So opening up your awareness to that, well … it still remains to be seen what that can do.
Ioana: As a dancer, maybe your body is honed as your instrument to experience tangible life.
Chantal: Yeah. That whole notion of quantum, the time I can say I feel closest to that, has been when I’m performing. There is no time in space, there’s just that.
Ioana: There’s just being.
Chantal: Yeah, performing takes you to that place. I haven’t been performing for a while, so now it’s through meditation.
Ioana: What does your meditation practice look like?
Chantal: I meditate every morning and every night. It’s intentional meditation. Parts of it are quieting the mind and letting it hopefully slip into another realm.
Other parts of it are inviting that possibility, inviting the possibility of something mystical to happen. Some information about other realms to happen. That’s what I believe in. I’ve never been religious or gone to church, but I’ve always been spiritual and believed in a higher spirit. Certainly, the power of love. So there’s a lot of that involved in the meditation.
Ioana: I love what you said about the multiple possibilities. It takes you out of this prescriptive way of looking at the world.
Chantal: It takes you out of seeing time as linear.
It’s pretty much a lie from times gone by where this kind of knowledge was reserved for deities. Commoners had no access to this kind of knowledge, but now it could change the world, this place that we’re in that seems so dire.
I wish we were in a place where somebody like Marianne Williamson could actually be taken seriously. Her work is about the power of love and the meditation movement. A real one could have a profound shift in how we do things.
Her message is powerful and real, I think. But in the political arena, nobody would ever take her seriously. I’m pragmatic enough to recognize that, but to me, that’s the kind of work that’ll change the world.