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Dancers who double as entrepreneurs – You can do it too!

Emily Hsu Designs. Photo courtesy of Hsu.
Emily Hsu Designs. Photo courtesy of Hsu.

Who run the world? Girls. Or, more specifically, dancers! Have you ever thought of starting your own business? Do you want to sell your delicious homemade energy bars at your dance studio? Perhaps you’ve got a knack for knitting and want to make custom legwarmers for dancers? Or maybe you are a self-taught makeup artist who hopes to build her network of clients? Here, Dance Informa speaks to a number of professional dancers-turned-entrepreneurs who are using their creative talents and business savvy to make their marks in the worlds of fashion, fitness, food and photography. Take a read, become inspired, and get busy!

Birdcage Beanies. Photo courtesy of Purdie Baumann.

Birdcage Beanies. Photo courtesy of Purdie Baumann.

Purdie Baumann

Birdcage Beanies

www.etsy.com/shop/birdcagebeanies

Tell us a little bit about your performance career.

“I grew up dancing at my mom’s dance studio in Chicago. I studied ballet at the Chicago Academy for the Arts and then at North Carolina School of the Arts. I moved to New York City and took my first professional job dancing on cruise ships, which I absolutely loved! I and also learned so much about performing and entertaining on the stage. After ship life, I moved back to NYC and landed a spot in the line of Radio City Rockettes! I danced with the Rockettes in New York for eight consecutive years before I transitioned into musical theatre. I toured the country with Susan Stroman’s Young Frankenstein and am now exploring being a character actress in musicals. I recently played Mrs. Meeker in Funny Girl and Mrs. Worthington Worthington in Me and My Girl.”

Why did you decide to start your own business?

“Birdcage Beanies started one Sunday morning while I was reading the New York Times’ Sunday Style Section. Bill Cunningham featured ‘What’s Hot in Paris’, and there were these cool, veiled slouch beanies. I immediately went to H&M and bought four slouch beanies, went to Mood Fabrics and bought funky colored veiled netting, figured out a way to make a format for hand stitching the veil to the beanie, and voilà! I wore my new accessory out to dinner, and all friends wanted their own. So I figured I would start making and selling them!”

What was the process like?

“The process was really fun. As dancers, I feel we are very driven, focused human beings. So for me, I was determined to follow through with my endeavor. I made a website, did a photo shoot, ordered all the materials, became an LLC, filed a business license with the state and completed all the things to become a real business! And I did it all from my home and on my personal computer! I designed all the color combinations and did all the marketing, press and advertising. It was all so fun, and the feedback from my friends and family was fabulous! Everyone loved the idea and the product. At the end of the day, if you truly love your product, it’s bound to be successful! You have to believe in your product, and I love Birdcage Beanies!”

Are you still performing? How do you balance both careers?

“I am still performing, yes! For me, it’s quite easy to balance both careers. My business is mostly online, so when an order comes in, I make it happen whenever I have some free time after a rehearsal, between auditions or on a day off. If you’re passionate about making both careers work, you’ll always find time!”

What advice do you have for a dancer who hopes to start his or her own business?

“My advice for dancers who hope to start their own business is to go for it! However, be careful not to overextend yourself or add too much extra stress to your life. If you believe you have a creative idea and truly love it, you will succeed!”

Emily Hsu Designs. Photo courtesy of Hsu.

Emily Hsu Designs. Photo courtesy of Hsu.

Emily Hsu

Emily Hsu Designs

www.emilyhsudesigns.com

Tell us a little bit about your performance career.

“I moved to NYC upon graduation from Harvard University to pursue my dream of performing on Broadway. After a year of auditioning and taking class and doing smaller shows and tours, I made my Broadway debut in Miss Saigon. I started in the ensemble and then took over the featured role of Gigi. After that, I performed in CATS as Demeter when it became the longest running show on Broadway! Since then, I have performed in an additional 10 Broadway shows, two City Center Encores! shows, various workshops and tours, in addition to dancing on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Tony Awards, Good Morning America and The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I had the honor of acting in the Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine and have also appeared on many television shows.”

Why did you decide to start your own business? What was the process like?

“I didn’t actually set out to start a business. Two years ago, I was practicing a lot of yoga and couldn’t find anything I liked to wear that didn’t also break the bank. I have always sewn a little (my mother taught me when I was young), and so I decided to try to make some leggings for my daughters and myself. I wanted something with a high waist that would stay in place during yoga and dance and that wouldn’t cause lumps and bumps! And I also wanted some fashion-forward fun prints to wear. So with much trial and error, I patterned and made my first pair. Some women at my yoga studio asked me to make them some, as did some of my dancer friends from NYC who began posting in them on Facebook and Instagram.

