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- Entrepreneur Spotlight- Michelle Spurlock, Upside Aerial & Fitness
Entrepreneur Spotlight- Michelle Spurlock, Upside Aerial & Fitness
City of Burlington
Economic Development Department
March 1, 2022
Entrepreneur Spotlight: Michelle Spurlock
I remember my parents used to take me Cirque Du Soleil shows, and I’d be in awe of the aerial dancers. Their performances and the performances of the elephants were always the highlight of the night for me, so when Michelle Spurlock was recommended for a Burlington entrepreneur spotlight—I was so excited! Burlington’s first and only Aerial Arts and Fitness studio was founded by Michelle Spurlock, our entrepreneur of the month.
Upside Aerial, is an aerial arts and fitness studio in Burlington primarily for adults. There group classes serve students from age 16 to 60. For kids between the ages of nine to 15, they offer private and semi-private lessons. Michelle describes aerial arts as “combining dance and gymnastics but done in the air using an apparatus, such as: aerial skills aerial hoop, or trapeze.”
She says Upside Aerial is unique, beyond it being the first of its kind in Burlington, because “we have an incredibly tight knit noncompetitive community, where we are open and accepting to all fitness backgrounds, race, and size, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We are open and supportive to all our students with such a welcoming atmosphere.”
The name, Upside Aerial, was created as Michelle explains that “I wanted something that was a play on aerial, because obviously we are up in the air and I wanted the name to convey the joy we bring people. It turned my life from black and white to life in color, and it’s so rewarding. I wanted a word that reflected that— the upside of life. Upside Aerial Arts and Fitness, because we wanted them to know its two things—fitness and art.”
Secrets to Success
Michelle had an unconventional start to her aerial arts journey. When she lived in Charlotte, Michelle worked as a professor at Wingate’s Pharmacy School and taught yoga on the side. One day, her student invited her to an aerial arts class that she describes as “incredible” and “instantly addictive.” It became a regular part of her routine, but when she moved to Burlington she couldn’t find anything like it.
Michelle carried with her the same burning desire to unleash her creative energy and participate in a physical activity that worked best for her body. From a young age, Michelle had debilitating asthma that prevented her from being able to participate in typical sporting activities. She describes, “I felt like a victim because I couldn’t count on my body to do anything, so when I found yoga it was good, but aerial arts changed my self-perception.” In her mid-thirties she found aerial which seemed “like magic” and she couldn’t part with it.
Since there were no aerial arts studios in Burlington, she was dedicated to opening one in Alamance County as there were “few opportunities for adults to do creative body movement.” Michelle was determined to fill in the gap herself. Once she was fully certified through AerialCLT in Charlotte, the studio where she first fell in love with the art, she began offering private lessons out of a yoga studio in Burlington. As the business continued to grow, Michelle needed to find a bigger space.
Yet, there few places that could accommodate for aerial arts, since the studio requires high ceilings and weight-bearing beams to support the activities. Fortunately, the Edge Health and Studio—an independently-owned local Burlington gym, provided space where she began offering group fitness classes and continued to offer private lessons. Soon, Honda bought the building and Michelle was forced to look for a new space again.
This time, she had capital saved up and a group of loyal customers ready to follow her. In March 2020, Michelle found a new location called Envision Wellness, and invested a great deal of funds into the space... Then— five days after moving into their brand-new studio, the pandemic shut everything down! Michelle was forced to pivot, but unlike typical cardio and yoga studios—aerial arts isn’t easily adjustable to the virtual world.
Upside Aerial staff focused their efforts on maintaining their clients’ physical strength to be aerial ready for when they could return in person, so various cardio and pull up bar virtual classes were offered. As infections eased, Michelle and her team began to offer private lessons. Thankfully, her investment in a professional circus pulley system, right before the pandemic, paid off! The pulley system allowed staff to switch out and clean aerial equipment between every student. While the few studios that offered aerial arts (in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Greensboro) had to close permanently due to the pandemic, Upside was able to survive and welcome students from these closed studios.
Today, Aerial Arts continues to thrive with 10 instructors offering group classes, private lessons, parties, and partnerships with local organizations, like the City of Burlington Recreation & Parks to perform for events and clients from all over the Triad and the Triangle region.
Business in Burlington
Michelle remarks, “this is the first small city I’ve ever lived in, and I was scared about trying to start the business here because it's such a niche activity. Would I be able to draw enough clients to support a business? But being in Burlington has had a huge role in our success because it's a halfway point between the Triangle and the Triad. It turns out people are willing to drive quite a way to do something this special. So being in Burlington allows us to serve a much bigger geographic area. Also, in bigger cities, it's difficult for a new business to break into an already-established arts community. The local arts and entertainment community here welcomed us with open arms, and we are so grateful for the personal relationships we've formed!”
To future or current business owners Michelle imparts the advice to ensure “your business must be your passion, because when you start your own company, you have to give so much of yourself that if you don’t love what you’re doing it will drain you or you'll burn out.” Also, she uplifts the benefit of having a support system that can invest in your business, as you can avoid debt when starting out.
Michelle measures success by her ability to follow her passion and create community around the art form that she loves. Additionally, in the professional realm success is measured by her hobby becoming her primary career surpassing her former salary—seems like every entrepreneur’s dream!
2241 W Hanford Rd Ste 103, Burlington, NC 27215
425 S. Lexington Ave.
Burlington, NC 27215