It's our one year anniversary… ish. It has resonance in truth but but it’s all a bit blurry as Covid prevented any big official openings (although we had planned for end of April), and in truth it actually prevented us completely finishing for some time after.
We did, however, have our brand launch party on 25th April last year when we unveiled our new name, and 50 of us (in early lockdown delirium) put on our glad rags and did the twist on Zoom. I’m counting that moment as the official birth of Sandwickhill Studios! Last night we celebrated our first birthday party with an online cocktail party and, yes, we twisted again ... like we did last summer.
So here’s how our first year went!
What's been great?
The community! Without a doubt the online community we created and nourished over the past year has kept me going through it all. What was filled with doubt initially, has become a source of comfort and joy. Familiarity and friendship at a time when everyone seemed very far away. I’ll always be grateful to those who trusted me enough to just jump on board last Spring. Truthfully it brings a tear to my eye. Thank you to those of you who believed in me and our dream and signed up to come to online classes, not knowing what they’d be like, or if you’d enjoy them or how long it would be. I totally believe the whole country went through a period of madness, so thanks for sharing that with me!
Having a dream come true!
My dad was a mechanic and we had a garage when I was little. It was a very high ceilinged building with big stable doors and high windows that started half way up the building. Everything in there was tinged with oil and there was sawdust on the floor, but I remember being small and at the rare moments when it wasn’t full of cars, I’d dream it was my own dance studio.
I forgot for many years but when we started thinking about building again it seemed familiar, this idea of a high ceiling dance studio of my own, like the idea had always been lurking there at the back of my mind, buried with other childhood dreams.
Over the past few years the dream has become clearer and clearer. I’d fall asleep imagining all the little details, people coming and going, the sound of music through the building, the dance studio smell (yes it’s a thing - lycra, leotards, sweat, unknown magic?). Seeing that come true made it all worthwhile.
One of my favourite things right now is sitting at the front desk as classes are arriving. Seeing all the wee ones running in in their dance gear, the mums chatting (socially distanced of course) around the door, the tinkle of ballet music from one studio, the bass from the other studio as the dancers warm up). Just sitting and taking it in and feeling the buzz and the love. The realisation that yes, we did need 24 parking spaces!
Oh man, I’m almost set off crying again!
I’m a self-employed only child and an introvert, so it’s easy for me not to be in contact with many people. I’m used to working alone, bad at delegation, could do better at communication, a slight control freak and awkward at small talk.
Despite all that I always knew Sandwickhill Studios was never just about me working alone. When brainstorming names these ideas came up “Kirstie’s School of Dance”, “Kirstie’s studio”. But Sandwickhill Studios was always about the community - providing a specialist dance and fitness locally, and a much needed place for other instructors to hire. My own business was always about employing a wide range of instructors to provide variety and fill in skill gaps.
Over the past few months we’ve had 16 different teachers delivering classes for Sandwickhill Studios. I’m still blinking reading that.
I’m no longer teaching 30 classes a week (what on earth was I thinking???? When did I breath?).
I have more time with my kids, I’m home for bedtime more often, and dinner time and weekends (don’t worry, competition season 2022 will put an end to that !).
And for me, that’s the future. Partnership working, creating a well rounded package for both our young dancers and our adult classes, and balancing that with my own family life.
I can’t not mention online…
I love it and hate it.
But I think I love it more than I hate it. Though sometimes I’m not sure.
It was hard learning something new but it was exciting too.
When the technology doesn’t work often there is a lesson to be learned, but sometimes it seems that there is no lesson and no apparent reason, and that’s frustrating.
What started as me and my laptop / phone is now me and a mixer and 2 mics, and 3 box lights, and a camera, and a laptop and an amp. And I find that a lot to deal with.
I’ve enjoyed working in different ways though, and also being able to reach new people who otherwise couldn't have attended class. I see a future in online classes for many reasons - rolling out of bed at 6.30am yoga in the comfort of hour home in the middle of winter definitely beats tackling the dark frosty mornings, not to mention the convenience for those without childcare or living remotely.
I would say I love seeing you guys online, and often I do, but more often than not I see an ankle. My favourite pilates movement is 1 leg circles as I usually see lots of feet for that one, which is better than just seeing the sofa behind you.
Part of my introverted self finds a comfort of hiding on this side of the camera. I can walk out of shot for a breath or to fix my hair. I can switch off my mic if I’m going to sneeze. I can pretend I’m really confident, when I feel anything but.
I can sit for a moment between classes, unseen.
But none of this makes up for the lack of bodies in front of me to teach, and the interaction and laughs and feeling the vibe in the room.
What’s been hard?
Sometimes it’s just 10 little black boxes staring back at me and I wonder if anyone is actually out there…
I missed not having a real launch party. I missed not having any buzz about the opening. I'd always imagined it would be a fresh start and a way to attract people who had never considered coming to our classes before, who would be drawn in out of curiosity and enticed to sign up when seeing our beautiful new studios.
In reality it feels like a huge secret. When parents drop off their kids they're not allowed in the building. Our cosy reception area, which I'd pictured full of people, is empty. The reduced class sizes mean we don't always have space for anyone new, and we prioritise these spaces for our current members. I worry that we've missed that special sparkle that draws people to a new business or venture.
7 moments of my first year that have made me just STOP, filled with wonder and awe and love
The first yoga class back in the studio - just that moment of “ah - this is what I’ve been missing”. I can’t explain it… an energy, a feeling, a togetherness.
Christmas (of course) - I loved our first Christmas in the studio. What a vibe - what a buzz. From the Christmas shopping day when the place was bustling (with socially distanced) shoppers and local businesses, to the Christmas crafting days - tea, and adult company, what’s not to love? Christmas Zumba, parties with the kids, trees and fairy lights and paper snowflakes, and watching the Nutcracker on the big screen.
Online events - these have been such a saviour for me. You might have been able to tell but they got me buzzing each time. People sometimes ask how I stay motivated and avoid burnout and things like this really help. Having something, anything, to look forward to, to dress up for, to get excited about. The rave night - I was absolutely high as a kite on endorphins. The 70s disco - I curled my hair for flipsake and wore a pair of heels, and sunglasses - inside in February... on my own! The hoedown back in June, the Irish night with Cheggs and his Riverdance debut.
Seeing the seasons for the first time - over the past year I've had the joy of witnessing the studio in all weathers from inside and out, and I'm regularly surprised as it's all new. Over the years I'm sure I'll stop noticing, but for now it's all new... How dark it felt when there was snow on the veluxes. The joy of the disco ball in winter evenings. How you can see the sunrise through the window and reflected in the mirrors so it's almost like a double sunrise. How the evening light hits the wooden floor, just so. The sun trap at the front door. The shadows of sheep wandering the field as the sun sets.
Closing up - in the evening when all the kids have gone and the online classroom has been closed down, and I'm in the building on my own, I wander from room to room, checking the lights are off, enjoying the peace. I stop and I look at what we've created and I feel really proud and always, very, very grateful.