This is an inspirational story from Lorna Mackinder-Clark, founder of Leeds Centre for Aerial Arts. She tells us how she launched her business, why she launched her business, and her exciting plans for the future.
Tell us about the journey that led you to launch your business Leeds Aerial Arts…
I started Leeds Aerial Arts in 2013 after being awarded a KICKSTART bursary of £300 from Yorkshire Dance. I had trained in Aerial with Wired Aerial Theatre at university and wanted to share my love of this new and FUN form of exercise. I taught the first class in September 2014 and classes quickly grew into so much more…
Our classes became a place for building strength inside and out, to step out of your comfort zone and get that I-can-do-anything amazing feeling! I love that I get to spend my time with amazing women, cheering one another on, the energy is like nothing else. I opened our first venue in Leeds City Centre in 2018, we quickly outgrew that and moved to a new space (a whopping eight-times the size) in 2021!
What’s been the biggest challenge in business you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Oh gosh the pandemic! – While teaching a class on Monday 16th March 2020, my phone made the dreaded sound of a BBC News alert: ‘People should avoid unnecessary physical contact.’ I looked around the room. My aerialists were supporting one another, giving each other direction, encouragement, physically helping one another to work out the sequence being taught. At the end of the session, I explained the alert. We said our goodbyes. (I encouraged one of the students to look into teaching training during the time away!*), and I knew this was a moment of change.
I went home (and cried) before contacting my team and beginning to form a plan, sure we could teach some sessions remotely, but our specialist equipment was pretty integral to 99% of our classes! There were safety implications to consider, no one had aerial equipment at home, and at this point, I remind you, NO ONE had heard of Zoom! We ran a free taster class two days later. This class helped to give feedback and insight to form our online timetable of activities. We made the decision that our doors would close on the Friday, by which time we had a full weekly timetable of classes ready to go to support our community to continue to train, physically through stretching and strengthening, and mentally by being there for one another as a community. The hashtag #traintogether was formed. That Friday evening the PM announced that Gyms must close, and on Monday 23rd March 2020 the country was ordered to stay at home.
The gang showed up, our army of strong women logged on in their living rooms, in their garages and from their makeshift home offices and rose to the new normal. We offered free challenges, live classes, pre-recorded classes, focused workshops and worked with our clients to keep evolving our timetable to suit their needs, with the focus on using all of this work for not if but WHEN we returned to training in person. I created a complete library of Aerial Hoop tutorials on Patreon so that those with equipment at home could continue their training safely with my knowledge and support.
The financial burden was enormous. We were not given any reduction in our studio costs, and I had a responsibility to my team of instructors to help them as freelancers to keep their income stable. Our client base helped to fundraise £3000 which went straight into our studio rent, with each supporter receiving a limited edition t-shirt as a thank you. This time was challenging, but it showed me that Leeds Aerial Arts is a community, rather than a place. When our clients need us we are there, and in return, they showed up for us.
I think those new to aerial imagine it could be a bit of a ‘fad’ but the loyalty from our clients shows that that is not the case. In Leeds Aerial Arts our clients have found a place to try something new and unique, to succeed in something they once thought impossible, and the ability to consistently move the goalposts and strive for more. In our online classes, they have nourished and cared for their bodies through lockdowns, showed up for themselves and worked as a team. There is always a next level with aerial and the only limit is how far you are willing to take yourself.
If you were to describe your business mantra in three words, what would they be?
Its all about the ‘Can-try attitude’. We don’t care about what you can DO before getting started in a class, just that you turn up ready to give it a try!
What advice would you offer anyone thinking of launching an aerial fitness business?
Get a great venue and get a great team! Finding the right spaces has always been a challenge, we need height and lots of space for our equipment which often comes with a hefty price tag. Especially if you want to make your classes accessible and in a central location.
But above all it is the team. I cannot stress how much love and respect I have for my team. When clients come to class they are stepping out of their comfort zone and so it is integral that my team are inspiring, motivating and sensitive to the feelings of their clients. We find the fine balance between encouraging our clients to challenge themselves and be the best they can be, whilst being approachable, listening to their needs and ensuring that they always feel safe. There is so much trust in this space, Leeds Aerial Arts is really not your average gym!
Talk us through an average business day in your life…
I feel as though after several years in business, I am only just getting to grips with my routine, partly because in a fast growing business things don’t stay the same for long!
