The world is full of extraordinary women doing extraordinary things in endlessly variegated ways that enrich the whole fabric of humanity, and it is an immense privilege to shine a spotlight and glean insights from even just a small fraction of those women. November is National Entrepreneurship Month, and November 17 is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day—making it a particularly fitting time to speak with entrepreneurial women who are breaking the mold, blazing their own trail, solving problems and building bridges through business.
This month, I spoke with Tyde-Courtney Edwards, a classically-trained ballerina-cum-entrepreneur (what a combo!) and the force behind Ballet After Dark, a dance therapy program for Black girls and women seeking trauma recovery and community. With a holistic approach centered on reestablishing a positive relationship with your own body, Edwards’ dance studio has helped countless women rediscover themselves while also offering counseling, financial literacy training and more—whatever her students need to rebuild.
I sat down with Edwards to learn more about what she’s doing as well as her unique path to entrepreneurship.
Liz Elting: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Ballet After Dark, and how it came to be?
Tyde-Courtney Edwards: My name is Tyde-Courtney, I’m from Baltimore City, and I’m in a constant state of evolution. I’m a dancer, choreographer, social innovator, survivor and most known for being the Founding Director of Ballet After Dark—an organization that provides trauma-informed care, holistic resources and somatic interventions to Black youth and women in Baltimore City. I founded this organization as a result of recognizing the lack of prevention and recovery resources centered around women that looked like me: Black women. I was searching for a community to heal with, and there was nowhere for me to go.
Elting: Can you talk about your entrepreneurship journey? What was the transition like from classically trained ballerina to founding a business? Did you have any business experience before founding Ballet After Dark? How did you get started and what have you learned along the way?
Edwards: I consider myself a late bloomer in many elements of entrepreneurship, but I’m okay with that because I’m constantly learning something new. The transition definitely wasn’t easy. Nothing in my background was remotely close to entrepreneurship or business management. In between auditions and performances, I was a resident dance teacher for various schools in Baltimore City. I had zero business experience and no college degree. However, I had experience pushing myself, and I understand now that the grit, ambition and determination necessary to show up to ballet auditions prepared me for this journey.
I got started in business because I was trying to bridge the gap between trauma experiences and safe, trauma-informed spaces that focused on somatic interventions. I learned very quickly that I’m stronger than I think and smarter than I know. There were no options for me as far as mentors or proof of concept because what I was creating didn’t exist, so it was often called “risky and unnecessary.” I had to take jobs in non-profit spaces to learn how to write a grant, develop a program, create impact measurements, etc. It was just me and the determination not to feel so isolated from others in my community with similar circumstances.
Elting: How have you scaled your business from a series of community-based, dance therapy workshops to where it is today?
Edwards: Being consistent, persistent and transparent has allowed me to scale. We facilitated a number of listening sessions and did customer discovery to find out what resources the community lacked and created programming and partnerships that filled in those gaps. I also relied heavily on fundraising campaigns and advertising on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. With the Meta ad credits I was given when getting set up on social media, I was able to pilot languages, images, captions and taglines that really helped me understand my audience and customer persona.
As a result, we’ve grown from a dance therapy workshop to an organization with four core programs, a board of directors and a volunteer base of more than 20 community members.
Elting: How did you adapt your business during the pandemic? What business lessons did you learn from it?
Edwards: During the pandemic, we had to make the decision to transition our resources to virtual platforms. We used Zoom and Facebook Live to stream dance therapy classes and group mental health therapy. We also used Instagram to connect with an arts organization in Mexico City to pilot a one-time international project providing virtual resources to marginalized women from the trans, Indigenous and Afro-Latina communities with the support of a translator.
The pandemic was an opportunity for me to realize how I could scale resources by leveraging social media and other technology. I’m currently in the process of launching BAD Studios, which is a web and mobile-based platform offering virtual dance therapy labs.
Elting: Did the transition to remote, online work impact the women and girls you work with? I can imagine that was a jarring change, especially for something so focused on body and presence as dance, but with the added weight of trauma on top of it, it must have been challenging. What adaptations had to be made to continue to provide this valuable service in an effective way?
