Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Women Who Took The Plunge: Featuring Jennifer Ludlam

This month, Femdenity is celebrating women who took the plunge and decided to start their own business. Our first interviewee is Jennifer Ludlam, the owner of Soul Groove Studio

What kind of business do you own and what is the name? How long have you been open?

The name of my business is Sole Groove Dance Fitness.  We are an adult-centered, fitness-oriented dance studio in Flower Mound, TX.  We just celebrated our first year of business!

So, tell me a little something about yourself. I know you are a wife and a Mom. Did you open your business before or after those big life changing moments? Also, how do you now balance everything?

I met the man who is now my husband on my first day of college!  I graduated from SFA with a BA in Theatre and intended to teach until retirement.  Funny how the plan for your life will happen whether you’re on board at the beginning or not!  We were married a year after graduating and had our son two years later.  While both of those were big, life-changing decisions, they both came very naturally and I knew there were events in my life that had prepared me for both of those choices, so I had the tools I needed and a good dose of faith in both of those decisions.  The studio was a different story.  It was incredibly risky and carried all the emotion of having a child without something tiny to cuddle with when you doubted yourself!  I am constantly seeking balance between life, work, and art.  My husband has now started his own business and I wonder often how it will affect our child.  Will he develop a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit because he’s watched us or will he feel neglected and that we chose our work over him?  It’s an ongoing quest to keep a strong and healthy marriage, a happy and well-adjusted child who knows he’s loved, a growing business, and a professional performing schedule.  Some days I seem to have it figured out and some days I cry in the shower and question myself!  That’s just growing up, I guess!

Your dance studio specializes in belly dance. How long have you been dancing? How did your passion lead to this business idea?

The studio doesn’t actually focus primarily on bellydance.  It’s just a facet of the whole picture.  Bellydance just happens to be my passion!  I’ve danced in one format or another my entire life.  After college, I reluctantly traded in my dance shoes for a yoga mat because there was just nowhere for adults to take a dance class (without having to be in a recital).  When my son was about six months old, I decided that I would be a better mom if I felt better about my body and was doing something for myself every now and then.  I found a yoga studio that offered a bellydance class and it was something that I’d always wanted to try.  I walked in and the ladies were going on and on about my hips being so big.  I was resigned to it by this point and told them I just had to accept it.  They quickly corrected me by explaining that they stuffed things in their dance costumes to pad and accentuate the hips so theirs would look like mine did naturally!  Unbelievable!  I picked up the foundation of the dance relatively quickly and decided I never wanted to stop learning this incredible art.  In no time, I was feeling comfortable with the shape of my body, making new friends, and celebrating femininity in a way I never had before!  I always thought that being feminine meant being high-maintenance.  Even though I’ve always been extremely “girlie” I made great efforts to be as low-maintenance as possible.  Middle Eastern Dance taught me that feminine is strong and glamorous and that, when I’m being myself, I’m stronger than when I’m trying to please everyone.  I started performing pretty quickly after I began classes (probably earlier than I should’ve) and my stage persona was kind of my alter ego.  Now, the two identities have merged to become an artist who is laid back, but professional.  Sweet and strong. Dance did all of this for me and I wanted to share dance with other grown women, so they could experience whatever transformation their lives were calling for.

What made you decide to take the big plunge and open your own business and how did you go about it?

The decision to leave the career I’d worked my whole life for to do something I knew nothing about was the biggest leap of faith I ever took!  It started with my husband’s grandfather passing away and leaving us a very generous inheritance.  We did some fun stuff, paid off all of our debt, gave to some choice charities that were close to our hearts, then left the rest sitting in the bank waiting for us to decide what should be done with it. I was going about my normal business teaching children and thinking that my specific calling in life was to work with kids.  I worked in a low socio-economic school and some of the kids had really heart-breaking stories.  One day, one of my favorite students (I know teachers aren’t supposed to have faves, but it happens sometimes) told me that his dad left in the middle of the night and fled the country to avoid being arrested.  I was devastated for this child, but I guess for the first time, I thought about it from the mom’s point of view.  Dad didn’t tell the kids goodbye.  Mom had to wait for her children to wake up that morning to explain to them that they might never see their father again.  Her income was instantly slashed in half and she had two children to raise on her own.  Just like that.  That’s when it occurred to me that these kids I was trying so hard to rescue were the children of some women who were dealing with a lot of life. Fast forward to the spring semester of that school year.  Awful new principal (it really does make a difference), wild kids and a general toxic atmosphere at work made teaching a burden and took the joy out of my career.  One of my friends sent an email to friends and family announcing that she was beginning her own private counseling practice.  I kept thinking, “She’s my age.  She’s just going for it.”  I guess I thought you had to be a “grown up” to do something like that and this was the final push I needed to take the plunge.  My husband loved the idea and was very supportive, so we got started around February and opened the doors in August of 2010.

What is something you know now that you wish someone would have told you when you first opened?

Remember I planned to teach public school for my entire adult life.   Thus, I never planned on having a lot of money (sad but true)!  When I opened this business, I was so concerned with making everyone happy and I was afraid of coming across as greedy.  I wish someone had told me that it’s ok for people to know that I was trying to make some money as a business.  While money not the driving force behind my decisions, there are definitely some things I would have handled differently had I just relaxed and looked at the big picture!  Now I’m comfortable with the fact that I have to promote this place even in the face of possible rejection and that people expect me to be trying to make a buck!  I still have no intention of becoming wealthy.  If I can maintain a business that is driven by the desire to connect to people and bring people together, I’ll make enough to get by and maybe even enough to give away to those who need it.

A lot of women are interested in joining a place like Sole Groove to take classes like Burlesque 101 or Belly Dance, but are afraid due to how they see their bodies. What would you say to these women, especially Moms?

We do deal with body image issues a lot at Sole Groove.  I’ve found that, while it does slow some people down, once they get in the door, the intimidation goes away.  They see that it’s a welcoming, non-judgemental environment and most women are comfortable pretty immediately after coming in!  What a blessing to go to a place with women who have the same insecurities and struggles and work together to overcome them as a community!  Body image has been an issue for me my entire life (as it is for most women in our society).   I’ve even gone so far as to have Proverbs 31:30 tattooed on my arm so I can be reminded of what makes a woman beautiful.  “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.”   Dance does something to people.  Think about it.  You’re never as hot in your own mind as when you are out on the dance floor!  When ladies are dancing in class, they start having fun and they forget to be self-conscious, critical, and self-deprecating.   They might even catch a glimpse of themselves in the mirror and realize how sexy they look.  Confidence builds from this and it effects every aspect of their lives.  They become better wives, mothers, sisters, and friends because they feel better about themselves physically and emotionally.  When people are hesitant, I usually tell them to look at the instructor.  I remind them that everyone else in the room will be looking at the instructor (not them) and that if they just watch her, they’ll be fine.  It works and it’s so amazing to watch women come in broken and alone and leave with friends, a new support group, confidence, and inspiration.  People come for a workout and they leave with their souls fed.

The past year of owning my own business has been an incredible journey of personal growth for me.  I’ve made connections with so many amazing women and forged friendships with people in different situations.  I’ve learned about compassion, true strength, faith, and living outside of fear.  I didn’t wait until to follow my passion and I wouldn’t change a thing!

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful inspiration for women of all ages. This young lady has a lot of insight and a very generous heart !!