Rethinking the Entrepreneur
Joey Hernandez’11 would rather be making a living hurling a baseball than twirling on a dance floor. But when he realized that dream wouldn’t come true, he decided on plan D. “If I had to choose between a dance stage and a pitcher’s mound, put me on the rubber any day of the week,” he says. “I love pressure situations. I love having people look to me to be the leader.”
A first-team all-conference pitcher for Beloit’s Turner High School in 2006, Hernandez played on the baseball team during his first year at Beloit. “Sports and athletics were always my passion, and dance was something I was just naturally good at,” he says. “But I had to make a decision. I was at the Division III level, and I knew wasn’t going on to professional baseball.”
Hernandez was also driven by challenging circumstances. In addition to coming from a low-income household and needing to earn money while in school, he suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. “We all have issues,” he says. “Mine just happen to be medical.”
At Beloit, Hernandez took entrepreneurship classes from Jerry Gustafson, who sold him on “the impact of doing and the need to keep pursuing opportunities, to keep networking.” But he was already doing turns as an entrepreneur, partnering with a friend in a DJ business and teaching at the Turning Pointe Dance Company in Roscoe, Ill.
One opportunity worth pursuing presented itself shortly after graduation, when the mother of one of his students at Turning Pointe introduced him to the owner of the Gymnastic Academy of Rockford (Ill.). Hernandez agreed to direct the dance program there, and he soon turned it into an independent enterprise, the Resilience Dance Company. He also enrolled for an extra semester and took another entrepreneurship class, this time with current director Brian Morello’85, who, he says, “connected a lot of the dots. In that class, I wrote my original business plan for my studio.”
As an undergraduate, Hernandez did a double major in dance and health & society. In his current choreography, he is working on a triple play: running the dance company, teaching, and serving as a judge for national dance competitions. Now based in Chicago, he has put 140,000 miles on his 2013 Nissan Sentra in three years. His weekly schedule is enough to make even the clumsiest of non-dancers do pirouettes. On Monday he teaches at a dance academy in Madison; on Tuesday and Thursday, he lectures on hip-hop at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and teaches a dance theory and composition course at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.; on Wednesday, he works at the dance studio that he founded in Rockford. From Friday to Sunday some weeks, he travels to different cities to serve as a judge in dance competitions or to guest-teach at a variety of studios and dance conventions across the United States.
At Resilience, he says, “I’m mainly the artistic director. My mother does all the front desk management.” He also has three employees who teach. The company serves between 50 and 75 students and offers a pre-professional mentorship program.
In 2013, he also started running “Dance-4-Change” events that are currently held as in-studio workshops that benefit causes, such as Crohn’s Colitis Foundation of America. With the professional contacts he’s made in the dance industry, he hopes to step this kind of charitable giving up a notch, eventually turning the workshops into a dance convention that benefits causes visiting instructors care about. “I like taking my disease and making it a positive,” he says.
Although his résumé includes a list of past performances that stretches from Chicago to Las Vegas, Hernandez says, “With my health issues, I didn’t think I would be able to dance professionally. That’s why I’ve gravitated toward mentorship and teaching. I do feel like I’m in a bit of a race against the clock. I realize that I may not always be able to demonstrate a pirouette or kick, and I may have to do this from a wheelchair someday.
“Resilience is what every entrepreneur needs,” he says. “As an entrepreneur, you can’t be afraid of failure. If you go into a venture thinking you’re not going to get to where you want to be, you won’t be successful. Life is improv. Every day something happens that we don’t plan on. The only thing we can control is how we react to things.”