Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in dance education but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Natalya Zrazhevskaya, Founder of ZTHEORY, located in Seattle and Los Angeles, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Hi! My name is Natalya Z. I officially started my business three years ago, but I feel like it has been in creation for over a decade now. I am, first and foremost, a professional dancer & dance instructor with over 20 years of experience. ZTHEORY is a Seattle-based Heels dance brand that I created as a training program to help unite dancers of all levels in a safe & nurturing space while teaching my technique to them.
My programs focus on equal-parts movement & mindset - meaning they prioritize the human first and the dancer second while teaching them the art of heel dance. We focus on a culture of reflection, journaling, & holding space alongside the dance training. Our mission of giving artists all the tools they need to feel freedom within themselves & their artistry has grown an incredible community very quickly.
Tell us about yourself
When I started ZTHEORY, I was trying to create a safe place for my younger self to express herself. As an immigrant, I wanted a space where knowledge of English was not what defined my worth. Dance became a place for me to speak with my body instead. As a woman, I wanted a safe space to express myself without judgment & objectification. ZTHEORY became a safe space for me to explore every nook of myself through art - especially the most painful parts. Through embodying those aspects of myself, I was able to become lighter, more confident, and more unapologetic. What I learned very quickly was that by providing this space for my younger self, I was able to create a space for so many.
All of a sudden, women began telling me that I was changing their lives - not just on the dance floor, but in life. The LGBTQIA+ community adopted ZTHEORY as the safe space to go for not only training but also speaking their voices on our platform. I have mentored everyone from women working through trauma to drag queens on RuPaul's Drag Race, to men in the process of coming out, to moms finding their confidence again - ALL IN THE SAME ROOM! Because they are all there for the same reason: they believe ZTHEORY is a safe space to grow & evolve. It feels like the melting pot where people from underrepresented communities or a misunderstood community come together & celebrate one another, finding themselves in the process. It has become bigger than any one of our stories. We are a rising tide! Every day, I feel inspired by the community around me.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Just this year, we have held our second full-length show, made a dance movie, hosted classes in LA, OR, & NYC, & performed with our dance company on professional-level LA stages multiple times! I want to show that it is possible (and more FUN!) to deliver a high-quality level of artistry while ALSO prioritizing the development of an inclusive, supportive, & mindful community along the way. Having both is so rare in the entertainment industry, and ZTHEORY strives to break that mold! My company is everything I wished I had growing up & finding my voice as an artist. To be able to gift that to others now through my education & platform is my purpose.
Scaling at the speed we have has been WILD! We have been creating professional-level shows & video projects that have put Seattle on the MAP as a dance hub this year. Our Company dancers have been flying all over the place to represent my work & teach classes. The best part & BIGGEST accomplishment, though, is that my dancers are not only students anymore - they are performers, choreographers, & upcoming instructors for ZTHEORY, passing on my technique far beyond what I could do alone.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
To be a business owner is to be OF-SERVICE to an entire community of people. I think the 'boss'' often gets glamorized & misrepresented on social media & on film when, in reality, it is a 24/7 commitment to making your product better & your clients happier. The responsibility can sometimes be taxing, & the hardest thing for me has been keeping a balanced relationship with my own art & health while running an entire business! I have been working this year to set better boundaries for myself & make time to prioritize myself, knowing that preventing my own burn-out will be better for the company in the long run.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Just start. Every day you are thinking about your business is just another day you aren't starting it. Trust yourself to just BEGIN, even if it's small at first. You'll figure it out.
- Be transparent. Create an open channel of communication between yourself & your clients & employees. The more feedback you can receive from them (especially when you begin), the more you can carve your business into a beautiful experience. This can be via personal meetings, feedback forms, monthly check-ins, etc.
- Track your time & your money. The best thing I did for myself was begin tracking my own hours (even as a founder) for my own business. This helps a couple of things:
- I am able to set better boundaries for myself when I see how much time I am putting into my business vs. other parts of my life. My business no longer takes up MY ENTIRE life - only when I 'clock in.'
- If I were to one day off-load one of my tasks to an employee, I have data on the amount of hours that task should take. It gives so much information on how to best scale!
- I am able to fairly pay myself out of my own business rather than taking out an abnormal amount. Throughout the year, I treat myself as an employee of my own business for my time. If my business makes a profit, I can take out money at the end of the year as the founder of it, along with creating bonuses for my employees.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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