Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brand new studio four months....

It has been four months since we took possession of our business and over 17 months since conception of our dream....and we're just getting out of the gates. Not exactly the fanfare we expected to turn out. I have come up with my three 'D's of frustration.

#1 Delays. Seems to be the story of our lives. If it was not one thing, it was another. Leaky roofs, code enforcements, and such just to name a few. Delays means delays in classes, delays in classes meant no income. Indeed it's a vicious cycle that eats at the very heart of a business owner.

My business partner also works a day job and the bulk of dealing with the city falls on me...which is fine because I'd rather not deal with alot of technological stuff and that is her specialty....but boy, all this running around has cost me alot in gas.
Somehow it seems that when I do the most running around, the higher the gas prices are...coincidence? If so, it's a sick joke.

#2 Dwindling fund bucket. Delays = unable to open doors for business = loss of student base = loss of income. A cycle that is as painful seen and unseen. When the cow isn't fed, there will be no milk.

#3 Deal with it. Simply put, whether it's a money pit or just a waiting chrysalis, it's our baby and we WILL get through this. Practice patience. (or is patience practicing on us??)

Before I can get all sappy-depressed about all this, the bright side is that we DID open our doors with a workshop and hafla that was a great success with new faces and excited dancers! Finally things are coming togehter! Now it's only the beginning...I am now seeing that our hard work and patience through all this will just get brighter.
I want to thank all those who supported us through this journey and continue to build dreams together with us.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pointe Shoes - my first rite of passage...

There is a point in a dancer's life that graduates them to the next level. The level that separates you from the the 'baby dancers'....this happens in all genres of dance, but none so transforming as in ballet.

My first genre of dance was ballet. I've been in all different kinds of classes at various studios, yet ballet was my favorite above them. Like all other young ballerinas, I dreamed of dancing on my toes like the big girls. Pointe shoes as they are properly called are the magic pink satin shoes that makes a little girl a woman in ballet.

What are pointe shoes? They are a pink satin (sometimes other in other colors) slippers that have a hard "box" at the toe area allowing a dancer to stand and dance on her toes. This material of the 'box' are traditionally layers of glue and fabric hardened to a stiff, almost wood-like texture. Some modern shoes incorporate other materials such as fiberglass or plastic within the construction. Everything on the shoe is hand stiched and hand made. Lambswool, silicone or foam pads are the only protection inside the shoe with the dancer's foot.
To think something as torturous is so desired and appears seemlessly painless to dance on.

As an advanced dancer at the age of nine, I was always the youngest (and shortest) in class. One by one, I saw my classmates graduate into pre-pointe class and within a short time they had their first pair of pointe shoes. I was almost 10, I was jealous, I tried harder in class, I begged my teacher for them, I took more classes, I begged my mom to find another school to graduate me into pointe right my dismay, none of the tactics worked. I didn't understand why a girl in class just two years older who only had ice skating experience got into pointe shoes in six months or the oldest, yet as skilled as I am get her pointe shoes in time for rehearsing for the recital.
If I knew then (better yet, understood) what I know now, it would save me a load of pain in my later years.

You see, there are more things than just knowing how to dance that graduates you into a dancer who can dance on pointe. First of all, no girl should have any business on pointe before the age of 12. Why? A young girl's body is still developing among a few things...she must possess coordination and stength in her muscles, core, back, and feet. She must be able hold the extra pressure without 'depending' on a barre or another person or akward positioning that would deem dangerous. Simply put, going on pointe early can cause serious damage to the feet, muscle, bone, or tendon development - cutting a potential career short or even worse, permanent injury for life.
In reality, there is no real age to determine a girl's readiness into pointe. A dancer may excel in skill, but she must meet the criteria milstones of development.

At the age of 10, I moved to a new state, new city. We found a school that offered ballet. After what the teacher saw in me, she immediately said I can be on pointe. I had no idea how to fit them, but I got them and had my ribbons sewn on right away! I balanced and practiced, I even slept with them on! I was in heaven! At the age of 10, I was living my dream! Most of all, I was a big girl - a WOMAN!

