Cat Cantrill calls herself “a walking permission slip.”
Cantrill owns Vitality Fitness and Dance, a burlesque dance studio in Cedar Rapids. There, she works to help women of all ages, shapes and body sizes to gain confidence through the art of burlesque dance.
“When women are allowed to move in this space, amazing things can happen,” she said. “I’m using dance, fitness and burlesque to teach women self-love and self-investment. It gives them permission to be the woman they always wanted to be.”
Cantrill founded Vitality in 2013 as part of her own transformation from a lonely, divorced mother of two children in an unfamiliar city to a teacher, performer, entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker and mentor to thousands of women.
Cantrill’s metamorphosis began one rainy night in a trailer park when a drunken male acquaintance tried to kick in her door. After standing her ground and defending her children, she determined that she would no longer be a victim of toxic relationships or situations.
“I started on a journey to discover what I was meant to be,” she said. “I looked at what’s important to me, and dancing always created a lot of happiness in my life.”
Cantrill decided she was meant to own a burlesque dance studio where women could go through their own journeys of self-discovery.
“Burlesque is not about sex,” she said. “It’s about women connecting with their feminine sensuality. My mission is to empower other women to be authentically themselves.”
Cantrill recognizes that opening a burlesque studio in Cedar Rapids was a big risk.
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“People thought I was crazy,” she said. “But I took the risk and found my own tribe.”
After slow start, Vitality took off after Cantrill formed a burlesque troupe, the Va Va Voom!, and began hosting burlesque shows in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. The next show will be held at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Sept. 29.
As her business expanded, Cantrill moved Vitality from its strip mall location to the Smulekoff’s building in downtown Cedar Rapids in February 2017, nearly doubling the studio’s space. Since the move, the business has grown another 300 percent, Cantrill said.
As Vitality grew, Cantrill found that she had become much more to her clients than just a dance instructor.
“I didn’t realize what I was getting into,” she said. “I’ve become a transformational coach for these women.”
Wanting to reach as many women as possible, especially those intimidated by burlesque, Cantrill developed Secret Wardrobe, a seven-week confidence and fitness program for women.
“The program teaches that we all have a wardrobe that we wear for other people versus the wardrobe we wear for ourselves,” she said. “The goal of the program is to clean out the physical closet as well as the mental closet.”
Cantrill said hundreds of women have completed the program since it started in spring 2015.
In 2016, to further her reach, Cantrill authored “Kick Ass Red Lipstick,” a book that tells her story and invites women to complete a series of assignments designed to reveal their own authentic selves.
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She founded an online community of the same name, where thousands of women from around the world support one another as they complete the book’s assignments.
“It’s an amazing online group of women I’ve never met before,” she said.
Cantrill’s next project is Reignite Your Feminine Spark, a quarterly retreat for women. The first retreat will be held in Paris over five days in November and will involve workshops, sightseeing and, yes, burlesque.
l Once a month, Business 380 will spotlight one of HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.