In Conversation with Laci Chisholm of Fit4Dance
Describe your business in a few words?
Fit4Dance is dedicated to bringing quality and affordable dance and fitness instruction to communities that need it the most! We offer a comfortable space where folks can have fun, learn to dance, improve their fitness and health, meet new people, build community, and explore other cultures in a safe, warm, and welcoming environment.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
Even though it had always been my dream to operate my own dance studio, it was a dream that simply remained a wish for many years. In 2009, I found myself extremely unhappy and working a stressful job which left little time for dance. As a result, I developed poor eating habits, became overweight, suffered from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, and I always felt stressed. I hated the way I felt and the way I looked. When my doctor recommended medication for my mounting health issues, I decided it was time to make room for what I loved – DANCE; my natural stress reliever! By making time for dance again, I was finally motivated to take control of my health.
Realizing how hard it was to find a single facility that offered affordable, effective, fun, quality dance and fitness classes and provided a sense of community, Fit4Dance was born.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
Born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, I have been dancing nearly as long as I have been walking. A gifted and outgoing child, my desire to express myself drove my passion for dance and provided me with a remarkable creative outlet. I studied dance intensely throughout my adolescence perfecting my craft and developing my ability to share the skill of dance with others. With a strong performance background I have studied several genres of dance including African, Jazz, Haitian, Hip-Hop, and Tap. While attaining my undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill I never lost my zeal for dancing. I was the principal dancer of Opeyo, my college’s Hip-Hop dance team. In addition to performing with my collegiate dance troupe, I took a serious interest in sharing my love of dance with others. I nobly founded an after school hip-hop dance class for students due to a lack of resources in the community. Having had such success in building relationships with children through dance I assumed several positions after graduating where I was responsible for choreographing and teaching both competition routines and recital pieces respectively for Cheer America and the Academy for Performing Arts in North Carolina.
I moved to New York City in the summer of 2006. I studied with the Hip Hop Dance Conservatory for a year and have performed at the legendary Apollo Theater and on the Rachael Ray Show. Though I love to perform, I found my calling in education, receiving a Masters of Science in Education from Hunter College and spent most of my career in that field, though dance was never far from my heart. I started Fit4Dance in 2014, with the intent of providing fun, challenging, and effective dance fitness classes to beautiful women across New York City. It has been my lifelong dream to operate a dance studio offering a variety of dance + fitness formats that have helped me maintain a healthy, fit, body.
I am a certified Zumba instructor, a graduate of the Shape-Up NYC Instructor Training Program, a certified group fitness instructor through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) and American Council on Exercise (ACE). I truly believe that dance has the ability to elevate the spirit, focus the mind, and center the body. This belief is evident in my high energy classes where my infectious smile and encouraging words will almost make you forget you’re even exercising!
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No – I had no idea that this was the path I’d be taking. I also never thought it would have been possible to do in New York City.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
I participated in a business plan competition 6 months into officially launching the business. I used the marketing strategy in my business plan and then some. I was so passionate that I was trying to do as many things as possible. I created a website, started collecting email addresses from current and prospective clients, posted my classes on as many platforms as possible, used social media to build community, promote the business, and email marketing to stay connected and top of mind. I utilized discount platforms like Groupon and Living Social. I was printing fliers and leaving them stores and posting them on community boards. I joined a program called Shape Up NYC and volunteered to teach free classes in the community for six months. I promoted my classes there. Word of mouth has always been the best advertiser! So I was blessed to have such amazing students and friends to spread the word about my classes. I’m blessed that I had a plan, the support from the Women’s Business Outreach Center, and the Brooklyn Public Library.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
Oh there are so many. The biggest mistake I ever made was when I was renovating my newly acquired dance studio. I decided to use someone that an acquaintance in the same field as me had used to renovate her studio. I didn’t do my own research and long story short the project was 6 months behind schedule and I paid for the work upfront. Such a stupid mistake. I was without a true dance studio for 6 months. In between moving from our smaller location (with a whole other set of construction issues) to this new space, I was using schools and even had to close for a few months because we didn’t have a space. I had to eventually fire the guys who were doing the work and call the police to have them removed. They thought they were going to continue to waste my time after having taken my money. No sirs. I’ll take it from here. My friends and I completed the remainder of the construction work and I was finally able to open. I wanted to give up several times. I ran out of money and I felt so stupid for being so trusting. But I didn’t give up. I kept expressing gratitude. I kept praying and meditating. Everything worked out.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I am proud that my business is still operating and. thriving in the midst of a pandemic. We were able to pivot, adapt, and provide quality dance and fitness classes to our community virtually as well as continuing to support charitable organizations. We also received several awards and recognition in 2020 – SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the State of New York and Amex Express 100 for 100 Program. I am extremely grateful for the love and support the Fit4Dance community has shown as well as we made the virtual transition.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
One of my favorite questions that reveals personal character and dedication is: How do you inspire and motivate your students. I also have teachers participate in a role play. I ask them to pretend that I am a prospective student and I want them to convince me to become a member of Fit4Dance. And lastly, all prospective dance and fitness teachers conduct a demo class. I give feedback as well as compiling the students feedback. I pay attention to how they respond to the feedback.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The doors to our amazing dance studio have been closed since March 16, 2020. We have adapted to a completely virtual platform, but have not been able to conduct classes in our space and do not have a date to reopen for the future. We have lost several streams of income from not being fully operational. We have less teachers than we had pre-covid. We are unable to offer all of the same classes we offered in person.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Our virtual offerings will be even greater. We will offer more virtual workshops for the community. We will partner with organizations with shared missions to host charitable drives. We will expand our work with youth. We will support aspiring women by providing guidance through a business coaching program.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
I am stronger than I give myself credit for. Being a business owner means dealing with constant change. It’s up to me to figure out how to flow with it instead of how to fight it. 2020 definitely taught me that.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wish I knew that virtual classes would be the future of dance and fitness classes!!! It’s been so great to stay connected to my dance family, reach so many customers from all around the world, and create additional streams of income for my business.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Bubble baths, prayer, meditation, therapy, gratitude journal, and Fit4Dance classes.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Yes, I believe in self-care. I schedule self-care into my calendar. I disconnect from technology for a few hours a day (not including when I’m asleep).I keep a gratitude journal daily. I reward myself for my hard work by spending time with people I love.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
Sometimes I get really shy and nervous right before I’m about to teach a class or perform. Even if it’s a class I’ve taught 100x.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
Keep a schedule with a to do list. My schedule includes what must be done that day as well as what must be done that week. I always take a shower or bubble bath midday because water motivates and energizes me. I also make sure I eat.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
An Entreprenista is an amazing, inspiring woman who has founded and is operating a successful business.