I danced on point the rest of my pre-teen and teen years compounding injuries I would not feel until later on. Whenever I got hurt, I ignored it like a 'true' dancer. I took all the classes I could, I danced till my feet bled - I am not kidding you on this, but it's a sick thing dancers brag about.
All this would have been avoided had my teacher been more responsible and waited a couple more years for my body to 'mature'.

Now fast forward 10 years after my first year on pointe...I had just recovered from a car accident, finished my therapy and realized how much damage there is to my knees and metatarsal on my feet from ballet. I was crushed. It was no wonder why dancing became more unbearable. It wasn't laziness. It wasn't the accident. It wasn't because I was more involved in another genre of dance, it was because I was put on pointe at a very young age.
Yes, I admit, 10 years old is too young to start on pointe. I would have 'become a woman' in dance eventually. I just foolishly rushed it at a young age.

...but ask any dancer, the feeling when you put on your first pointe shoes is a rush like no other.

[The photo above is a picture of me at age 11]

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Journey of a Studio Owner: Finding Home: not one, but two, but three times!

Find a perfect location, sun gleaming against the windows. Perfect location, fully loaded with all the trimmings, ...where's the line & I'll sign it right now and start teaching tomorrow!


Three words, #1) NOT. #2) EVEN. #3) CLOSE.

It's a dream most dancers want in their lives...their own dance studio. I have spoken of the trials and tribulations of dealing with the process. In this blog, I'm talking about location. Yes, we decided Moreno Valley...but where? I've stalked almost every business and industrial MLS ads and bilboards across the city. We've asked all our students for leads here and there...and luckily, my business partner is an office assistant and comes across leads all the time.

With several recommendations, we fell in love with a location. It was perfect. It was once a dance studio with all the walls up and rooms divided, all we needed were flooring and mirrors. We envisioned our haflas, workshops, classes, retail area, reception area, warm-up was all there and ready to occupy. We were gleaming and dreaming at all the possibilities.
REALITY CHECK - 6000 square feet = rent of almost a dollar a square foot.
Definitely out of our budget and way out of our reach.

Our leasing agent worked at getting us into another location that would suit us. He showed us a location that was 5000 square feet and asked if this would be suitable, but that too was out of our league. He sent us in on locations that were near the end of their lease to "scope it out", but none seem to fit the bill...however, my business partner ended up buying a mattress from one of the places we scoped out!

The next day he showed us a place that was once a Hookah bar and it was about 2500 square feet...much better price, but it was definitely small to our projected growth for the future and the distinctive smell of hookah smoke. No worries, we will manage, we know people who can erradicate the smell.
The decision has been made, we will settle for this. Our mentor guiding us through our studio search made a CAD design of the layout of what our studio will be like and what will be done. After getting the lease agreement - 34 pages of it and going over it with a fine toothed comb and making numerous revisions, our mentor had to make a departure that leaves us without the original agreement or revisions for submissions. When we finally got the agreement in order with the help of our mentor's spouse, we were ready to move forward. A meeting was called with a group of instructors and in the midst of the meeting, one of the instructors said, "I was driving by the location last night to see where it was and I saw the hookah bar was still in operation and it didn't look like it was out of business..." Much to my shock (and jaw on the ground) my business partner drove by it the next night to confirm what the other gal saw - and it was true.

The next morning I set out a call to the leasing agent for an explanation and he said we waited too long and the original business wanted to conduct business again and they let them return. "RETURN??? RETURN without letting us know or even asking why there was a delay with us???" After a lengthy talk, he agreed to show us another property for the same rate and we were immediately entranced.
Nevermind the cobwebs or dust, we saw beautiful potential. The location had beautiful ceilings, tile floors, arched doorways, beautiful fixtures and definitely bigger...except there would need to be alot of demolision and revisions to the walls, restrooms, flooring, etc. Again, no worries...we will manage. The dreams of haflas, workshops, retail, etc fill the air once again and we also get the students in on the dream. My mentor's spouse took some pictures and photoshopped 'artists renditions' of what the exterior would look like. Everyone is excited and happy we have something within reach! Once again with another revised lease, we negotiated for alowances that would seem to fit our vision. I would turn it in the next day after my dance conference over the weekend.
Mission accomplished....or so I thought.

