Azlo Customer Story - Kat Arias

Kat Arias Dance Company Photo credit: Benjamin Hyunh.

It takes a lot of grit and guts to turn your passion into a business. That's what Kat Arias did in 2012, when she signed a lease and got the keys to her first dance studio in the Washington metropolitan area. And Ferocity Dance Company was born.

With a focus on Bachata Fusion, which is an eclectic mix of dance styles with bachata, Ferocity houses six different teams — not to mention group classes, special events, and workshops.

Much of that was put to a standstill in March, when Kat and fellow dance studio owners in the D.C. area reached a consensus to close their spaces to keep the public safe. A few days later, shelter-in-place orders rolled out in her state.

Since her studio shuttered, Kat's income from her business has seen a steady decline. Within the first day, the revenue from her group classes went to zero.

And while she's managed to generate revenue from her teams' monthly fees, money from her studio has seen a dip. That first month, Kat lost 20% in income. In April, her income dropped to 50%, and by the end of May, she anticipates an 80% decline in revenue.

So how can one best cope and pivot when there are circumstances out of your control?

We sat down with Kat — virtually, of course — to glean insights on how to keep one's business afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, and how to lean in on your community:

On Staying Connected With Community

Keep people in sync. The crucial thing for Kat is to keep her community alive. "For me, it's not just about the classes and money," she says. "What we've mainly spent eight years doing is creating like a community and uniting people through dance."

"And to not be able to be physically next to each other, that's really hard to do," she continues. "So we're mainly trying to figure out how to bring that sense of being together into people's homes, and to keep them optimistic."

Go digital. Since quarantine, Kat and her crew have drummed up ways to keep her dancers connected virtually. Kat has check-ins with her teams weekly on Zoom, where they will rehearse routines. And to keep the online rehearsals, she's split up the larger dance teams into smaller ones, and offering multiple sessions.

She's also working on a DVD program where dance tutorials are pre-recorded, and on turning Ferocity into a virtual dance studio with live classes.

Make art together. Besides rehearsing dance routines, Kat is planning to do music video-type shoots. "That way, people can actually do their routines, and they feel like they didn't waste a bunch of time or money."

Look out for your team. Because Kat's still generating revenue from Ferocity from monthly membership dues from her dance teams, Kat's been able to offer the three dance instructors on her staff half of their regular pay.

Continue to stay in touch with your colleagues. While in-person potlucks and social hours have been put to a halt, Kat meets virtually with fellow studio owners, organizers, and dance professionals in her community almost weekly.

Made up of doctors, scientists, and nurses who all share a love of dancing, Kat has been able to have her answers about COVID-19 answered. "It's been really nice because it almost feels like a group chat with your friends, but everyone's purpose is to provide information and to help," she says.

Kat Arias Dance Company Photo credit: Ricardo Tellez Photography

On being resourceful

Stay lean. As Ferocity's current location is Kat's second incarnation of her dance company, she learned the first time around to keep her overhead low. In turn, she carefully chose a studio in an area where the rents were lower. In turn, she's been able to keep her space for the time being.

Tap into financial resources. While Kat's day job helps her pay her mortgage, revenue from Ferocity Dance Studio goes right back into her business.

As income from her business has been steadily declining, she looked at different COVID-19 lending resources for small businesses. She decided to apply for a PPP loan and received a small sum

Kat Arias Dance Company Photo credit: Benjamin Hyunh

On self-care

Cook healthy meals. A silver lining has been that Kat has had more time for self-care. Before the pandemic, she was working a full-time job as a government contractor, and running her studio in the evenings.

Working long days meant a lot of fast food and eating on the run. But since the quarantine, she's been able to cook more at home, being more mindful of what she puts in her stomach, and not to rush through meals. That, coupled with doing more dance videos for all the teams, she's shed 40 pounds.

Get plenty of rest. To boot, Kat's gone from sometimes only getting a few hours of sleep to enjoying a full eight hours. In turn, she's been in better physical health.

"I think because of the lifestyle shift, my metabolism is working much better," says Kat. "I'm on a much better schedule. "While it's been an interesting, hard shift that I was dealt, I'm a little grateful for it, too."

Let yourself have a good cry. It's no doubt a sad time for dancers worldwide. While Kat sets the bar high to serve as a leader for her teams, sometimes she'll carve out time to let herself have a good cry. "If I get upset, I'll give myself like five to 15 minutes to cry it out. then I have to move on."

Kat Arias Dance Company Photo credit: Kat Arias

On keeping the dream alive

Remember your role. Kat feels responsible for playing the role of an emotional cheerleader for her dance teams. "I have 95 dancers, so I have to stay positive and keep their spirits up. "Even if I cried two seconds earlier, when I post a video for them, I need to reassure them that we're going to be there."

Remember why you're doing this in the first place. When Kat is experiencing a moment of sadness, she remembers why she started her company in the first place: "Dancing is like breathing art, and you don't have to speak the language," she explains.

"All you have to do is be able to see or feel their movements. Everything was so amazing: the costumes, the audience's reaction. For me, dancing is experiencing something together with a large group of people without having to say anything."

Focus on solutions. Kat points out how important it is to stay positive. We can't change the reality of the situation," she says. "But we need to be able to think of solutions. Maybe they won't work and maybe they will. But as long as we stay productive and keep the mindset that we need to survive, we can keep on pushing forward.”

Kat Arias Dance Company Photo credit: Carlos Sihuas / Media Rebel

Jackie Lam
Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based money writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, and GOOD Magazine. She is currently studying to be a financial coach (AFC®) to help artists and freelancers with their money. In her free time she blogs at heyfreelancer.com

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