An average day for me begins early, I am often at the studio by 8:30am I am fed, I have listened to a podcast or some high-vibe tunes on my drive in and am ready to go! I like to get, what I call, a ‘Power Hour’ done first thing. I put my phone on airplay mode and set a timer to do one hour of uninterrupted work – this is often working through my inbox, or on a list of tasks set the night before. I know the mornings are my most focussed time of day, and so this is how I work best. After a cuppa, i’ll spend some time on a bigger, more in depth task, for example planning a new campaign, or brainstorming for a new class. Switching between mental and physical work in a day can drain my focus, and so I have learnt to structure my time to get the most out of my working day.
People generally start arriving at the studio around 11am which means I switch to tasks which require less focus, before beginning my warm up, playing on the aerial equipment and teaching my lunchtime class. The next few hours are busy, I am chatting to clients, to my team and beavering away in the background. I like to enjoy a big lunch and go for a walk in the afternoons, especially if I am teaching in the evenings. Before the end of the day there is nothing more satisfying for me than ticking the completed jobs off my to-do list and setting a plan for the following day. I do this four days a week so that I can enjoy a long Friday doing my own thing!
It might not work for everyone, but spending some time learning how I work best has helped me to find the balance between productivity and over-working.
Business can be an upward struggle at times, what do you do to stay positive?
It’s all about the people for me, which is why I don’t think I will ever stop teaching. Whatever has happened in a day, teaching a class and chatting to the clients always reminds me of the bigger picture. I have got really clear this year on the ‘WHY’ of my business, and this strong sense of purpose always pulls me back. I am privileged to have a business which helps me to make an income whilst making an impact. I am not sure that my clients realise that they equally have such a positive impact on me!
What is your go to quote when lacking motivation?
I have a Pinterest board full of them! But my favourite at the moment is: “If you have the courage to begin, you have the courage to succeed”
I also enjoy… “Better an oops than a what if!” I don’t know why that always makes me laugh!
How much has social media played a role in the success of your brand?
It has been MASSIVE! A lot of my aeralists find out about us through recommendations from friends and word of mouth. As aerial is so visual, almost everyone who joins a Leeds Aerial Arts class takes photos of their achievements and shares them on their social media. We have over 5,000 posts under #leedsaerialarts on Instagram! I think that the impression could be that aerial is only for dancers or gymnasts… But when people see their friends killing it online, more women think “If they can do it, and they look like me, I can probably give it a good go too!” – They would be right!
How do you want people to feel when they first take part in an aerial fitness lesson?
Whenever I teach a group of new beginners most people arrive feeling nervous, they might not know what they have let themselves in for, and often people are quiet and avoid making eye contact with me! Honestly if I had a pound for every person that said “I am probably not going to be able to do this.” I launch in to break the tension! Within about five minutes of class the mood changes to “Someone grab my camera,” “I didn’t think I would even get off the floor today” and “whats next?!”
I absolutely LOVE teaching beginners for this reason. Everyone leaves that first class having achieved so much more than they thought they would, aerial is sociable so it is a great way to meet people, and there is always a next level, next challenge, next amazing feeling. It’s a real workout, using muscles we don’t often use which means the morning after aches are real! But another reason my clients love this aerial fitness is that it doesn’t FEEL like exercise at the time, moving your body shouldn’t be a punishment, it should be FUN. And my wonderful team are always on hand to make sure that you are training safely and within your limits.
Our readers love to travel, what destination is at the top of your bucket list?
I am obsessed with Scandinavia, I have been to Iceland twice and I have my sights on Norway next. I love the attitude to life and work in this part of the world. I would really recommend the book ‘The Year Of Living Danishly’ by Helen Russell, it makes me want to relocate everytime I pick it up!
What’s next for you and your brand?
We are still within a period of huge growth after opening this larger venue in June 2021. Next I want to meet and work with more instructors, from more disciplines, to bring more inspiration to my amazing community of clients.
I am also working on practicing what I preach and stepping out of my own comfort zone, doing things like this! Sharing my business, our values and welcoming more people to our community.
Where can people find out more about Leeds Aerial Arts?
You’ll get a real sense of who we are from our Instagram feed @leedsaerialarts
To view our timetable and book to begin your aerial adventure visit leedsaerialarts.co.uk