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Fitness Business Challenge and Triumph

The pandemic helped an IDEA member increase her wellness reach.

Raqisa fitness business

Photo credit: Deb Fuller Bettencourt


How did the pandemic affect your fitness business? What did you do to rise above and continue to reach and teach your clients? If you’re still trying to find your way, take a cue from one IDEA member’s success and learn three ways she expanded her new business during a difficult time, and how you can unlock your own creative solutions when times are tough.

See also: 5 Ways Fitness Businesses Have Created Revenue in Pandemic Times

Fitness Business Success

Since 2000, Soraya Doherty has been sharing her passion for movement. The Westwood, Massachusetts-based fitness professional teaches many formats, but she always knew that her contribution to the “world of wellness” would be based on her Lebanese American roots and her “belief in the body-loving benefits of belly dancing.”

“While I learned how to belly dance at a young age (and I continue to perfect my own technique), I knew I needed a method to help me introduce the root movements to my students and colleagues,” Doherty says. “Because I am a visual learner, in 2013 I began developing a teaching/ visual aid [that included] seven fundamental belly dance movements printed on a fitness mat.” From there, Doherty refined her products and services and, in 2017, she had a “complete product” called RAQISA®, which means “female dancer” in Arabic. She also developed an accredited program called RAQ THE BARRE®, by RAQISA®.

Doherty relied on her many years of experience in the fitness studio to further refine her products and services.

“In a traditional belly dance class in a group fitness setting, one can expect the first class to be filled to capacity,” she says. “However, over time the numbers will significantly dwindle because of the complex nature of belly dance—it is far more technique-based than [most people] imagine. So, I knew I needed to develop a lasting and approachable method that stayed true to belly dance while also meeting clients’ fitness needs.”

See also: Protect Your Virtual Fitness Business

A Pandemic Pause

Just prior to COVID-19 lockdowns, Doherty finally began to share her offering and was just starting to see some momentum when everything shut down.  Like many other fitness professionals, initially she was at a loss at what to do. “I was unsure what to expect or which direction to move with my beloved, small dance fitness brand,” she says. “In response to the overwhelming need to keep my own students working out, I sought ways to offer a helpful solution.”

Doherty began by offering complimentary half-hour workouts on her Facebook page. “This turned out to be one of the best decisions I made,” she says. “There [I found] three new target audiences to introduce to my program. Either they’d never heard of it, or they knew about it but wouldn’t dare try it because they thought that it would be a belly dancing class.”


Fitness business

IDEA member Soraya Doherty (right) redefined her fitness business during tough times. Photo credit: James Abrams

Three New Fitness Business Opportunities

Doherty was forced to change, like many other fitness professionals. During that process, she discovered three new marketing channels.

1. Friends and fitness colleagues. Many of Doherty’s friends and fellow fit pros had never tried her program. “Once they took the free Facebook live classes, I was humbled and honored by the overwhelming positive feedback,” she says. “As a result, one colleague who saw the value connected me to a healthcare program to offer Zoom classes for their work community! Another colleague helped me expand my reach—particularly to non-dancers who love this approachable method.

Take home message: Never underestimate the power of networking and sharing your vision with other fitness professionals. Offer a gateway experience to introduce people to your services; you may be surprised at the connections you can make.

2. The dance community. The second new target audience came from Doherty’s own belly dance community. “Many didn’t even know my program existed,” she says. “I had dancers from Canada, Germany and across America join the Facebook live classes and comment on what a “true workout” it was for belly dancers. This was meaningful to me because my goal has always been to stay true to the root belly dance movements while providing a full body barre workout.”

Getting support from her dance colleagues gave Doherty validation and opened the door to a new profit center: other dance instructors. “When I began to offer my Zoom virtual instructor training, many amazing dancers I highly respect joined in to learn this method so they can help their dance students,” says Doherty.

Take home message: Analyze your program and rethink its reach. Could you pitch it to more than one niche audience? What are the possibilities? Widen your marketing efforts and track the response.

3. Global fans. Out of curiosity, Doherty created a Facebook promotion (sample workout) specifically targeting Lebanon and Egypt. “Instantly my page likes tripled because they understood and appreciated this approach, and they know what RAQISA® means!  One woman said, ‘These movements are very natural for our culture.’ Bingo.”

Take home message: Now that many fitness business offerings have a digital or virtual component, think bigger than your local area and discover new clients or doorways. Look at what you offer from multiple new angles and be curious about how new fans might receive you.

Redefining Your Fitness Business

Prior to COVID-19, Doherty’s plan was to offer live instructor training sessions at various locations in the United States. Like everyone else, she had to quickly re-adapt. Luckily, her training translated nicely as a virtual offering and she says that, thus far, “what would have been one or two live training sessions with locals, has since become a total of five virtual training sessions with an international reach!”

The best part? Certified instructors are now helping to share her program and increase her reach. “While it has been lonely at times and certainly challenging, I think of how far I’ve come and how proud I am of what I believe is my personal contribution to the world of wellness,” says Doherty. “It took an unfortunate time in our world history to help me better navigate how this method can be a supportive solution to women across the globe.”


Connect with like-minded wellness professionals who can help you and your business thrive. Become an IDEA+ member!

Joy Keller

Joy Keller is the director of marketing communications & PR at IDEA, and has also served as executive editor of IDEA Fitness Journal, IDEA Fitness Manager, IDEA Pilates Today, and IDEA Fit Business Success. She is also a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor and yoga teacher (RYT 200).

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