Episode 25 - Community Counts

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Leslie Ferierra began working as a salsa instructor at 3rd Street Dance in 2006 and in 2014 took the leap from employee to owner. Since then she has been building her dream in the form of  community and art. Regardless of age, background or skill, 3rd street dance empowers Leslies community with the art of dance and she’s going to share how she does it.


Instagram: @itsleslieferreira

Website: https://www.thirdstreetdance.com/

Best way to reach her: shesgotmoxy@gmail.com

Host - Dan:
fitDEGREE is more than just two guys with microphones. It is the studio management software you've been looking for. For more info, reach out to me on our website at www dot fitDEGREE dot com, on Instagram at the handle fitDEGREE, or my email Dan dot Berger, that's B-E-R-G-E-R, at fitdegree dot com to get the conversation started. All right, now onto the show .

Host - Dan:
Hey, hello. How are you, and welcome back to another episode of the fitDEGREE podcast. I'm your host Dan and I'm joined by my cohost Nick. So, ever had a job you really loved? Our guest today liked hers so much, she eventually took it over. Leslie Ferierra began working as a salsa instructor at 3rd Street Dance in 2006 and in 2014 took the leap from employee to owner. Since then, she has been building her dream in the form of community and art, regardless of age, background or skill. 3rd Street Dance empowers Leslie's community with the art of dance and she's going to share how she does it. Thanks so much for coming on the show today, Leslie. I'm really glad you can make it.

Leslie Ferierra:
Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Host - Dan:
Yeah. Awesome. So on that note, you did something a lot of people really don't do. Most people they work for somewhere. If they want to be a business owner, they either leave and start their own business or I don't know what the either would be, but that's usually what people do. So tell me, how did it come about that you ended up going from an instructor to having the opportunity to take over the business?

Leslie Ferierra:
Well, I really was sort of shocked by the whole thing. It was one of those things where I had a job and I was being an employee and I went in to have a conversation with the past owner who was my boss at the time. And she basically let me know that she was ready to retire and that meant that she was going to be letting go of the studio. So it was extremely shocking and actually emotional bwcause I thought, "Man, I have to start all over and where was I gonna go? What was I going to do?"

Leslie Ferierra:
And then I guess there was a certain look in my eye or a certain wonderment to her and then she asked me if I might be interested in possibly taking over the studio and actually being the owner. And at the time it was not even something I had even considered and nor did I think I could do. And yet I thought that would be a phenomenal opportunity. And then I jumped all in and a hope and a prayer later I was actually able to make it happen.

Host - Dan:
That certainly wasn't what you were expecting walking in there. What was that transition like? Was that smooth or was that kind of like, "How can I say no to this?" And then 10 minutes later, "What did I just say yesterday?"

Leslie Ferierra:
I think I'm constantly saying, "What did I say yes to?" Just because there's so many aspects that are ever changing, but in a fun way. Challenge is something I enjoy and change is something I thrive in. So I think that the reality is that at the moment, I knew that it would be a great opportunity, but I think navigating something... The thing that was really challenging is that the business itself had been there for 35 years. So I was jumping into something that had already been established with a very set platform and then I was taking over and wanting to, of course, find my new ideas and my self expression into an existing business. So to be completely honest, what I did for the first year and a half is I didn't share that I was the new owner. I just kept continuing that I was more of like the manager role and I allowed myself to kind of still be in the middle of two places, sort of employee viewpoint as well as now being the owner.

Leslie Ferierra:
What were some things that I'd like to really implement? So I think that was a really great strategy, was not necessarily taking ownership publicly for awhile. Just to allow myself to first of all, discover my role and what my challenges were going to be and some of the things that I wanted to make sure I changed and yet some things I didn't change. And then also not having that pressure of everybody else knowing and sort of, you know, it's like when you make something publicly, people now can kind of filter all their ideas or their wants or wishes on you. So I gave myself that year and a half to really just allow myself to be present in the business. Then it allowed me later to work on the business as I knew where I was. So that was really, I think, a great idea that I chose to do.

Support - Nick:
That was a very clever strategy. Did you get advice on that from someone or did it just seem to make sense at the time?

Host - Dan:
Or did you really like the show Undercover Boss?

Leslie Ferierra:
I feel like I'm still Undercover Boss in many ways because I still... It's so funny, I challenged myself with the concept of like, I'm the owner but I still teach some of the same students, which is amazing, from when I was still the employee. So I am always on both sides of the fence and I can relate to my teachers because I was a teacher for so long and yet of course I'm in the business side of the ownership so I need to think practically on certain aspects. So no one really gave me advice on that, to answer your question. It was really just something that I needed to do for myself. It was like a private thing that I wanted to do for me and felt probably intuitively it was best.

