Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in a dance company, but not sure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Soraya Hanzus founder at The New York Studio of Irish Step Dance.
Tell us all about your business...
The New York Studio of Irish Step Dance is an all-adult school and troupe offering both in-studio Manhattan classes and nationwide online lessons to students of all levels wanting a challenging workout. We focus on fun and fitness - not on stressful competitions.
Whether beginner or champion, everyone is united by a love of dance. We also pride ourselves on performing crowd-pleasing routines for pubs, television, political leaders, charitable organizations and more but without the stress of regularly committing to multiple rehearsals per week. We have fun with friends - and enjoy sharing our passion with New York City and beyond.
What's your background and motivation to grow as a entrepreneur?
I was introduced to dancing as a child and fell in love with it - competing and performing throughout up until college. Additionally, I volunteered to teach whenever possible as I loved sharing that love of dance with others.
I wanted to open my own business for as long as I can remember so decided to pursue business for both my undergraduate and graduate studies - even having written my business plan for an entrepreneurial class as part of my MBA program. I also immersed myself in as many hands-on real world opportunities as possible, pursuing numerous internships and spending approximately a decade working in the communications and advertising fields. This experience made it much easier for me to successfully market my business when deciding to finally take the leap and become an entrepreneur in my early 30s.
The happiness our school brings to both students and audiences is our primary source of motivation. The greatest reward is seeing the smile on our dancers’ faces when they mastered a challenging skill or - even better - made a close friend through our inclusive and supportive community. The performances are also so much fun and keep me excited to do what I do each and every day.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Although I love the energy from our troupe performing at shows for enthusiastic audiences - and have to admit that getting calls to perform on live TV or for a top-tier event is such an honor - I have to again say that having created this community of life-long friends has been the greatest accomplishment. There was a moment two years ago at a farewell dinner for one of our dancers who was moving out-of-state in which I stopped myself for a minute, looked up and down the table and thought wow everyone seems so happy! It was very rewarding to know that our school brought them together. Many students come to New York from elsewhere so it is a real treat to know that our school can provide a little bit of comfort while doing something we all love to do.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a entrepreneur?
The pandemic! It has been a wild ride this past year, but we are fortunate to have had so many loyal students stick it out with us!
On a day-to-day basis though, I would say that it is often hard not to get stuck in the day-to-day. I find myself closely following a to-do list of administrative duties without often feeling there is enough time or energy to think big picture as much as I would like.
I guess though one good thing that came out of quarantine last year was that it made us all stop and think about not just our work but everything we do in our lives - to stop and smell those roses - to think carefully before acting so quickly in what is a very fast-paced town!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run or grow a small business today?
1. Plan - You must obviously write a business plan in advance, but I also recommend taking it a step futher from more of a branding perspective. Give ample time to thinking through what your company can bring to this world and put yourself in a customer’s shoes. I remember once creating a deck just for myself as if I was presenting my company to major stakeholders simply as an exercise to make me think through the perception a client would have of us and what we could do to best serve his or her needs.
2. Be flexible - Things change in this entrepreneurial world FAST. You should have a plan B, C and D for everything you do and don’t harp on your failures- learn from them and move on.
3. Set boundaries - Entrepreneurs don’t typically have the luxury of time off in the typical sense. You have to figure that out for yourself. The beauty of being an entrepreneur though is that you can often set your own hours and make that clear with whoever within your circle should know. My phone is attached to my hip for the month leading into St. Patrick’s Day. I know that will be a tough time to travel, socialize, etc. I give myself that time though coming out of the season to rest and recharge. You need to set limits or you will burn out too quickly.
What are some of the things you put in place to maintain a healthy work/life balance and to keep it all together?
I admittedly wasn’t very good about this when starting out but have improved over the years. The best advice is to learn to say NO and not feel bad about it. That will be hard to do at first but, as time goes on, it becomes much easier. I used to raise my hand for every opportunity that came our way but now I think carefully as to whether or not the pros outweigh the cons. I also meditate and leave my phone in the other room during meals - often even those on my own. It is rare that something major will take place in the 30 minutes I’m away.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Never give up! Revisit, revise, revamp but don’t throw in the towel altogether unless absolutely necessary. Being an entrepreneur is incredibly rewarding and it would be a shame to see someone give up on their hopes and dreams because of a rough patch. Think of it as an opportunity to be more creative and bring something new to the table that may take your business to a place never dreamed of before.
And for starting out - don’t let anyone talk you out of your plan (as long as you have a legitimate plan!) simply because it isn’t conventional. The looks I got from nearly everyone when saying I wanted to leave my career and open a dance school made me doubt my dream but, at the end of the day, the worst that could have happened is that it didn’t work out. You would always regret it if you didn’t at least try. As the saying goes, you will be more disappointed by what you didn’t do than what you did do.
Where can people find you online?
You can also find The New York Studio of Irish Step Dance on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter!
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share then email firstname.lastname@example.org, we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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