Soon the Rockettes started wearing my leggings and a lot of Broadway dancers who are also fitness instructors. I took orders via email and Etsy and used to make everything by hand. It got to the point where I couldn’t keep up, and I had to decide to either quit or expand and get a factory and grow the business. I found a factory in New Jersey, and so everything is proudly made in the USA. My whole business has really grown organically and through word-of-mouth from customers who love the collection. Instagram has taken the business internationally, and I’m grateful that so many instructors and fitness professionals wear the pieces and promote my brand.”

Are you still performing? How do you balance both careers?

“I do still perform when the opportunity arises and the project is right for me. My kids are a little older now, and they are always my first priority, so I don’t really travel or go out of town for extended periods to do a show. But I recently did a reading of a new musical in the city and did a little spot on a new TV show. Of course, I am more selective now about what I audition for because my business takes up a lot of time and is a full-time career, so it really has to be a project that I feel like is rewarding and fulfilling. I am at a point where my resume is full, and I don’t need to take jobs just to build up my list of credits. I choose what I love, and I am lucky that my family (my husband, kids, my parents) are so supportive and helpful and really chip in whenever I need help.”

What advice do you have for a dancer who hopes to start his or her own business?

“Choose something that you are passionate about. It is difficult and a lot of work owning your own business. I feel like I work 24/7 to constantly build the brand, but it’s okay because I love it and it fulfills me creatively. If you are just looking for a way to make a living or pay the bills, then it’s not for you. I invest my energy and my heart in what I do, and I take everything very personally so you have to be resilient when obstacles arise. Also, you have to want to learn. Read and study about the field you are entering. You have to put in the hard work, and then success will come.”

Photo by Sarah Jenkins Photography.

Photo by Sarah Jenkins Photography.

Sarah Jenkins

Sarah Jenkins Photography

www.sarahjenkinsphoto.com

Tell us a little bit about your performance career.

“I’m from Southern California and started performing when I was a kid. Growing up where I did provided lots of professional opportunities, so I actually left my college prep private high school to go on tour in Australia and New Zealand when I was 16. I graduated through a professional kids charter school so I could continue to work, and I came to New York to start rehearsal for the National Tour of Swing! a month after graduating high school. After the tour ended (I was physically broken from it and only 19!), I went back home to San Diego and worked out in CA for a couple years doing regional theatre. Equity theatre is scarce on the west coast, so when I was 21 I made the official move to New York. I’ve done a handful of tours since then, such as Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby, and I dance captained the first National Tour of Legally Blonde.”

Why did you decide to start your own business?

“I was always obsessed with photographing my adventures on tour. I was lucky enough to work in places like Australia, Germany, Chile, Scotland and Japan all before the age of 20, and Instagram didn’t exist, so the only way to show my mom that I went skydiving behind her back at 16 was to take photos of it and bring them home. I was so injured and bored after Swing! that I decided to take a photography class at a community college. The teacher was really impressed with what I had done, and he told me that I could probably sell some of the photos as stock photography online. I never did it, but I think that put the bug in my head that I had the talent to do something with my camera that was more than just for my own entertainment.

Like I said, I grew up in So Cal where natural light is not hard to come by and headshots were always great and inexpensive. We had color headshots years before those came to New York. We used horizontal shots in LA when people in New York would have sworn they’d never get a job if casting had to turn a headshot to see a photo. So in that sense, when I came to New York, I felt that I already had a more progressive view of headshots. It wasn’t until about four years ago that a couple friends asked me to do their photos because they weren’t happy with the ones for which they had just paid $800-1,000. I said, ‘Oh geez, I can do better than that!’ So I started doing friends, and the recommendations just grew from there. My philosophy with actually letting it become a business was that no one should have to go bankrupt for a digital photo, and using natural light verses a studio allows me to keep rates affordable, as well as a more natural quality than that of a studio blank background shot. More expensive does not always mean better quality.”

What was the process like?

“When I started to get more inquiries for things in addition to just headshots, like groups, concerts and parties, I knew I needed an equipment upgrade. I reached out to Career Transition for Dancers, and they walked me through getting a business grant. They were so helpful and granted me the full $2,000 to put toward a new camera, lens and website.”

Are you still performing? How do you balance both careers?