Support - Nick:
Yeah, it makes a lot of sense because one thing you mentioned was, okay, well you've been teaching there for X amount of years and you probably never once thought, I mean to some degree maybe, but like, "This is what I would do differently." Or "This is an inefficiency." You were just working your job and then coming to teach and you wanted to dominate what you taught. And now you could sit back and be for a year and a half and observe and be like, "That's an efficient process. That is not an efficient process. This is something I want to change. But how does this play out?" And I think over a year in a business, you can see through all the different seasons and rushes and things like that, of okay, this is what the business looks like now. This is what I want to change.

Leslie Ferierra:
Absolutely. And you know, it's also funny, we always think we know best. As an employee I'm like, "Oh we should do this and we should do that. And I don't know why we're not doing this."

Support - Nick:
"Now being the owner you're like, oh good [crosstalk 00:00:06:03].

Leslie Ferierra:
And on the other side. Yeah, exactly. And a lot of things made more sense. I'm like, "Ah, okay, it completely make sense why this has always been done this way. And then I kept it." But of course maybe finding a more efficient way to do it. And so it also really allowed me to create systems. And I think that's one of the most important things I've done in the business is creating systems and finding ways to automate.

Leslie Ferierra:
I have a son. I'm a new mom. He's going to be three but still considered new mom. And one of the things that was really challenging was taking over a business in 2014 not letting anyone know until a year and a half later and then getting pregnant and having my son in 2016.

Support - Nick:
Oh boy.

Leslie Ferierra:
And so all of it kind of happened back to back to back. And my most important thing that I knew I wanted to do is be with him all day and raise him. And so in order to make that happen as a new business owner I had to find systems and things that work. So again, I think that year and a half was really beneficial because I was able to sit back and find out what were things that I could automate. What were things that we really needed to organize and systemize and what were the things I had to be present for? And that was really really also a great game changer for me.

Support - Nick:
That makes a lot of sense. And you were kind of forced to do that, especially having a newborn at the time. You were forced to really be like... I liked how you put that. What can I automate? What can I delegate? What do I have to be present for? Because there are things you can't get around without losing quality of the brand.

Leslie Ferierra:
Absolutely. For sure. And that was the thing too is I also had to find myself as a brand. So, I have another company. I actually organize the Bachata Festival, which is a very famous Latin dance festival here in Los Angeles. And so I've always had that business and had a certain brand associated with myself as Bachata. And then I have 3rd Street Dance, which has been established for many many years as a ballroom studio. And I had to find a way to take over with allowing the brand to stand on its own and yet bring a little bit of me personally, but without my other brand in. So it was really interesting in that perspective too, to not have myself carry two brands that crossed each other, but how could they partner up and help each other. That was also a very, very good learning curve.

Host - Dan:
So in being involved with multiple businesses, both within the same dance space and the dance community, that definitely had to smooth the process or at least aid in your organization of this festival, right?

Leslie Ferierra:
Well, it's interesting because within the festival I had that first. So the festival and it's a onetime event on two weekends a year, so it's a little bit of a different scope. But organization-wise in terms of staff and whatnot, yes, absolutely. So they helped each other and things that I was doing with my partner in the festival, I was able to go ahead and do that, apply certain things in the studio. And vice versa. So they definitely helped, I would say crossover into each other. But again it's that also, you want each business is its own and it has its own identity. So then there also had to be separate things that weren't working for one that did work for the other. And so you try and you're like, "No, it's not this platform for this specific business."

Host - Dan:
That's awesome. Has the organizing of the festival gotten easy since you've gained other types of perspective from owning a different dance business?

Leslie Ferierra:
I would say absolutely, because they do crossover. And I think what I was forced to do, again in a positive way, was systemize the festival as well. So once I was doing one, I was like, "we gotta do this all across the board." Because again, the festival would also take away time from spending with my son. So I just systemize everything and found ways to actually group things into the same sort of category that both places could be operating effectively. So if I was doing social media marketing on one, I could just create multiple posts with the same concepts and just delegate them into each funnel with its own platform. So it was really fantastic for that too.

Host - Dan:
So a very interesting thing to me that you revealed about 3rd Street Dance. Normally when I hear about these dance studios, specifically ballroom and salsa that have been around for a long time, they're very elite. They train high level dancers and that's their bread and butter. But you told me that regardless of skill, age, background, no matter what, 3rd Street Dance is actually a great place to come for beginners as well. Was it always like that or is that something that you sort of incorporated when you took over?

