Happy Birthday Ascendance
Happy Birthday Ascendance! We started classes on 9/24/2018 but this whole week has been one big celebration for us!
I can’t believe you’re turning a year old. We have much to celebrate and have accomplished so much with that time. It’s been an incredible honor to be a part of building something so big, something so special, and something we can all be proud of. I thought this would be an appropriate time to put some of my ramblings together and share a little bit about how this thing came together.
If we haven’t met yet, hello! I’m Tara Steed, founding member, Board Secretary, Program Director, and I teach a few classes. When you call, email, or interface with someone online in one of our many channels, it’s likely me you’re chatting with (but you’ll soon see Ascendance is much more than me!). I am responsible for much of the studio operations and business-y things, curriculum and programs, and managing our staff. I work closely with my partner and Executive Director Maggie Nation, get an immense amount of help in the financial/accounting department from Catherine Budinger, and much of our social media is organized by Kirstie Chan. Annalisa Mai helps lead and run our Scholarship Program, and Tram Le wrangles our Workstudy Program. It’s takes many hands to make this thing go, and there are many more to thank for their invaluable contributions.
But back to how we got started - I vividly remember sitting down with Maggie and Cynthia at a dessert shop in Seattle’s Chinatown in early 2018, talking about a crazy idea we had. I was very pregnant, it was dark and cold out. I’m sure I had a mango smoothie (mangos were my pregnancy craving).
In the weeks prior to this meetup, we were talking about renting a small space to put up some poles in and share with friends. At first, it was a group of 5-6 of us, then we wanted to invite a few other pole instructors we knew, and then it was a few more dancers, until we realized that we were basically just talking about a studio at that point. That’s what brought us to this conversation.
“Should we do this thing? Would it be insane to think about starting a studio? Could we build a true community?”. We are each true realists and knew this was not a decision to take lightly, and that it would require a huge commitment from all of us. I think deep down, we each knew what the answer was before the questions were even asked. After some fruitful conversation, we agreed to give this a shot and to start planning. As we enjoyed our sweet treats, we knew we had just agreed on the birth of something incredibly special.
The summer before this meeting at a Pole Unbound retreat, I had many conversations with studio owners and long-time pole veterans who all seemed to voice the same concerns: Studios thrive when community is its heart. Studios collapse when the weight of running that studio burns out the owner. It was evident early on that the key to building a successful community for the long term was to start building it WITH a community. It was also evident we needed to bake in a structure that would support the studio’s leadership and not burn anyone out. Community and teamwork were to be the foundation in which we build this new thing.
After our meeting, we began to share our idea and meet with like-minded people. We talked through many iterations of this studio. Each meeting we had seemed to pick up a few more excited participants. It was clear from the start that it didn’t make sense for us to go with a traditional business model. We talked through Co-Op Models, a Multiple Owner model, traditional LLCs, and Non Profit structures. We wanted to have a more distributed leadership team, to be community-focused, and for this organization to have longevity. After evaluating all we had in front of us, we decided collectively to set up as a non-profit, as this model would keep the focus on benefiting everyone equally, while also building on the community-focused intention.
We got together as a group to ask some hard questions. We whiteboarded, soundboarded, each took on copious amounts of research to understand what it would take to make this successful, and finally we created a business plan. It was fun and exciting, and still very much conceptual! And then Candace found it - THE place. The future home of Ascendance. It was perfect. Tall ceilings, perfect street front location, a wonderful and supportive landlord, and it ticked all the other requirement boxes. A space like this doesn’t come along often, if ever at all. It was time to act.
What was first a maybe 2019 or 2020 goal and a slow, steady build, was now a decision we had to act on immediately. Spring of 2018 was a flurry of activity. Shortly after giving birth to my son, I filed for our business license and drafted our Articles of Incorporation. I remember having my new son Felix on my chest as I made those initial phone calls and filings.
Next, we carefully selected our initial Board of Directors and started more serious planning. Not long after that, we signed our lease and started designing our studio space, picking out poles and apparatuses, and selecting building materials. By June, we had the keys and were starting demo and construction. Just a few short months later, Ascendance opened its doors.
It has been a true whirlwind, and I am immensely proud of what we’ve achieved so far. We’ve built a true organization with over 25 staff, instructors, and volunteers in less than a year. We offer 40 classes a week, host monthly workshops, setup a Workstudy Program, launched a Scholarship Program, created a Holding Space program, hold Community Events, and do so much more. We have more ideas than hours in the day, and the potential is enormous!
It’s not all sunshine and roses, and we’ve had some hard months, some overwhelming challenges, and many, many growing pains (ouch!). Through it all though, we’ve stayed dedicated to learning, growing, and continuing to lift each other up and to trust that we can rely on each other’s strengths in good times and bad. Each day brings a new learning opportunity, a new curve ball, new things to consider… and with that new ways to learn, grow, and get bigger, better, and more efficient.
Many people will advise you not to go into business with friends. I actually feel quite honored that my friends share this very special thing with me. It’s definitely not easy, but the payoff is so worth it. Our friendship and mutual respect is our strength, it’s what gives our studio heart. It also let’s me see and appreciate all new facets of these beautiful women. Each person on this team gives me more than they know, and I appreciate each one of them for the grace, forgiveness, and trust they each give me as I learn to grow as a leader. I am so thankful and appreciative of all they give and sacrifice to make this beautiful thing work. It’s been a huge year of personal discovery and growth for me, and I have the studio and all it’s wonderful people to thank for so many revelations. I’m looking forward to growing more and to giving back to this place and the people that have helped me along the way. I hope the studio is that for many others too. A life-changing place where magic happens, where discovery is made,and where real self love happens.
I am so excited for all that year 2 will bring Ascendance. I am so grateful for each one of our clients and the trust you have placed in us. So here’s to us Ascending into year 2! Go Ascenders!
Here’s some fun behind the scene photos leading up to our opening last year to commemorate how far we’ve come. <3