“I am still performing. It’s not so much a balancing act as it’s the photography giving me something to do to get by in between gigs. I can do headshots in the fall after working in a show all summer, rather than immediately have to find a bartending job during the holidays.”

What advice do you have for a dancer who hopes to start his or her own business?

“Just do it. As dancers and performers, we have a ton of spare time, whether we want it or not. Turn funemployment into a time to learn a new skill. I was able to build a following before having to ask for a grant, so I’d say to figure out something you’re good at, do some work for free, then when the time is right, know that as performers we have a lot of resources available to us that not many people take advantage of. You can get grants for education, Pilates/yoga certifications, or business from Career Transition for Dancers and The Actor’s Fund.”

The Rope. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kloots.

The Rope. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kloots.

Amanda Kloots

The Rope

www.bandier.com/blog/the-rope

Tell us a little bit about your performance career.

“My performing career has been all over the gamut! I’ve done three national tours, four Broadway shows, a couple feature films, and both live and recorded television shows. I’ve performed at The Kennedy Center Honors and in two productions at The Hollywood Bowl. I was also a Radio City Rockette!”

Why did you start your own business?

“I started my own business because I was coming to an age where I really needed to have something of my own. My fourth Broadway show had just closed unexpectedly, and I was very concerned about my future. I am not right for every show. I am 5’10” tall and considered a ‘showgirl’ on Broadway. I have had a blessed career and am very grateful for it, but it came time to take control of my life. I really wanted to be my own boss.

The Rope is a complete full-body interval training workout. I have created completely unique toning moves that have your muscles on fire while adding in jump sequences that keep your heart rate soaring! The result…a class that torches calories and keeps your body tight!”

What was the process like?

“The process is hard and still evolving! I have learned an incredible amount of information and have a lot more to learn. Truthfully, there are a couple key people in my life who have helped me start my own business, and without their help and support I would not be as successful as I am. My advice is to try to find a partner or an advisor who will see you through the process.”

Are you still performing?

“I am! What has been very rewarding is now I have the choice to take a job or turn it down. I can do the jobs that I am very passionate about. If you work hard and build relationships in the performing business, they will always come back to you.”

How do you balance both careers?

“I work a lot! If I am rehearsing a show, I work before and after rehearsals. It’s a never-ending work day. I have to be very good at managing my schedule and reach out for help when I need it. When I am doing a show and running my business, it is a lot of stress but worth it. I love having a foot in each career!”

What advice do you have for a dancer who hopes to start his or her own business?

“Go for it! Just know that you are going to have to make tough decisions, and be ready to turn performing jobs down at first because the focus needs to go to the business. Know that your business is your own, so no one else cares if it fails; it is all in your hands. It’s invigorating but at the same time very defeating. There are days when I just want to be back in a rehearsal room having someone telling me what to do instead of constantly creating and working on my own. However, in the end you will have built something that wasn’t there before, and that reward is huge! Put in the hard work!”

Foodie Out Loud. Photo courtesy of Megan Peterson.

Foodie Out Loud. Photo courtesy of Megan Peterson.

Megan Peterson

Foodie Out Loud Food & Drink Media Group

www.foodieoutloud.com

Tell us a little bit about your performance career.

“National Tour of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Regional Tours of The Will Rogers Follies (Z-Girl) at Merry Go Round Playhouse, Chicago (Hunyak) at Potsdam Music Theatre, Crazy for You (Tess)  with Ocean Professional Theatre Company, 42nd  Street (Lorraine) at Smiling Rhino Theatre, and Call Me Madam (Ensemble) with Ocean Professional Theatre Company. In NYC, “Crunchy Granole Suite” from Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, restaged by Kathryn Doby, International Tour; and Blast! The Music of Disney (Assistant Stage Manager). While being a showgirl, I was attending Pace University and recently graduated cum laude, receiving my BFA in Commercial Dance and Minor in Arts and Entertainment Management.”

Why did you decide to start your own business?

“A role I play full-time, year-round is ‘Foodie’. When I eat a killer meal out, I get this burst of excitement to tell people about it immediately. I love photographing food. My Instagram got flooded with pictures of all the food I was eating, thanks to my travels and working in New York City. At rehearsals, everyone would tell me, ‘Oh my gosh, Megan! That burger you posted last night made my mouth water!’ Or ‘Megan, we all want to go to that Mexican restaurant you posted from this weekend!’ I came to recognize that my personal Instagram account was serving as a restaurant recommendation platform.”

What was the process like?

