By day, she’s a top television executive. Off the clock, she is owner of an aerial yoga and pole dance studio, Aeriform Arts in North Hollywood, CA.
It may sound like an odd career combination or a peculiar choice for a side hustle, but for Lea Walker, who is Director of Production for Original Programming at Black Entertainment Television (BET), it’s a perfect fit.
“The fact that I love both careers is helpful. I am also lucky to have a very supportive husband, who is an actor and also works in and co-manages the studio with me. It’s important for me to find a balance with my career, the studio and my personal life,” explains Walker. “I make it a point to have one day off a week from all work to spend uninterrupted with my husband and friends. I also have most of the studio financial and managerial scheduling functions set up so they can be accessed and dealt with remotely.”
At BET Walker has worked on a a roster of hit shows including “Sunday Best,” “Tiny & Toya,” and “American Gangster.” But it was a health crisis that spurned her to open her studio. Not long ago, Walker found herself in the emergency room. Back and reproductive issues were discovered that led to surgeries that left her bedridden for weeks. “My scars became a symbol of how my body had failed me. While stuck in bed, I came to the conclusion that maybe I needed to finally slow down and just do something for me,” recalls Walker. “My friend suggested a pole dance class. I figured it looked like fun so what the heck.”
Walker discovered that pole dance/fitness not only was great fun, but it restored her sense of ‘self.’ In addition, the exercise and movement led to her back pain subsiding and she was able to avoid additional operations. From pole dancing she moved on to aerial yoga. Aerial yoga makes use of hammocks, that provide aerial suspension for a total body workout incorporating the techniques of yoga, core conditioning, strength training, Pilates and more.
Then Walker had the idea of opening her own studio. “I wanted to start a business with my husband but it needed to be something I was passionate about. Aerial Yoga and Pole had become such a large part of my life and had changed it so much for the better – I always wanted to share that. Because I was always so excited by and trying to involve all my friends in aerial arts, it seemed like a natural fit,” she says. Determined, Walker created a financial plan in order to make her dream come true. “I saved up over a five year period for it and took out a small loan from my 401-k as well,” she reveals.
For the studio, Walker has also assembled a roster of some of Los Angeles’ best fitness instructors including Leigh Acosta, specializing in pole, lyra and aerial fit; Amber Porter for aerial fit; Jennifer Kim for pole; Kristina Serna for BUTI ™ and Saharah Ali for aerial yoga. And, says Walker, Aeriform Arts has been a success. “The response to the studio has been amazing. We have women and men from 18 to 65 years old coming in and it has become a lot of peoples´ ´second home´. It’s been an interesting journey and I look forward to its growth in the future,” says Walker.
Having two separate and two compeletely different careers can be a business challenge. “Be realistic, have a business plan in place but be prepared to have to adjust your plans along the way. Not every venture or idea will work from the jump–it’s a learning process, I really think it’s all about the journey,” advises Walker. “Make sure to do something you love, find your passion, because initially it will be financially and emotionally draining. It’s much easier when you are starting out, if it is something you truly believe in. Have a strong support system of family and friends. Make sure to befriend others in your field. And research, research, research. Also, don’t sweat failure. So many people never pursue their dreams because of a fear of failure. I think true failure is in not ever trying because you will never know what the outcome could have been.”