Leslie Ferierra:
It's always been like that. And to be honest, that's what attracted me so much from back in 2006 to work there. One of the things that is so unique about the studio, its location is pretty much heart of Los Angeles. Right across from the Beverly Center, La Cienega, 3rd Street. It's a very hot intersection. And around there, there are so many businesses. Right across the street is Cedars Sinai Medical Building. So you would get doctors and surgeons and nurses in the ER room by day who would then come over and dance or sometimes they were dancing before their shifts. And so you could just see this transformation takes place in their life. They are leaps and bounds ahead of me in terms of their education of medicine. But yet when they would come in the room, they were completely ready to just be the student and to learn something new that was so engaging and different for them.

Leslie Ferierra:
Our studio is... It prides itself on being a complete beginner. We're also surrounded by many many talented dance studios as well, that offer professional training for the industry professionals. So when people call us, they're like, "I went to a class at this or this or this place. And I felt so out of place because it was their beginner hip hop class and I felt like I was shooting a commercial." I'm like, "I get it." So they come to us and we are truly the person who is a lawyer by day and thought it'd be cool to do a hip hop class with their son or daughter and come to us and actually can keep up with each other. So it was really cool to see people just learn to dance. And that's what I find so inspiring and continues to motivate me to teach people is that you watch them learn a skill that changes their life forever. Undoubtedly.

Host - Dan:
Now do you guys also teach at that very high, very elite level or is it sort of, you begin at 3rd Street and then if you want to pursue past a certain point, you find a professional company, things like that.

Leslie Ferierra:
So we have all levels. What our group classes are for are the beginner, intermediate, advanced dancers. So a lot of our classes, like our salsa level classes, we have those three tiers. And most of our classes we do. But what people will do if they want to go to another level is generally they'll train privately. We have opportunities for people to learn and perform. So again, this is another one of those amazing things that... We do this really fun thing where people will learn to dance and then they'll eventually through their skill level get better. Then they want a challenge. So their next challenge would be get them to perform. So we have these salsa teams and tango and Bachata teams, swing teams, you name it. And what they're doing is getting better by actually performing.

Leslie Ferierra:
And they invite their friends and family and post it all over social media. Check it off their bucket list of something they've always wanted to do. So that's, again, next level.

Support - Nick:
[crosstalk 00:13:29] That's incredible.

Leslie Ferierra:
Well yeah, I mean that's great because again, you're watching somebody from start to finish. And it's not finished, actually, it starts a next level. And then many of those people, we have many students that do go and continue on, be it with us privately or other studios that they try out. I always encourage people to try all kinds of studios and all kinds of teachers because everyone has something to offer and it resonates differently. And I'm flattered because many of them will go out and people like certain things that they like and they know what they like. And so when they come back they'll share, "I went there and I went there. But I really appreciate your style of teaching." And so they come back and I always welcome that because I think it's so important as a student of whatever you're learning, to learn from everyone because you don't know what you don't know.

Host - Dan:
Yeah, absolutely. So another thing is, and that sounds fantastic, that level of community, even across studios where I'm doing air quotes, people that'll be competition really aren't competition. It's whatever's right for the student.

Leslie Ferierra:
Yes.

Host - Dan:
Going along that vein of community. You mentioned a lot of high profile people in medical and legal fields coming in and I'm sure many would imagine there may be a stigma of, I feel like arrogance would be too strong of a word, but people who are highly educated figures in society and you say they come in and they're just ultimately the student and you've worked really hard to create a culture there. Have you ever found any issue with people of all different walks of life coming together as a common community or do those barriers just melt away once they're in the doors and once they're dancing?

Leslie Ferierra:
Definitely not at our studio. If anything I think that's what's so fantastic is everyone comes in there and they're first who they are as a person. There are no labels, there are no prejudgments. There's many many times you don't even know what anybody does in their field until this community develops and you become friends. And then you discover what they've actually been, their career, where they're coming from in life. So that's the one thing we're constantly getting compliments on and it's the one thing I value the most, is everyone's sense of community. The first thing they say is, "I feel like I'm at home here." And it's so cool. People walk up the stairs, they're like, "The vibe in this place is amazing." That's such a flattering thing because I'm all about vibe. And so people feel a family.

Leslie Ferierra:
Just last night, two girls were sharing with me that, she said, "Oh my gosh, I have to thank you. You've given me three amazing things." One was a great sense of hope and confidence because she had come to the studio from a really dark place and her life dramatically changed. Then she found one of her salsa friends that she met in classes, now like her best friend, they call each other sisters. They're super super connected. And she got a brand new job based on communicating in the field of her fellow dancers and then got this amazing job. So she's like, "It's just all stems from your studio."

Host - Dan:
Wow.

Leslie Ferierra:
Yeah. I'm like, "I literally sayevery day it changes people's lives." You know?