“I was sitting at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in the financial district — Mad Dog and Beans — finishing lunch. The manager must have noticed that I posted a photo of the tacos that I ate to Instagram, mentioning the experience and the restaurant. He approached me and mentioned the picture that I took and wanted permission to use it for promotional purposes. I said, ‘Sure! You are welcome to!’ I received the bill and couldn’t believe my eyes that they comp-ed my meal. There was a written note on the bill that said, ‘Thank you so much, Megan! Keep doing what you do!’ I shook hands with the manager and thanked her for such a kind gesture. Shortly after this, I went to a doughnut shop I have been meaning to try for months in New Jersey — Broad Street Dough Co. I bought a doughnut and literally screamed after the first bite I couldn’t believe how good it was. The storeowner asked if I was on Instagram. I said, ‘Absolutely! You’ll see this on my Instagram in a couple of seconds. The public needs to know about these Nutella Love Triangles!’ After licking the evidence of Nutella from my fingers, the storeowner brought me a box and said, ‘These are from us. We would really like to have your card.’ It was time to get serious.

At this point, I needed to recognize what Foodie Out Loud was. I needed to develop a business model, understanding what service I was providing and who my market was. After many meetings which I initiated with my potential markets, I came to the conclusion that this foodie Instagram was Foodie Out Loud Food & Drink Media Group, providing photography service for restaurants, while ending your struggle to find restaurants every day.”

Are you still performing?

“Yes! My drive for performing and Foodie Out Loud exude equally. Thankfully, Foodie Out Loud allows me to commute in and out of New York City to find new restaurants and cater to my cliental of merchants. Whenever I am stationed in a new city for a show, I work from that city. This is a win-win where I discover new restaurants for my audience of followers, and promote my services to those merchants in need out there. I was operating my business from Nashville and from Japan this past summer. I am lucky to have such a dedicated and talented staff to keep my company moving forward, regardless of where I am stationed.”

How do you balance both careers?

“I do something for both businesses every day. As I attend my dance classes, auditions and voice lessons, I set specific time for my business operations. In between auditions, I attend the appointments I booked at restaurants. While I’m waiting in holding rooms, I am on my computer consulting with clients, editing photos, ordering marketing materials, editing the company website, posting content to Foodie Out Loud social media (@foodieoutloud).

An hour workout or a 90-minute class is about four-and-a-half percent of your day. There are no excuses; there is always time for those things! I work out of a color-coded calendar to make sure that I know what auditions I have, when my lessons are, when the classes I teach are and commit myself to open classes.”

What advice do you have for a dancer who hopes to start their own business?

“Be open to change. What you think your company mission is will probably change. You need to experiment and be patient. The market will signal to you what’s working and what is not very quickly. The beginning is an investment of both funds and your time. It does not happen overnight. Put the time in; it is worth it. Practice pitching your business (even if it is undefined), and promote it! Promote it as though it’s the best thing ever! Over time, with this kind of enthusiasm, you will be able to better define who you are and be able to pitch what you are in 30 seconds or less, and that is always the goal!

Stay true to what you started. Give it the attention it deserves. You ventured into bringing your vision to life because something else gave you that same beaming passion as your singing and dancing. Gather a team of people, including a manager who you trust to operate the business through the course of your physical absence. Thankfully, technology allows us to communicate instantly and efficiently should there be an issue that needs resolving. Know it is okay to hire people; it is not an indicator that you cannot do something. If anything, see it as a necessary step to making sure your business continues to succeed.”

Anna Roxene Jewelry. Photo courtesy of Anna Schnaitter.

Anna Roxene Jewelry. Photo courtesy of Anna Schnaitter.

Anna Schnaitter

Anna Roxene Jewelry

www.annaroxene.com

Tell us a little bit about your performance career.

“I grew up dancing and making jewelry. They’ve been my two obsessions for as long as I can remember. I fell in love with musical theater in high school and majored in acting at UCLA. Since then, I’ve taught dance and musical theater, assisted choreographers in master classes, theaters, college programs, sports arenas, done a lot of regional theater, commercials, TV shows and most recently performed in the first National Tour of Pippin. But as much time and love that I’ve devoted to performing I have also devoted to designing and creating jewelry.”

Why did you decide to start your own business?

