Los Gatos Ballet & Pilates Business Story

Marcie Ryken is the Executive/Artistic Director for Los Gatos Ballet & Pilates in Northern California, in business over 18 years. Through their dance and fitness programs, the studio provides education and training in ballet and Pilates.

Marcie came to SmartBiz Loans when she needed to apply for low-cost funding to fuel expansion. We caught up with the busy entrepreneur to learn more about her passion and plans for the future.

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SmartBiz: What is your dance background?

Marcie Ryken: My background as a ballet dancer started at age 9. By the time I was 15, I moved in with my ballet teacher to prepare for my young adult ballet career. I moved to San Francisco at 16 to work with San Francisco Ballet, followed by a couple years in New York working for American Ballet Theater II, finishing up my dance career in Houston Ballet.

I thought I should use the other side of my brain so I ended up in Scotland where I went to college and earned a business management degree.

I worked for IBM for a short time before realizing that I wasn’t quite done dancing. I ended up continuing my artistic career until my true “retirement”.

SB: How did you turn your passion into a business?

MR: What happened next was sort of magical. I was walking around Los Gatos and fell in love with the town. I came across a yoga center that offered Pilates and ended up landing a teaching job there. Shortly after, the owner asked if I wanted to set up a studio. I was there for a year and expanded into a combined ballet school and Pilates studio. The right opportunity presented itself at the right time.

SB: How did this evolve into the business you own today?

MR: Dancing taught me discipline, focus, drive, and resilience. I applied my skill set to the business and was able to find success. It was really just trusting, doing the work, and hiring fabulous instructors. I wasn’t afraid of the growth opportunities and kept marching forward.

SB: How do you market Los Gatos Ballet & Pilates?

MR: Reputation is the biggest value you have in dance training and Pilates and we have very strong word-of-mouth recommendations. We are committed to bringing dance to our community through Performances and Outreach Programs in our schools and local and surrounding communities.

Our marketing strategy includes print and digital ads, community engagement and a robust social media presence. We try to find the best balance for reaching our target market.

SB: How is your team structured?

MR: I have 9 people on staff and work very hard to provide a living wage. It’s typical in the dance world that instructors will teach at 3-5 different businesses to try and get by. I wanted to celebrate the artist who has spent their whole life training by adding to their skill set. This creates consistency, connection, and continuity. My teachers not only teach, they manage other areas of the business like marketing, outreach, and operations. I want everyone to find a balance and enjoy their life.

SB: What type of funding have you used for your business?

MR: I was very fortunate in that area. My godfather basically loaned the initial capital to me for equipment and costs. My landlord at the time believed in what I do and gave me free rent for a few months so I could offer good prices to the community. I was able to build up reserves and pull in other teachers while making good decisions along the way. My Godfather said, “If anyone can stretch a dollar, it’s Marcy!”

SB: What prompted you to apply for an SBA loan?

MR: I have a new 2,000 square foot studio space in need of a dance floor. They’re expensive if you do them right and the cost is around $30,000. It’s the bulk of my buildout. I’m also going to use funds to expand our services and increase marketing efforts.


SB: How was your experience working with SmartBiz?

MR: Gathering all of the required information for a loan while you’re trying to get organized for expansion and running your business at the same time is hard. Juan (SmartBiz Relationship Manager) was awesome and made it really easy. It was jumping through a lot of hoops but he kept reminding me where we were and what I needed to do right now. He kept the momentum going with what I call “respectful persistence”.

Going through the process was interesting.


It makes you take a deep dive into your business and gives you an in-depth look at the past and where you currently stand. Understanding the numbers is important to stay successful as you grow.

SB: What’s the most rewarding part of being a business owner?

MR: For me, the most rewarding part is that we’re changing lives from children to adults. I love being of service in the way we are. Adults come to us who don’t have a good relationship with their body. We help remind them of youth and joy and it wakes them up inside. With the kids, it’s about empowerment. Kids are under so much stress these days. We provide tools to help them maneuver through life with clarity and teach them that they do have the power to shape who they become.

SB: What are some difficulties you face?

MR: The most challenging part is being clear about who you are, what you do, and your values. If you do that correctly, those of like mind will find you. Listen to customers, listen to employees, and listen to yourself to make decisions that fit with your value system.

SB: What’s next for Los Gatos Ballet & Pilates?

MR: We want to become a staple of this community and more of a household name. By bringing joy, we’ll help more people understand how art connects humanity in this time of digital distraction. We’ll do this by continuing to build collaborations with other local organizations.

Visit the Los Gatos Ballet & Pilates website to learn more about their quality education, training programs, performances, and collaboration with other arts organizations.