Upon my arrival from the MECDA professional conference, I immediately got a text message from my leasing agent. [give me a call immediately] When I called him, the news I dreaded to hear: "You cannot have that location, there are some things that came up that was beyond our control and we didn't see it coming".
A sense of heaviness came upon me an I didn't know whether to scream, cry, or just be stunned in silence. I just paused in disbelief. I was stunned. All our hard work again gone. Just as I told my business parner the news, she was equally as stunned, but also angry that we have been strung along like this. Her sentiments quickly synced with what I was thinking and by the time I met with the leasing agent the following day, I gave him a piece or two of my mind (maybe even three) and expressed the journey of disappointment to him about our ordeal. He understood, although the circumstances were legitamite and warrented for this situation, however it was no excuse for their lack of knowledge of the situation or communication within. He agreed and gave us another offer - a former karate studio that has been recently vacated in the past two months.
Remember in the earlier part of this blog I mentioned the 5000 square foot place? This is the one. Better pricing, better allowances. This time, it fits us perfectly. mirrors in place, rooms divided, flooring is somewhat acceptable, and rent is definitely acceptable. Score! (however it took us three times to get this place!)

Somehow, we have come full circle. Not exactly in the way we imagined, but in a way that was meant to be. Now is the fun part....HARD WORK

Monday, November 14, 2011

Journey of a studio owner....Finding home: calming the fears and fending off the jeers...

Who's to say everyone will transition smoothly into the new venture???
This is not a sit-com where people smile and are excited and everyone loves ya. This is reality.

Although we have it trained in us that you can't please people all the time, but to put out the fires....really? Yes. Really.

After much research based on price, location, accessibilty, average crime statisics, population demographics, number of similar businesses in the radius, average driving distance of our current students, safety, and other demographical related information, we decidded for the city of Moreno Valley.
Moreno Valley is a moderately sized bedroom community of Riverside County. It sits on the northwest corner of the county within an hour's drive to Los Angeles or Orange County. Sounds great? Well, the city has had it's share of stigma. After the major Air Force base closed, a mass exodus of military families left and were replaced with a diverse population. The city in the past has had it's share of problems, but what city doesn't?? What surprised us the most is the crime rate in Moreno Valley is much lower per capita than Riverside. Violent crime in Riverside was well above the state average, while in Moreno Valley it was well below. After we saw that, we investigated more because what we 'heard or seen on the media' did not add up to what we saw in the state's statistics and we found something quite interesting....some cities have a very good public relations department that can easily pursuade the media into thinking otherwise....but thankfully cannot pursuade state statistics. It's a dirty little secret that PR people know people don't like to do their own they say, people listen.

When we announced we would move the studio to Moreno Valley, we were met with a level of disappointment and almost mob mentality fears.
Bottom line, every city has it's problems and every police or sheriff's department does their best to stop crime from their next victim.
I look at the facts such as the state's statistics from population demographics to crime statistics - this city is no more dangerous than the's all about awareness and proactivitiy.

After standing on my soapbox and making everyone see the light, slowly people accepted that moving to that location may indeed be the 'hidden gem' we were looking for.
Win #1...for now....

Now that the shock of our location has been revealed, somehow attendance started to dwindle down. I somehow think everyone was expecting to move into the new location within weeks of our decision. Those weeks turned into more weeks, which turned into months...and finally some people flat out approached us and said, I won't attend anymore until we are in the new location. We figured the same for those who didn't contact us back. People were becoming impatient...with every glitch, delay, or red tape, we steadily saw a decline in attendance. This also meant a decline in income. It was better to stay low key with all the delays we were expereiencing than to bring a wave of students only to be dissapointed with their lack of understanding about our situation....remember it's about them and their needs, not us.

The Jeers...

There is an old adage about 'you can't please all the people all of the time...' I thought I had thick enough skin, but because of the 'sisterhood' of dance, I thought everyone would be suportive and those who weren't would just turn the other way. However, much to my surprise, to have negativity on our path was something a little bit unexpected. We're not talking complaints...we're talking not so nice stuff. In this industry, to endure all this, you need thick skin. Fighting back would mean we were down at their level and it could be turned around making us look like the bad guys in this mess. All we could do is just to tread on and do what we want to do.

