It’s not a secret that professional dancers’ livelihoods have been hit incredibly hard this past year. In fact, the Brookings Institute estimates that by July of 2020, performing and fine arts workers lost approximately 1.4 million jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. So with little to no performance work available since last March, and limited financial assistance from the government, dancers everywhere have had to rely on something they do best: being creative.
For some dancers, that creativity has translated into entrepreneurship, combining their transferable dance skills with other passions and side hustles to create full-fledged small business ideas. Performance-based work may still be limited for some time to come, but the unexpected ‘downtime’ during this pandemic has offered these dancers the space to follow passions both beyond and aligned with their dance careers. Read on to find out how some dancers are navigating the uncertain future of the dance industry alongside new small business ventures:
Bonnie Schiffman - This Stuff Goes Bad
As a dancer and teacher in L.A., Bonnie Schiffman spent years looking for sustainable and clean skincare products before finally deciding to make her own. Once the pandemic shut down the dance industry, Bonnie says she “had all the time in the world to perfect [her] recipes, seek out amazing suppliers, and create a whole new business around high quality, all natural skincare.”
With a B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Cornell University, she is passionate about being environmentally conscious (here are some ways you can too!), which is reflected in her preservative-free products, recyclable packaging, and refill options. “This Stuff Goes Bad is all about throwing out the idea that what goes on our bodies should be any less safe than what goes in it,” she says. Her all-natural products include two different body butters - one for daytime and one for night use - and she can see the business scaling up in the future.
“I think the pandemic will have lasting effects, so I want to continue with this business for as long as I can,” she says. While right now she is continuing her dance training online and is always looking out for virtual auditions, she intends to continue the business at the same time as pursuing her dance career well into the future. “There are so many dancers that I look up to that have juggled dance with school, or work, or children - I'm certain I would find a way to make it work,” she says.
Anna Chorneyko - syn(aesthetic) sets
“What started as a fun quarantine hobby, has led to something unimaginable for me,” says Anna Chorneyko, the founder of tie-dye clothing company syn(aesthetic) sets. In the early months of quarantine, Anna turned to tie-dye for a creative outlet, utilizing her synesthesia to inspire her creations. “Synesthesia is a neurological condition that I have which allows me to unconsciously attach very specific shades of color to numbers, letters, days of the week, names, and even music,” she says. Her cozy, hand-dyed “sweat sets” include shorts, sweat pants, t-shirts, and sweatshirts inspired and named after months and days of the week.
Having studied both dance and public relations at Loyola Marymount University, Anna has always been interested in business, but, Anna says, “while I've envisioned myself owning a company, I thought that this would come later in my dance career.” Just before the pandemic, she had actually booked her “dream job” - a commercial with Lady Gaga - and “felt like all of the momentum I had yearned for just ended.” Despite the disappointing impact on her dance career, starting this business has allowed her to continue flexing her creativity without it being overwhelming. Anna now intends to continue the business beyond the pandemic, including releasing a silk collection this spring. “I have so many exciting plans, but right now I'm taking it day by day,” she says, “I know in my heart that I'm meant to be on stage. This pandemic is just my little ‘intermission’ and I believe Act II is going to be incredible.”
"I know in my heart that I'm meant to be on stage. This pandemic is just my little ‘intermission’ and I believe Act II is going to be incredible." - Kelly Allen
Madisyn Maniff - MAXOUT by Madi
At the beginning of the pandemic, with gigs and auditions canceled, Madisyn Maniff had extra time on her hands. A Body By Simone trainer, she used her fitness knowledge to offer her own style of donation-based workouts over Zoom. Eight months later, “I realized that I had created a community - a wonderful community!,” she says, “I decided to kick it up a notch into a business with a name and platform to grow it even more.”
The MAXOUT by Madi membership community includes four live fitness classes every week as well as on demand content, which combines HIIT, cardio, and toning to create Madi’s signature fitness workout. While Madi has taught fitness classes alongside her dance career before the pandemic, she had always thought of that work as a side hustle. “If it weren’t for this pandemic, I would have never started my own business,” Madi says, “I used to put fitness on the back burner because I always promised myself that dance would come first. However, I have allowed myself to veer off my ‘planned’ track and hop into something different.”
Though dance will always be her first priority, while the industry is stalled she’s allowed herself to explore how much further her fitness coaching can expand. “I plan to grow this platform even more and reach even more people, to one day become a full-time running platform where I can hire more trainers and build the team,” she says, “Dance isn’t going anywhere, but I am excited to experience my new adventure!”
Kelly Allen - K Design Co.
As the early weeks of the pandemic forced dancers inside and away from their usual creative outlets, Kelly Allen searched for other ways she could be creative - and make an income - at home. “I saw many friends getting out of their comfort zones & trying new things and I thought, this is good for me,” she says, “I have nothing to lose and only a new skill to gain!” Excited for a challenge, she taught herself jewelry making for the first time and K Design Co. was born. Specializing in dainty, lightweight earrings, “the start of the business was a bit trial and error... seeing what styles of earrings people were drawn to,” Kelly says, “Now I feel in a bit of a flow, so I'd like to continue to play with designs and change out styles each season.”
While she looks forward to how the business could grow, Kelly isn’t putting too much pressure on it. After 15 years working in the dance industry in LA, she intends to continue that career path, while riding the ebbs and flows of these unpredictable times. “I think continuing to be open to new skills, new side hustles, and opportunities is important and will be helpful to cushion times like these... both financially & emotionally,” she says, ”I imagined the business as a side hustle, but I think the one thing the pandemic has taught me the most is to stay open to possibility!”
Aleksia Hill - Snatched Juices
For commercial dancer Aleksia Hill, the pandemic has given her the time and space to find more than just a side hustle. With her company Snatched Juices, she’s been able to bring a long-held vision to life. “Being a dancer/athlete I know the importance of taking care of our bodies while constantly being on the go,” she says. By providing nutritious, fresh juices for delivery and pick up in LA, “we want people to enjoy what they are putting into their bodies and feel their best!”
The small business idea was spurred from Aleksia’s lifelong affinity for healthy eating. “I was the kid that hated chocolate, cake, and all of the junk. When I had sleepovers I would ask my Mama to cut up fruits and vegetables,” she says, “That carried on through adulthood and I found a true love for the art of juicing.” Since starting the company, Aleksia has created an extensive menu of juices and shots, juice cleanses, and membership options for frequent customers.
While she has definite long-term plans for Snatched, Aleksia intends to continue pursuing her dance career alongside building the company. “I think as dancers we can be so process-oriented and we see nothing but training, auditioning, and booking the next job,” she says, “The pandemic has really opened my eyes to continuing to keep my options open, and if anything, has pushed me even harder to never give up!”
Dancers everywhere have had to rely on something they do best: being creative.
It’s obvious that performance opportunities throughout the dance industry are still inconsistent almost a year after the onset of the pandemic. While productions attempt to create COVID-safe environments and we wait for vaccinations to be widely accessible, this could be a perfect time to explore ideas and new or old skill sets that you haven’t had the time for while pursuing a dance career. The dancers profiled above are clearly not giving up their dance careers, rather finding more purposeful side hustles and small businesses that they truly enjoy doing alongside their dancing. Dancers are by nature multi-hyphenates, and nothing says we can’t pursue multiple passions at once, so this is your sign to do that thing you’ve been wanting to do - your dance career will always be there.