Whether out of necessity or newfound free time, many dancers got serious about their side hustles during the pandemic. Here’s how they did it—plus expert advice on how they’ll keep them going post-COVID.
COVID times have seen many dancers go from having side hustles to treating these projects as their full-time jobs—growing their small businesses into enterprises larger or more lucrative than they might have envisioned pre-coronavirus.
Dance Business Weekly spoke to four of these dancers-recently-turned-entrepreneurs to find out how they’re pulling it off—and asked Other Space Innovation’s dance-business experts Maria Montanez and Susie Riefenhauser to weigh in on how these small businesses can keep growing once the pandemic recedes.
Betsy McBride, corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre
The business: Rezonance Athletics, a sustainable dancewear start-up
Why she started it: In 2018, McBride and her co-founders (fashion designer Brian Wexler and former ballet dancers Marina Hutto and Simon Wexler) realized there was no fully sustainable dancewear line for men and women. “We were starting to see more athleticwear going the sustainable route, which is great,” she says. “We wanted to give that option to dancers, so we researched for two years before launching.”
How the pandemic changed things: “When we first launched in February of last year, we had good hype and buzz going,” McBride recalls. Then everything shut down. “We were able to maintain some sales, but people were in sweats in their living room, not thinking about buying dance attire,” she says. So Rezonance started marketing its gender-neutral shorts as yoga clothing. The company also pivoted to face masks and headbands, both of which sold well.
Money, money, money: “We didn’t start big, so the four of us were able to fund the business ourselves,” McBride says. “We’re still making back those initial costs.”
Post-pandemic plans: The co-founders are open to brick-and-mortar sales, but for now they’re growing their online sales. They’re also planning a second launch, primarily of athleisure-leaning garments.
Riefenhauser and Montanez’s advice: McBride mentions that achieving dancer-specific sizing and fit has been challenging with manufacturers of nondance clothing. “A patternmaker, and the tech packs they create and submit to the factory, are key to ensuring proper grading and the sizing standard,” Riefenhauser says. (A tech pack is a product blueprint, containing all components and instructions for a manufacturer to turn a design into a sample and then a finished product.) Riefenhauser adds that lots of back and forth between patternmakers, consumer size testers, and the design team can feel tedious, but it will result in a garment that fits dancers better. She also encourages Rezonance to budget plenty of time and money for these discussions and not to rush the process so that they ensure their product has a great fit.
Ahren Victory, dancer/singer/actress
The business: Little Victory(s) Fitness, personal training and group fitness
Why she started it: “I’ve always been active and sporty,” says Victory. Though earning her personal-trainer certification was always at the back of her mind, “It was too difficult trying to mash it between callbacks, auditions and class,” she says. When the pandemic brought Victory’s schedule to a halt, she figured it was time.
How the pandemic changed things: Victory’s been limited to biweekly group fitness classes (community sessions) over Zoom, and working one-on-one with clients outdoors and over Zoom.
Money, money, money: “Paying for the certification course and insurance took planning,” Victory says. Luckily, she’d just finished the Cats national tour and had savings to burn. Victory also considers herself lucky she’s not training at a gym, and therefore has no overhead costs. “I’m profitable now, but I’d like to be more profitable,” she says.
Post-pandemic plans: While Victory emphasizes she doesn’t “want to put the cart before the horse,” she does envision Little Victory(s) Fitness eventually expanding into a Midtown wellness hub for triple threats: “Personal trainers and physical therapists and masseuses, working for the health and longevity of performers in New York.”
Riefenhauser and Montanez’s advice: Victory has been promoting Little Victory(s) Fitness consistently on her “dancer” Instagram account, but now wonders whether separating these facets of her public persona might be smarter. “I’ve gotten this question so often recently,” says Montanez. “Frankly, it is easier to grow a singularly focused Instagram account”—meaning that a profile with one clear and specific niche can add followers more quickly than an account focused on multiple topics. But Victory could cross-promote, too, with posts about dance on her personal-training account and vice versa. “I would put ‘Owner of Little Victory(s)’ in her dance Instagram bio, because this other work makes her more interesting as a dancer,” Montanez adds.
Erica Raver, South Florida–based ballet dancer and teacher
The business: Tulle Box, a monthly subscription box for dancers
Why she started it: Shortly before the pandemic, Raver suffered a serious knee injury. “I felt very disconnected from the dance world, which was my whole life,” she says. “I wanted to re-immerse myself in dance and help dancers optimize their training.” A longtime fan of subscription services like FabFitFun, Raver saw a gap in the market: a customizable monthly dancers’ box, including training tools, healthy snacks, apparel, and fun novelty items.
How the pandemic changed things: “It’s been challenging to start this business now,” Raver says. One difficulty is identifying the products dancers want for training at home, rather than in a studio or theater. Raver’s sending out surveys on Instagram to determine what dancers will shell out for in this time of economic uncertainty.
Money, money, money: “I’ve filled the boxes with items purchased at wholesale prices,” Raver says. Those costs came out of savings, with occasional help from her mom. Raver hopes Tulle Box reaches profitability in the next six months.
Post-pandemic plans: “I would love to collab with professional dancers, like ‘What’s in my dance bag’ boxes,” she says. “Other than that, I’m getting the word out and hoping dancers start to trust my brand.” If the workload ever became more than full-time for her, Raver is open to hiring help.
Riefenhauser and Montanez’s advice: Raver started Tulle Box as a sole proprietorship, but has heard that she should consider becoming an LLC (Limited Liability Company). “What an LLC means is that you, the owner, are not personally liable for any debts incurred by your business,” Riefenhauser says. That may sound like a worst-case scenario, but there’s no harm in setting up this legal barrier between your personal bank account and your business finances. Plus, Riefenhauser says the process of setting up an LLC differs by state but is simple and fast. “Just get it done, and you can stop worrying,” she says.
Maya Kazzaz, freelance musical theater performer
The business: Make Your Mark by M, branding and web design for fitness and wellness professionals
Why she started it: In December 2019, Kazzaz had just graduated from Fordham with plans to dance professionally. “I needed a flexible survival job,” she says—so Kazzaz created her own. Using her degree in marketing and global business, she builds websites and brand identities for wellness entrepreneurs.
How the pandemic changed things: Kazzaz actually saw her business grow throughout the pandemic. “Back when we thought this was going to last two weeks, I made a conscious decision to dive into Make Your Mark by M,” she says. She now has two part-time employees, and is sometimes booked out months in advance.
Money, money, money: “The great thing about online businesses is there aren’t a lot of start-up costs,” says Kazzaz, whose business became profitable soon after launching. She already had the Adobe suite, and only needed to pay for customer relations management software (to track invoices and payments).
Post-pandemic plans: Kazzaz intends to keep Make Your Mark by M going strong as the world returns to normal—and as she returns to auditioning. “Eventually, I’d love to grow into an agency model, where I oversee everything and hire performers as their survival jobs,” Kazzaz says.
Riefenhauser and Montanez’s advice: For that agency model to work, Kazzaz knows she’ll have to get better at delegating and relinquishing control. “Figure out what are the things that only you can do and the things that you want to do,” Montanez says. “Have employees do the things you don’t like doing and the things that take up a lot of your time.” To help Kazzaz improve her communication and management skills, Montanez recommends Radical Candor, by Kim Scott.
Helen Hope teaches dance and has written for Dance Spirit and Dance Teacher magazines.