Have you ever felt completely burned out? You’ve been going nonstop toward your goals, and you’re just tired? That’s precisely where Kristin Weissman was in 2009 when her path shifted in a way that changed everything.
At the time, Kristin had been searching for an adult dance and fitness class to get her health on track. She had been dedicating all her time to her work and neglecting her body. She found a local kid’s studio with one adult class, but they didn’t welcome her the way she had hoped.
“The owner said I was too fat to be there and laughed me out of the space,” she says.
Kristin knew there were people in Orlando like her, who wanted to participate in dance and fitness classes with no judgement. So she set out to create the space on her own.
A developer gave her a deal on a two-year lease for a construction shell near the outlets in Lake Buena Vista. Kristin would be responsible for funding the buildout. She poured her life savings into the project, opening Studio K in 2010.
For those two years, the business thrived. Celebrities came in. “Dance Moms” filmed an episode there. Most importantly, Orlando locals filled each class with enthusiasm for the community they were building.
At renewal time, Kristin walked into a meeting expecting to sign a five-year lease and was met with lawyers who notified her that she had 30 days to buy the building, accept a significant rent increase or leave. The outlets were expanding, and they wanted her space. Kristin was crushed – and angry – that the developer took her money despite knowing about the expansion deal that would push her out.
It was, in a nutshell, the most defeating thing to ever happen to me in my life, Kristin says. I had no savings, no business, no future, no idea what I would do.
In the three years the studio remained closed, Kristin did what she could to keep her community connected. She started an online magazine and hosted pop-up classes wherever she could. At the same time, she worked three full-time jobs to recoup her savings.
Then, randomly, Kristin received a Facebook notification that someone checked into the studio captioned with his excitement for his first class. It started a buzz with other students, who wanted to know where the new studio was. “There’s still something there,” Kristin thought.
So, in 2015, she found a small space that already had a dance floor and mirrors. It wasn’t the dream studio she built previously, but it would do to start. Students packed the floor for every class. A year later, she invested everything a second time to build her current space.
For students like James Reid, the studio became a place where he could feel comfortable doing what he enjoyed. He has been dancing there alongside his wife for the past several years. Both were nervous beginners at first, but their fellow students’ support helped to pull them from their creative shells.
“You’ve got people who’ve never danced in their life. You’ve got people that are uber professional. But from the worst dancer to the best dancer, everyone is super encouraging,” James said.
The culture of kindness that Kristin and her students have created goes well beyond the studio. Students often do meet-ups outside of class in support of each other’s endeavors, and they serve as connections for each other as they build on their own dreams.
Instructor Elise Pettitt, who started as a student, is at the studio whenever she comes home to Orlando from college.
“I’ve made some awesome friends here who are so like-minded, not only in the love of arts that we have, but just in all aspects of life,” Elise said. “In every way, it has just brought me the biggest sense of happiness and community.”
For Kristin, seeing the Studio K community thrive together for a second time is a dream come true. She’s now the director for National Dance Day for City of Orlando and a Board Member for Central Florida Community Arts Arts and Wellness Collective. That partnership expands this year to include, for the very first time, two Studio K locations for National Dance Day in September – one at her home base and another at the CFCArts theater in downtown Orlando.
“When all that happened and it was ripped away, first of all, I wasn’t done yet. We didn’t fail,” Kristin says. “I wanted to make sure that we could come back because we had something that was working, that people were excited about.”
Sometimes you have to fight for your dreams. But community support goes a long way in making those dreams come true.
Orlando is family to me. I’ve made great friendships here. I’ve had such great job experiences here. Orlando instantly makes me happy. Every time I come back, when I fly back in, I’m so excited to get home. That’s how you know you’re in the right place.