"It's been a lesson in letting go,": Dearbhla Mitchell on growing her fitness business in 2020
The fitness entrepreneur caught up with Her to chat business, barre and the joy of movement.
Dance has always been a constant in Dearbhla Mitchell's life, so it's no wonder she chose an incredibly physical career.
As a self-proclaimed emo kid, Dearbhla hated school, but ballet lessons proved to be an unexpected outlet for this this Bettystown native.
"I was super uncomfortable in school," she explains. "But exercise gave me an identity. It gave me an escape. It gave me this feeling of empowerment."
From there, Dearbhla took her ballet training to the next level. She danced principal roles with the Monica Loughman Ballet company, and studied dance at the University of Ulster. However, it was when she was leading beginner's ballet at UCD that she discovered she had a real knack for teaching.
"I wanted everyone else to feel what I feel when I'm moving," she says. "I'm taking this feeling, and I want to be able to sell it somehow."
Flash forward, eight years and Dearbhla is doing exactly that. Her business Bondareg is thriving and she offers multiple weekly classes in barre, as well as specialized monthly challenges.
Photo by Evan Doherty
"It's important to not let people take advantage of you."
It hasn't always been easy. In the past, Dearbhla was close to quitting. After teaching pilates at a number of studios for years, she felt ready to opt for a different path, not because the love wasn't there, but because she didn't feel like she could make a success of it.
Her clients, however, had faith in her before she did. "I told them I'm finishing up here, and they instantly said, 'OK, where are we going?'" Dearbhla then realised she had something special on her hands, and wasn't willing to let it go just yet.
From there, Dearbhla threw herself into the business, arranging schedules, studio spaces and developing her own brand. The process, she notes, has not been without its challenges.
"One of the things about being self-employed is that it’s the sum of lots of little efforts to add up to where you want to be. It’s not instant. So you have to kind of play the long game and have faith that it is going to end up where it needs to be.
"It's hard to look around and see your friends applying for pensions and mortgages, and I'm like 'I have business cards!' But, at the same time, there's no feeling better than when it does go right. There's no comparison."
Throughout her journey, Dearbhla's learnt a number of lessons. Key among them is the importance of assertiveness.
"It’s important to not let people take advantage of you. When you work for yourself you have to be so tough on asking people for money, and that’s so hard. But I did find that once I got tougher and set the boundaries, people just respect you so much more. You think it’s going to make everyone hate you, but actually it makes everyone respect and love you much more.”
"You’re selling an hour of someone’s life,"
Bondareg's come a long way since its beginnings, and over the years, Dearbhla's felt comfortable in putting more of herself into her classes.
She describes one of her most popular classes - Powered Barre Sweat - as "jumping around to cheesy tunes" - but any client of Dearbhla's know there's so much more to them than that.
The sessions are designed to target specific muscle groups, working towards a lean, dancer's body, but each lesson has its own Bondareg touch. Music varies from Phoebe Bridgers to Cher. The focus is firmly on enjoying yourself as you work up a sweat.
Ensuring that her classes are unique and enjoyable has always been a top priority. "You’re selling an hour of someone’s life, " she explains. "You have to give them something back. They have to look forward to coming."
Her business has even inspired a little community among her clients. Before Covid-19 hit, Dearbhla organised a class trip to the ballet. "We're so close," she beams. "They exchange books with each other. One person helped the other sell their car."
Possibility, not panic.
When the world went into lockdown, Dearbhla shut down for three months. The idea of not being able to control the atmosphere of the room panicked her initially.
"Once I got over that and gave it a go, I realised that I actually can make this work. It's been a lesson in letting go, and realising that I don't have to control everything."
Dearbhla didn't just adapt to new circumstances, she developed her business model further and began offering 30 day video challenges.
"Instead of thinking 'Oh my God, how am I going to do this?', I have been trying my best to view it as 'OK cool, I've got this opportunity to be creative and come up with other avenues.' So you kind of balance that sense of panic with a sense of possibility."
For more information on Dearbhla's classes, head to her website.