A story of perseverance: The Paige Fraser Foundation provides performing arts, wellness classes that embody its namesake

Paige Fraser
Paige Fraser-Hoffman has performed with “The Lion King” on Broadway, but her greatest feat may be the Paige Fraser Foundation where she offers creative arts through a wellness approach in the Bronx.
Photo Adrian Childress

Paige Fraser-Hoffman knows how important health and wellness are to the creative arts. As a professional dancer, currently working as a dance captain and swing for “The Lion King” on Broadway, warming up is a vital part of her day. It’s even more important for Fraser-Hoffman because she has scoliosis – a curvature of the spine.

“My body is my instrument and on top of that I have scoliosis. I have to take a heightened sense of ownership over my body,” said Fraser-Hoffman.

Making a career as a professional dancer is notoriously hard, but Fraser-Hoffman is not one to let challenges get in her way. At age 13, right after deciding to pursue a dance career, she received the life-altering diagnosis of scoliosis.

“It was a huge shock because up until that point nothing was wrong with me,” she told the Bronx Times. 

Her doctor cautioned that the curvature could worsen over time, and that Fraser-Hoffman and her family had to choose quickly between treating her scoliosis with a back brace or spinal surgery.

Fraser-Hoffman’s world was shattered. 

How could she continue her dreams of dancing with a condition that threatened her ability to perform? She felt alone. It was 2004, and years before online support groups gained mainstream popularity. Fraser-Hoffman and her family chose the back brace, a decision that paid off. But it was a difficult adjustment, at first. 

“For several hours a day I’m sitting in a rigid confined thing, then when it was time to dance I was stiff because you’re sitting in a restricted position, but then in dance you’re expected to be free,” said Fraser-Hoffman.

Through telling her teachers about her new reality, Fraser-Hoffman learned one of them also had scoliosis, which made her feel less alone. She also experienced modern dance for the first time in high school and saw other Black dancers performing modern dance, which opened up her eyes to the possibilities of movement.

It was her perseverance that carried her forward.

Fraser-Hoffman graduated from Professional Performing Arts High School in Hell’s Kitchen, then Fordham University’s partner BFA with The Ailey School. She danced around the world with Ailey II, then was a founding dancer of Visceral Dance in Chicago. She became the only Black woman to play a Jet in the Lyric Opera’s production of “West Side Story” in Chicago. This was a full circle moment for Fraser-Hoffman, who also made history in her first-ever role – she played the first Black Clara in the Tarrytown Music Hall’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Fraser-Hoffman also traveled with “The Lion King” national tour, which was cut short during 2020, when the pandemic shut down much of the economy. 

Paige Fraser-Hoffman battled scoliosis at a young age but her perseverance, and a passion for dance, carried her all way to Broadway. Photo Adrian Childress

Then last fall, she received an offer to join “The Lion King” on Broadway – a huge milestone in her career. But equally importantly, it brought her back home to New York where she provides free health and performing arts and wellness programs for Bronxites through The Paige Fraser Foundation.

“I can be closer to the communities I want to help, especially the Bronx, because our foundation is Bronx-based,” says Fraser-Hoffman. “I’m from the Bronx and it’s really beautiful that I’m back here, and that I can connect closer with my community.”

Lesmah Fraser, Fraser-Hoffman’s aunt, is inspired by her niece’s tenacity. In 2017, she formed the wellness and creative arts foundation she named after her niece.

“Paige is a living example of what you can achieve even if you have been given a daunting diagnosis,” Fraser said.

The Bronx-based Paige Fraser Foundation offers creative arts programs taught through a wellness approach to people with or without physical challenges. Fraser is the president and CEO, and Fraser-Hoffman is the chief artistic officer and program director. The programs range from dance classes with themes like “Dance Strong” and “Dance is Healing,” to a series of fitness classes for people with spinal conditions. 

Vivian Doan, creator of SCOLIOFITNESS, teaches her class virtually for the foundation’s yearly Spine Series program.

“What I really love about working with Paige is her focus on bringing programs to the community, those with and without disabilities, of all ages,” said Doan. “A lot of dancers look up to her because of her journey, but also because of what she does for everybody.”

Fraser also gives credit to Fraser-Hoffman’s parents.

“They were really instrumental in having her take dance classes while she was young and through high school, and providing resources to help her,” she said.

Fraser-Hoffman’s childhood home in Pelham Parkway was filled with music and entertainment. Her parents both immigrated to the Bronx from Jamaica and are both artists of sorts; Fraser-Hoffman’s mom, Alexia, is a playwright and author, and her father, Edward, loves playing music. As a young girl, Fraser-Hoffman sang and danced so much her parents put her in ballet classes where she found her own inner artist. 

Williamsbridge’s Omarion Burke is a dance student at the Paige Fraser Foundation. Photo Justin Reid

The foundation aims to bring similar opportunities to fellow Bronxites to cultivate their own love for the arts, no matter what challenges in life they may face, Fraser-Hoffman said.

Omarion Burke is a dance student from Williamsbridge and a senior at Professional Performing Arts High School – the same school Fraser-Hoffman went to years ago. He heard about the foundation through his dance teacher, who encouraged him to attend a program. 

“The Paige Fraser Foundation, ever since I started with them, they’ve always shown me so much love and support,” Burke said. “They knew I would make it. They saw so much in me.”

Burke was one of the inaugural Dance is Healing Spotlight Award recipients of the Paige Fraser Foundation. The $250 stipend Burke received, recognizes promising young dancers for their perseverance and dedication. 

Burke has big dreams to travel the world dancing for major artists, companies like Alvin Ailey, and continue exploring his love of dance. 

“The Paige Fraser Foundation has given me a sense of healing,” he told us. 

Burke says the foundation’s programming draws dancers with different kinds of physical situations and lets them know that everyone can share their art. He’s now a teacher’s assistant for the “Dance Strong” program. The foundation also partners with Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center along Olinville Avenue, where most of their in-person programming is held.

“One of our major goals is to establish a performing arts center in the Northeast Bronx,” said Fraser, Fraser-Hoffman’s aunt. “It’s a (little) pie in the sky, but it’s a major aim to establish that.”

Reach Rachael Robertson at rachrobertsonjourno@gmail.com. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.