Running a business in uncertain times is like twirling your skirt

Written by Josie Palermo, Director Melbourne Bellydance in partnership with Strut Entertainment Group, Co-owner of Higher Spaces and Director, Geared for Growth

 

In Melbourne, it has been a tough time for the entertainment industry. When the first signs of a lock-down were evident, we took a really long breath in, and then out…and then put in contingencies to ride the wave of disruption and uncertainty. We thought we had it right; we created new online offerings and invested in the infrastructure to provide our students with the best dance experience we could. We got together on virtual community calls and laughed and drank wine. We thought, “we’ve got this”! Then the set back of a second Lockdown approached, and we took in another deep breath… 

During this very strange time of uncertainty, I often feel both optimistic and pessimistic. I err on moving forward which means taking calculated risks, and investing in, rather than contracting, my business efforts. I focus on challenging myself to be relevant in the new normal, whilst hoping that I’m going in the right direction before I have to change, pivot and twirl again!

For the performance side of the entertainment businesses, it was a disaster. Clients who had booked bellydance performances first postponed them, then cancelled. On the easing of restrictions, calls from clients started to trickle back in and now have stopped completely. 

For the dance tuition side of the business, the dance community kept buoyant via online performances for each other (thanks to fantastic initiatives like Lockdown Caberet via Instagram lives) and many online workshops with dancers all over the world (a special thanks to Jrisi and Jillina). 

My business partner Kristina Finnie (Kiki) from Strut Entertainment Group went like a bull in a china shop once she got into action. She researched what she needed and then totally revamped the technology in the studio in such a short time. She personally iinvested in new digital technology to provide a multi-camera high-quality experience for students who were now solely learning online. There were teething problems as the technology got bedded down but we kept going. We planned for new online services and products, and in our second Lockdown of the year are still here and still teaching!

Our friends see this and think we are brave, and say “well done” for our innovative drive and perseverance. I am grateful to have a business partner I trust and love like Kiki, because at times I am not brave, but scared.

And at times, she is scared, and I can be brave. Sharing the burden of uncertainty relieves the burden somewhat.

Going brave into the future with so many unknowns reminds me of how I feel when I dance. When I dance I throw my whole body in, and hope to execute my movement well enough to land back on two feet. There is no time to doubt whether I will or not. I twirl, leap and land, and then leap again. But the twirling and leaping bring me so much joy that it’s unfathomable to think about stopping just so I can be more certain on my feet. If that were the case there would be no highs in my movement and no excitement or surprises.

Perhaps doing business right now is a lot like dancing: you need to throw your whole body in and then land on your feet.

Note, I’m not advocating for blind faith and a lack of discipline. Leaping and twirling is well executed because of my many hours of training and conditioning. Both Kiki and I have spent 1000s of hours studying and performing cultural dance. Pivoting in business requires the same sort of discipline and effort. It requires taking calculated risks rather than leaps of fancy. You need foresight and strategy to know where your feet should land, and adaptability to redefine your services as you go.

The Brazilians have a saying that perfectly describes the courage it takes to pivot in the face of uncertainty; “Roda a Bahiana”. It basically translates to “I twirl my skirt”.

My Portuguese colleague (thank you Stephanie Silva!) described it this way “a Bahiana is typically someone who was born in Bahia, Brazil. The Bahianas are famous for amazing food, and a beautiful, colourful and culturally rich society of people. The typical dress of the Bahianas is layers of white or colouredl skirts – and traditionally, many follow Candomblé (Portuguese pronunciation), “dance in honour of the gods”. When they dance for the gods, they typically twirl in circles with speed and ferocity. So in Brazil, you say ‘Roda a Bahiana” when you mean I’m just getting stuff done, (like in a Nike ‘Just Do It’ sort of way), even when you don’t know what’s in front of you.

For Kiki and I right now, doing business during the Covid-19 pandemic means we are frantically and ferociously twirling our skirt – Roda a Bahiana! If you’re inspired to twirl your skirt too, here’s some music to get you started!

 

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