Support - Nick:
Yeah. I like to say you got to fulfill the three P's here. Your professional, which is your work life, your personal, which is, for you it would be your family life and then your passion, which is your hobby, your favorite thing to do. And she came to dance to just checked off all three of them in one swoop. That's incredible.

Leslie Ferierra:
Yeah. And she's meeting a new man. I just thought of that too. She's like, "Oh, now that I dance, now I met this cute guy and we're dating." So I was like, "Even better."

Support - Nick:
There's your personal. I was going to say the sister was personal, but that, yeah, that's even better. I could imagine, it's such... I lift weights. Dan plays rugby, and it's a certain type of person that's in there. I would imagine that dance, especially at the beginner level, brings a lot of different walks of life together and because it's something so outside everyone's comfort zone, they don't have a choice but to just be themselves and just be open. That's something you can't be proud, walking into. I can't imagine you'll get very far.

Host - Dan:
You'll get knocked down real quick.

Leslie Ferierra:
Exactly. You hit it right on the nose. That's what's amazing. You come into our beginner class, we rotate everybody so you don't need a partner. So if you walk in and completely partner-less-

Support - Nick:
That's very smart.

Leslie Ferierra:
...you don't have to worry. So we get together. We make a big circle. We rotate every few minutes, so you're meeting these constant people, it's in a way, I don't want to say speed dating cause the dating aspect is taken out, but that concept of change, change, change. And so in the course of an hour you've interacted-

Support - Nick:
What a way to inspire community.

Leslie Ferierra:
Yeah. Because you've interacted with potentially over 10 to 20 people in a matter of an hour. And most of these people, with the world we live, in are on our phones. You would never have even said probably two words to these people. You would've saw them passing by and been on your phone.

Support - Nick:
Yeah, we talk about that a lot, that the opportunity for human interaction is so small nowadays. It's even hard to approach people in person because most people don't want to be bothered in person. So they're using digital platforms to meet in person and it's just, like you said, when is the opportunity you're going to interact with 10 to 20 new people in an hour.

Leslie Ferierra:
Yeah. Yeah. It's amazing. And then again, they continue these, they come back, maybe they stay for two classes or they come back two or three times a week and then these become your new friends. And it's funny, another girl said, it's really actually interesting because her outside salsa friends or outside ballroom friends or tango, they don't necessarily want to come because they're not sure of the world she's engulfed in. And she's constantly wanting to bring them and she has brought a few. But the reality is that she just says, "It's so refreshing that I don't need to try to bring my other friends to this. I can have my time with them and what they like to do and then I can come here completely alone and know that I'm supported by a bunch of people that do what I like to do. And so you just opened this whole world."

Support - Nick:
That's a testimonial.

Leslie Ferierra:
Yeah. Yeah, it's really phenomenal.

Host - Dan:
I think it's great when people have... It's important to have your go-to crew, your social circle, your friends. But I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with having different circles. I have my rugby friends, I have my friends that are my childhood friends, I have friends that I have this interest in common with. And although I see some people that every waking moment is spent with one group of people and on one end I almost envy the closeness you have with that. But at the same time it's got to be awesome to have the diversity. Like this girl is saying there's my outside of salsa friends and then my whole other family. It's like now having not one, not two, three separate families. And that's got to provide an immeasurable level of comfort for your personal wellbeing.

Leslie Ferierra:
Oh, absolutely. And again, that's the most rewarding thing is that you witness this, you see these communities together, you see these people who have family life. Even husbands and wives who have super amazing relationships and strong family bonds come and that's their escape. Either the husband is home with the child or the wife is home with the child.

Host - Dan:
Escape's important.

Leslie Ferierra:
Yeah. And they're like, "It's not my thing. You go." And it's completely supportive and then he or she is performing on one of these teams and the family's all there supporting and cheering on. It's super healthy and super rewarding to watch.

Support - Nick:
Oh yeah. So is this common among these dancers or it that what you feel is the secret sauce of 3rd Street Dance?

Leslie Ferierra:
Well, I would have to say that I've had many people and I can't personally talk about anybody else's experience except what people share with me.

Support - Nick:
Maybe it's the intention of every studio, but you guys feel like you execute it a lot better.

Leslie Ferierra:
Right. And I think it's also the concept of likeness attracts likeness. I'm extremely connected to people. That's what I teach in my classes. I don't necessarily teach the patterns that you would do or the moves, because that stuff you can learn anywhere. But what I teach is connection because that's the basis of all partner dancing. And so I think because that's always been my strength and what I... That's my mission statement is, connection first, everything else later. I think that that's what people generally get.

Leslie Ferierra:
(silence)

Nick DennisComment