Rumors are the worst. As stated above in both parts, the average person does not want to investigate things for themselves. They want to go to some source or person and just be told so. "If so and so says it, then it must be true...". By the time it gets to us, it's one hot mess that we need to backtrack and do some serious damage control. It's an exhausting process and most unessesary one to say the least.
It's a challenge to do this in a tactful dignified manner so it won't make us look like one of the 'crazies' out there - enough said.
Rumors will always happen, but as long as we remain open and don't hide anything, our students will know who is telling the truth. Wouldn't it be easier for everyone to just go straight to the source? Apparently not.
I still can't figure out what's so magical about believing a rumor or second hand tainted information? Some things I will never figure out.

Next blog: Finding Home: not one, but two, but three times!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

MECDA Professional Conference and Retreat....the recap...

A little over a month ago, I had attended the first MECDA Professional Conference and Retreat. The first one of it's kind with everything I could ever want and need for my upcoming business was included in one neat weekend package. Even though I was part of the volunteer staff, working for the event has never been so fun and fulfilling!
I got to be the room attendant for each of the conference rooms throughout the day and got to listen (and sometimes participate in) some valuable classes.

Because I was opening up my business, classes like developing your own pedagogy, teaching practicum, and injury prevention from Amara to the many classes from Julie Eason of the Bellydance Business Academy, some fun informative lectures from Devilla and Princess Farhana and other masters like Angelika, Zahra Zuhair, and Mesmera. These classes are essential tools in building my business and nurturing it along the way to success.

One of the unexpected experiences I had at the conference was the camaraderie all the dancers - both professional and pre-professional attending....everyone was so nice and helpful - far removed from the nature of some bellydancers in my area.

Everyone shared ideas.
Everyone shared thoughts.
Everyone shared experiences.
Everyone shared laughter.
Everyone shared tears.

There was no competition, exclusivity, indifference with any of the attendees or instructors - we were all one - one with a common of paving the way to the future and standing strong together as a dance community.

Now more than ever, I strive to make my goal and mission for more unity in the dance community - to share, love, and experience together what makes this dance a true form of art. I admit, I wondered how I could cram all this info and make it useful?
I got my business partner to open a twitter account, think of other media ways we can promote our studio or troupes, explore various marketing ideas, start a blog page for my studio, regularly posting with my own blog, negotiated with the landlord on some better deals, and most of all think clearly with an open mind. My business partner was fortunate to be one of the subjects in Amara's teaching practicum class and also is going to apply some applications she even learned from that session! Applying all this was not as hard as I thought. I had many 'a-ha' moments both during the conference as well as setting up my plans for the future....something a dancer should experience daily.

My studio is slowly getting off the ground, no opening date yet, and when it does, I will definitely blog about it!
With the tools I learned from the conference, I consider it valuable beyond the price you'd pay to just to attend it. I enjoyed everything about it...'work' didnt seem like work and I'd work the event all over again!

Here is a recap of the conference with some plugs on how great it was. As you can see...yes, we did have fun too...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Journey of a studio owner....Research 101 - take two...

