Sheila Cluff’s path to founding The Oaks at Ojai health and fitness destination spa in Ojai, California, was a journey full of more ups and downs than many people face throughout an entire lifetime. Before Cluff even graduated from high school, she performed in the Canadian Nationals, a national figure skating competition, and was invited to tour the United States with the Sonja Henie Hollywood Ice Revue. After a year of touring, she enrolled in college. She graduated from Ottawa Teachers’ College in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in 1959, and began teaching health and physical education.
Cluff found that her junior high students were bored with physical education, so she formulated a plan to get the girls interested. She convinced the school’s principal to purchase a piano and hire a pianist to play the music of the time, and put ice skating patterns on the floor for her students to learn, calling it “cardiovascular dance.”
“Before I knew it, not only were the girls having fun and wanting to come to my classes, but they were also explaining to their parents how much fun they were having, and the parents wanted to do the same thing,” says Cluff. She started a company called Fitness Inc., teaching cardiovascular dance to adults. In 1960, after getting married and moving to Plattsburgh, New York, Cluff restarted her company—it held health and fitness classes for every group, including a teen fitness class where she found that teens had no idea how to care for their skin.