Edwards: It definitely wasn’t an easy transition. We built a community for survivors that came to rely on our in-person classes as safe spaces. Stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic also meant that some of our survivors would be forced to continue to share space with their abusers.
One adaptation made was beginning virtual classes with check-ins and intention settings. We would let the energy of the group guide our virtual classes, which meant that some days we would learn stretches to release trauma stored in the hip flexors or we would simply journal. We always meet our survivors where they are, and we reinforce that any emotional episodes are always handled with grace and care.
Elting: What advice would you give women who want to start their own venture, especially those who aren’t sure where to start or who feel like they don’t have the necessary business experience?
Edwards: You’re smarter than you think, and you’re stronger than you know. In a world of “no,” you create a “yes”—if you build it they will come.
I didn’t graduate from college, and I didn’t have the dance career I trained half my life for, but I did have the lived experience of navigating unfriendly mental health resources and uninterested law enforcement during my healing journey. I let the feelings of hopelessness and solitude motivate me to have an impact by making sure the resource I needed (that didn’t exist) was created with Ballet After Dark.
Pay attention to gaps in access and think of ways to fill them. Leverage the tools and resources readily available to you that can help connect you to the audience you’re trying to reach—tapping into the connectivity of the digital space with platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Zoom can be low cost, and in my experience, it’s been key to growing my business in exciting new ways. Lastly, volunteer with organizations doing work you aspire to be a part of and ask questions!
Elting: You’ve really hit the nail on the head. In my own experience in business, I too have found that entrepreneurship is about identifying gaps and building bridges that cross them, especially in the areas that you’re most passionate about. With that in mind, what animates you? What drives you?
Edwards: I have very high energy, but I truly love moments of calm and stillness. I’m driven by the opportunity to validate the careers of dance therapists and somatic practitioners. I’m also really animated by love; it’s really nice to feel healed enough to experience being in love.
Elting: What does dance therapy offer to women and girls who have survived serious trauma?
Edwards: Dance therapy blends the benefits of movement with somatic intervention, basically developing a deeper connection between the mind and body by learning movement techniques to unlock muscle tensions due to trauma stored in the body. Dance and physical activity are directly related to the body’s emotional interplay. Simply put, it’s a fundamental form of expression. It’s been scientifically proven to reduce levels of cortisol associated with chronic stress and trauma. Joyful movement also causes the brain to release dopamine and endorphins, boosting the mood and relaxing pain.
Elting: What does it mean to you, as a survivor, to reconnect with your body?
Edwards: To me, it means reconnecting with my femininity and womanhood. The person I was prior to survival didn’t exist any longer, and I needed to rebuild a relationship with who I was going to be moving forward. There was no hope for intimacy for myself with this part of my journey.
Elting: I’ve seen quite a bit about racial discrimination within classical ballet, and considering your organization’s commitment to providing Black women a place of healing and community, to what extent has that discrimination informed the foundation and mission of Ballet After Dark?
Edwards: When you think about ballet in the political context, it was created for the upper echelons of European society. Poor people and certainly people of color were not considered when the discipline was being created.
When I was 17, I went to audition at a prestigious ballet school in the DMV area (D.C., Maryland and Virginia) and was told they didn’t offer hip-hop before I even had a chance to sign in. I learned very young that my body meant that I would never be cast in certain roles and hearing “no” more than I heard “yes” compelled me to center on Black youth and women.
Elting: Ballet After Dark also offers financial literacy and self-defense workshops alongside mental healthcare. How do those interact with the organization’s primary dance-based mission? How do they all operate together as one holistic approach?
Edwards: It’s not uncommon for survivors to find themselves completely disconnected from their livelihoods. We have a holistic approach to providing resources to our community because we understand that trauma can leave survivors feeling disconnected from their bodies and alter emotions, as well as change behaviors and routines. We’re interested in the whole person being nurtured throughout their healing journey.
Elting: Thank you so much for your time and insights. Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
Edwards: We rely on the generosity of community members far and wide to help us make these resources accessible to survivors in need. If you’re moved by our mission, then please consider visiting our website at www.balletafterdark.com, or following us on Instagram at @balletafterdark and Facebook at www.facebook.com/balletafterdark, to learn more about our work.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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