By now, we know we want a studio. We want it to be nice, we want it to be pretty, we want it to be GRAND! So much fills our minds with music, mirrors, and pretty wall coverings envision our minds. Oh! as we think of the joys and hours of dance we will fill up in our new studio home! Our minds race with excitement and then we thought, what else do we need aside from finding a location? Oh yes, research the area, market, yada yada yada.
Getting a business loan?? "Piece of cake" I thought. "I can do this for sure", as I confidently thought. You see, I had worked for a major retailer that specialized in precise customer service - I was a manager there and I am used to superior customer service, making my sales goals, making business plans, and putting on events on a regular basis. I also worked as a marketing specialist for a radio station and knew what it took to market to a tough audience and to tie in other marketing venues together. My business partner has experience running her father's church business and keeping it afloat, my mentor is just a uber genius that she can whip up a solid business plan for all of us to follow. With our experience, we should have no problem getting capital.
Imagine the shock we came across when we were systematically turned down for loans and such to open a business. It's like all that knowledge & experience made me feel like I was back in little league again. I felt like I knew nothing and certainly, I was feeling quite small and insignificant. One small detail I forgot to realize was the fact when I worked in these other industries, I was backed by a powerful corporation who had the money to make things work and go through. Yes, unfortunately money does make the world go around...and especially if you are a large big box type of business. My business partner and I do not have much by way of liquid assets nor do we have much capital. Since this is a new business with no other experience in the past of a similar business put us at a high risk. Banks are simply not doling out money loans like they used to. Five years ago the story may have been different, but today, you pretty much need the up front capital or assets to prove you need a loan - but doesn't that sound like an oxymoron to you?
You can thank the economy for that...and people wonder why small businesses cannot get off the ground.
We were lucky to get some donations...some freely, some with a repayment, and our continued support of current students taking classes and feeding the studio kitty. Unfortunately some loans had to be reimbursed quickly and some did not fall through. Nonetheless, we had to get really creative in this process and continue to donate our salary to make this happen.
Next, we need to file for another business license and permits because we plan on selling things at the studio in the future. Reseller's permits easy. Business license filing, not so much more time, money, and delays...I am filling out forms to my eyeballs :0 This process proves to be the least painful of what we are going through, but we just didn't notice until later...
The last thing on the "adjusted" agenda is to find a location again. We already did our extensive search and research in our town with some futile results. This meant we had to go out of the area. It really seemed scary to think of another area because of what we 'hear' of that happens in other communities. Crime statistics are very important because our student's safety is important. As we searched and searched, we were shocked on the statistics....the one city people "warn" about as being high crime is actually considerably lower in crime than the town we live in. The area where we are renting has a violent crime rate four times higher than the area we were considering. Aside from the crime statistics, we also looked at population demographics, commuter vs. domestic traffic, age, education, police to resident ratio, and more. Seems that some cities have a better pubic relations campaign than others. Shame on them for making other communities look so bad.
Our decision has been made. We will search for our studio in Moreno Valley CA. blog, Finding home in Moreno Valley....

Friday, November 4, 2011

Journey of a studio owner....location location location!

I know this blog of my journey in opening my studio is late, but I have been very busy with it - and with good cause. Here is what I have been up to in the past year with this project...piece by piece...

Late last year, my mentor, a fellow dancer and I talked about our dream to own a studio. We all agreed it was the route we should seriously pursue. The studio where we were renting from was in an unknown state and we were not sure if we would be there in a few months or so... Our own group of dancers, students, and performers were growing so fast and that we were running out of room to hold classes was proof enough of our expansion needs. We NEED a new studio!

In January, we seriously put this thought on the road and take off with it. It was going to happen. The place where we were renting was still in uncertainty and we had to do what we had to do to protect our business.
First things first, file for official business, get a bank acccount (actually several), make a business pan, do ALOT of research, outline what we need to do for our classes and....we need a location.
It only looked easy as we saw many gorgeous buildings and potential locations. Then it hit us...the price - seems that these gorgeous buildings also had a steep price...even in this economy. Prices ranged from $1.59/sf to $3.95/sf - we were looking for something much lower per square foot. Looking for a lower priced place was another challenge - industrial areas offer plenty of room, low overhead, and fairly easy access. This too, also had it's limitation; the city's zoning where we were located prohibited a dance studio to use a comercial zoned area. We needed to look for a mixed use building that would comply with the city use zoning. Just as we found something that was mixed use, low overhead, and easy access, issues with each of our locaion searches had their own set of problems such as lack of parking, extra utilites charges, and lease issues that would leave us at the mercy of the landlord. Because most of the buildings in our area are older, we encountered our share of rickety buildings, sloping floors, lack of handicapped access, the strong smell of mold & unmentionables, odd floor plans, and really weird retrofitting. Dozens and dozens of locations and leasing agents later, we needed to look beyond our city since they are not mixed use friendly. This meant our search and research will need to start all over again.

It's no wonder why there is a high rate of small business failure in our city.