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Meet Jessica Rae of Rae Studios in San Francisco

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Rae.

Jessica, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Founder of Rae Model & Talent Agency and Rae Studios, a local dance and fitness studio in San Francisco, CA. I opened up Rae Agency in 2011 to create representation and job opportunities for dancers in the bay area. I quickly saw a need for additional streams of income for the talent agency members so I began creating Rae Studios as a place for our talent to teach weekly classes.

This allowed for dual income for our talent representation along with a large community in arts and wellness. We’ve currently been in business for nine years. Next year, we hope to celebrate our ten year anniversary.

Prior to COVID-19, the agency held over 150 talents for live event, film and print work in the bay area. The studio hosted 55 classes and held 35 instructors on payroll. During Shelter-in-place, we moved from in-person classes to digital live streaming the day SIP was mandated, 3/16/20. Thankfully, we prepared for this day in advance. Since day one of SIP, we’ve held and continue to hold a platform that provides 50+ classes a week and features 30+ instructors plus guest teachers on a weekly schedule. Unfortunately, since our staff had to be decreased to keep overhead low, we only had enough manpower to keep one business afloat. The agency is currently furloughed as my team and I dedicate our energy to the studio. Both companies feature talents in the bay area along with our LA market. We currently represent both talents and instructors in LA.

San Francisco is still under a tight SIP request. Our fitness industry is unable to teach indoors at this time. Outdoor classes will be permitted mid-September. We hope to continue pushing through these difficult times and have hopes to re-open our doors when granted the opportunity.

Has it been a smooth road?
I don’t know if this was smooth for any business owner. We definitely struggled and continue to struggle figuring out new ways to operate, market and push forward. Since day one of shelter-in-place, we struggled moving all our classes through a virtual experience. This may sound like the norm now but the initial set-up was exhausting. We had three dynamic in-studio lighting and sound systems and had to move our 1 location to 30 different virtual home experiences. Moving our teachers away from the studio to figure out ways to teach from their homes was our biggest challenge. We had and continue to demo and approve teachers not only in their skill/craft but now require good lighting, proper cable cords for wifi connectivity, sound quality, along with their normal teaching program.

Our teachers had to learn how to adapt or change their teaching methods using the “mirroring technique” which allowed students to use their “left/right” while the teachers demod verbally and physically using their opposite “left/right”. This allows teachers to stay facing the camera and keep students engaged. These were some examples among many other challenges. The continued struggle today is how to increase marketing visibility. We can’t depend on our existing community to feed over 30 teachers and 13 staff members. Most of our staff work as volunteers with just three managers on payroll including myself. Since our budget is spread very thin, we continuously have to be creative with marketing strategies along with sales techniques. I consistently work with businesses that allow partnership for cross-marketing.

Since I am a fitness and dance instructor, I create custom programs that fit business needs and serve their audience using various wellness methods like “team-bonding, corporate fit-programs, dance therapy” and other methods that expose dance and fitness as an essential way of life. This allows me to speak on behalf of Rae Studios creating exposure and new clientele. We understand that things will never go back to where we were prior to COVID. However, my team and I hope to get past this and eventually continue virtual classes along with live/hybrid classes.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
My mission as a business owner and community leader is to continue building platforms that support and provide job opportunities for artists to live, create, and work in the Bay Area market. The agency has been the umbrella LLC entity and has provided job opportunities for working artists through print, film, and events. The studio provides a wide array of movement and wellness classes open seven days a week serving yoga, fitness, cardio dance and dance technique/choreography. Both companies work hand in hand, specializing and celebrating talent diversity, body inclusivity, cultural and BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities along with putting “working artists” at the forefront of our clientele. As a minority woman-owned business leader, I feel privileged and honored to represent such a powerful, creative team of artists. My proudest moments in life are watching my teachers interact with students through dance, laughter and sound. “Yasss Queen, YOU BETTA WERK!” And seeing my talent representatives on a commercial or magazine. What sets us apart from other companies? Bringing both the agency and studio together as a way that best serves our bay area talent to receive multiple streams of opportunity. Happy staff, happy customers, at least that’s my goal.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
At this time, I do not think the San Francisco/LA market is a good place for businesses like mine. San Francisco has always been a beautiful city filled with diversity and opportunity. However, dance in wellness and entertainment has always been an overlooked area. Due to COVID, I believe that things are changing and we’ve been exposed for offering the very thing that people need. Therapy through movement. I would highly recommend people starting out through my platform, at least to find a community of people who share the same interests. Our city can improve by creating programs that directly support the arts, specifically dance studios. Fitness has always been an easier marketing component to sell.

Dance has always been pushed aside, primarily because it carries status quo like, dance isn’t for me, dance is for girls, or isn’t for everyone. But it is! Dance has been a part of our human generation since prehistoric times and celebrated through religious ceremonies, storytelling and cultural rituals that bring people together celebrating the highest form of therapy and community. If our cities found a way to add “dance” as an essential category in a grants system, we could move past COVID with a stepping stone that would allow business owners like myself to continue serving our communities through dance, art and togetherness.

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Image Credit:

Photos: Andy Blake Photo & Rachel Radcliffs Photography

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