This Ballet Dancer Needed a Side Hustle When the Pandemic Stopped Performances. So She Spun Her Unique Skill Set Into a 6-Figure Business. Danielle Schulz, founder of corporate wellness company The Triangle Sessions, used her background in hospitality, tourism and holistic fitness to her advantage.
- Schulz started offering virtual corporate wellness and team events to combat the isolation caused by Covid-19.
- Although she's returned to her first love dance, she continues to work on her business alongside it — and has no plans to stop.
This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features Danielle Schulz, a ballet dancer at the Metropolitan Opera and founder of The Triangle Sessions, a corporate wellness company offering company retreats, interactive wellness classes and team-building events. She is based in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
Image Credit: Devin Cruz.
You'd been a dancer with the Metropolitan Opera since 2014 when Covid hit. How did your life and work change in those early days of the pandemic, and when did you know it was time to supplement your income with a side hustle?
When Covid hit, I was in the middle of Die Fliegende Hollander and was slated to perform in Turandot a few weeks later. I had nurtured positions teaching fitness and ballet at New York City studios, which I continued via Zoom to stay financially afloat. However, I was also three months pregnant, and my husband was a full-time student. I had to get creative quickly. One of the first social impacts of Covid that everyone struggled with was isolation. It gave me the idea to start offering corporate wellness and team events to help employees stay connected in the newly virtual workplace.
How did your professional background inspire you to launch The Triangle Sessions? How did that skill set translate to your entrepreneurial journey?
I graduated in 2009 from NYU Tisch with a dance degree and a minor in art history. It was a terrible time to graduate, especially with an arts degree. I turned down an apprenticeship with a small ballet company to perform as a dancer on a cruise ship and travel the world. Believe it or not, this was simply the more practical approach at the time. I was able to give up my New York City apartment, live expense-free and save money. This experience served as a crash course in travel and tourism, something that would come into play 10 years later when organizing a large-scale retreat for a national law firm.
After my cruise ship contract, I danced with a small contemporary company while waiting tables at high-end restaurants. It was the New York City restaurant scene that provided excellent training in wine, spirits and food pairings. Like the cruise ship, I learned the value of customer service and how to connect with a wide variety of people. Waiting tables still goes down as the hardest job I've ever had, but it was too physically demanding while dancing.
When I got my break at the Metropolitan Opera, a dream job for years, there was a catch…it still wasn't full-time. So, I had to supplement my income in a way that would be easier on my body. I became a certified yoga teacher, certified nutrition counselor and Ballet Beautiful trainer for celebrity clients. All of these skills allowed me to share a deeper understanding of the human body with a wide range of people. It set me up beautifully for teaching corporate wellness.
For years, I continued to perform at the Metropolitan Opera while juggling a slew of part-time work. It wasn't until my aunt, a former ballroom champion and long-time business owner, told me something that I'll never forget: "Dani, you already have the mentality of an entrepreneur in the way you support yourself. You have multiple income streams. Figure out how to work for yourself, not other people, so that you can share your knowledge on your own terms." It was a lightbulb moment that got the wheels turning. It took a pandemic and a layoff from the Met Opera to pursue the endeavor full-time.
What was your vision for The Triangle Sessions, and what were some of the first steps you took to get it off the ground?
I wanted to implement the knowledge I developed in my professional dance career around healthy habits and performing at one's best. I wanted to replicate the camaraderie I had experienced in the dance world through high-quality, purpose-driven experiences and apply it to the corporate world.
When Covid first hit, I offered virtual wellness classes….yoga, meditation, desk stretching, etc., always with some type of social component. No one was interested. People just wanted alcohol and happy hours. I started incorporating educational wine and sake tastings WITH corporate wellness, and suddenly, there was interest! I found a fantastic vendor to help put together high-quality experience kits (and accommodate some of my wacky requests, like combining foam rollers with bottles of Prosecco and gourmet snacks), and I hit the ground running.
Related: Side Hustles for These Times
How did you approach continuing to build, and what does your revenue look like?
Initially, the vast majority of business came from my own network, referrals and word-of-mouth. After some time hosting virtual team-building and wellness events, I became a small fish in a large pond. So, I partnered (and still continue to partner) with larger team-building event companies in which my services are offered. They have a dedicated sales team, and it provides steady revenue, all while nurturing my own clients and relationships. Annual revenue for 2022 was $110,000.
What were some of the biggest challenges along the way, and how did you navigate those?
The biggest challenge is trying to anticipate the needs of organizations and their employees without straying too far from our own mission. Employee well-being and community are at the backbone of The Triangle Sessions. I keep an open mind and experiment to see where there's interest. In 2020, happy hours were in vogue. This last year it's been all about wellness and creativity. Luckily, I enjoy this process and love having an open dialogue with clients to learn about their needs. Many of our signature events, like our Build-A-Terrarium workshop, which combines plant care with self-care, have been inspired by client requests.
Personally, I've struggled to find the balance between running The Triangle Sessions and wanting to continue to dance. Dance is my first love, my identity since I was three years old. I returned to the Met Opera part-time in 2021 and scaled back on the number of productions I usually perform to focus on building The Triangle Sessions. However, keeping my foot in the door at the Met sometimes leads to losing momentum. It's a risk I'm willing to take for now since I have the best of both worlds. Martha Graham once said, "A dancer dies twice—once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful." These words ring true, but I'm grateful to be building another satisfying career around community, connectivity and high-quality performance.
Do you have any advice for other professionals who want to start a side hustle or full-time business?
Lean into your strengths. Learn your core values. Reflect on what makes you different. From there, assess how these skills can benefit others and bring out the best in communities. It may take a bit of experimentation and creativity, but the process can be surprisingly satisfying. Sometimes, you just need to start somewhere and see what happens. Celebrate the small wins and run (or dance!) at your own pace.