“Just like dancing, it started as a hobby and grew in unexpected ways. I spent all my free time as a kid at the bead store down the street from our house. I worked there throughout high school and started selling necklaces and bracelets to my friends for extra money. When I moved to LA at 18, I grew my skill set, figuring out new ways of weaving and creating pieces on my own. I started getting my jewelry in all types of boutiques and street fairs. After moving to New York, I starting working for a great jewelry designer named Chris Davies. During our five years together, my talents grew because of his knowledge and experience of the fine jewelry world. This challenged me and opened my eyes to a new level of possibilities.”

Are you still performing? How do you balance both careers?

“I still perform, audition and take dance classes. I’ve never stopped working at either of my passions and I never will. Of course, it’s hard to balance both, but I can’t see my life any other way.”

What was the process like?

“I never chose to start my own business. The same way I never chose to be a dancer. The need to create and evolve my art has always been inside me; the business was something that began without any plan at all. All artists (whether you’re a professional or a hobbyist) have in common an urge that cannot be satisfied. We keep creating as much as we can and as long as we can because it is as vital as eating and sleeping. The same thing that inspires me to dance also inspires me make jewelry. And although my abilities and experiences continue to grow, creating satisfies the same urge now as it did when I was five.”

What advice do you have for a dancer who hopes to start his or her own business?

“Much like performing, it never really gets easier! You can have a ton of success and make great money one year and then feel like you’re new in town and starting over again just like that! Balancing two artistic careers is very hard. It seems impossible because they both require 100 percent of your time, but it is just the way it is. I couldn’t give up either one because I love them both so much. The hardest thing for me in both disciplines are the things that aren’t dancing or making jewelry — the marketing, networking, advertising, making websites, interacting with buyers, shop owners, photographers, graphic designers. You have to get good at things you don’t want to do or know how to ask for help from the right people.

My advice for an entrepreneur is the same as to any artist. You must overcome rejection and continue to work hard and smart when you see no success in sight. I have missed so many great opportunities and have made so many mistakes, but I’ve come to see everything as a learning opportunity and to keep going and refine my process with every experience. You must emotionally detach yourself from the outcome of your efforts and instead continually focus on the joy in the work. You are your own business and brand. You must take responsibility for everything that happens to you. You are the only reason you will succeed and the only reason you will fail.”

Fit Shop Wellness. Photo courtesy of Amanda Schoppe.

Fit Shop Wellness. Photo courtesy of Amanda Schoppe.

Amanda Schoppe

Fit Shop Wellness

www.fitshopwellness.com

Tell us a little bit about your performance career.

“My performance career started with a bang — or rather, with a high kick! I became a Radio City Rockette in 2003. After that, I joined the National/International Tour of 42nd Street and got to travel all over Japan and the United States. After the tour, I continued to dance with the Rockettes for eight seasons stretching over 10 years. The rigors and repetitive stress of such a demanding show started taking a toll on my body. That’s what inspired me to begin my journey toward deepening the connection with my body.”

Why did you decide to start your own business?

“Shifting away from my performing career came at the most perfect time. Almost organically, as my love for working with people began to broaden, my inner struggle about attending or not attending auditions became less stressful. I finally allowed myself some more space to explore other passions and find my voice in the wellness arena.

I started the process with conquering the physical requirements, such as earning certifications in Stott Pilates, Lagree Fitness Method and personal training. But then I began to crave a deeper knowledge of the inner workings inside the body. This shift took me toward the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. This was a year-long health and nutrition certification. I realized my story was important, that I have always harnessed a niche for human connection and listening and also teaching others how to listen to their own body!

I launched my business, Fit Shop Wellness, in July 2014. I offer one-on-one health coaching with wellness and fitness programs that are tailored to each client’s goals and needs.”

What was the process like?

“The process of starting my own business was challenging, exciting, scary and empowering. The turning point came when I recognized and utilized the transferable skills that my performing career equipped me with: a keen attention to detail, an awareness of others and how to conduct a room of people, time management, a general entrepreneurial mindset, and the ability to curate my day and schedule.”

Are you still performing? How do you balance both careers?

“For me, the overlap between dance and Fit Shop Wellness was not too long, but I feel confident that if I decided to slip on my tap shoes again, I would be able to organize my life accordingly.”

What advice do you have for a dancer who hopes to start his or her own business?

“I would say that starting my own business has been the single most empowering moment of my entire career. Every single day, I strive to provide a safe and inspiring atmosphere, and I am able to create unique relationships with my clients. That being said, I would be not be where I am today without having started my career as a dancer. The network that I built through college, Broadway Dance Center ballet classes, and on the line with my fellow Rockettes has been an integral support system!”

By Mary Callahan of Dance Informa.

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