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Knowing Me, Knowing You

Julien sitting on table

For the Marions of Move Dance and Fitness, self-understanding was the key to a workable home/business life.

Everything was a struggle. Julien and Mallorie Marion had multiple kids, multiple jobs, a slow-growing dance studio, and limited funds. Then one day Mallorie had an epiphany: none of this is working because we don’t really know who we are or what we need.

The Marions set out on a journey of self-discovery, taking personality tests, reading productivity books, trading thoughts on what made each other tick. Everything was on the table, from Julien’s reluctance to talk about his feelings to Mallorie’s tendency to procrastinate.

They came up with a division of labor and organizational system that recognizes their disparate personalities and utilizes their individual strengths. Julien (the workaholic) handles day-to-day operations; Mallorie (the visionary) focuses on long-term studio projects. He has more studio office hours; she has designated time for housework and tending to their five children.

Each day is scheduled down to the minute and includes not only 40-hour work weeks each but personal time, “spouse time,” chore time, and family bedtime.

With the confidence that comes from knowing yourself and what you want to achieve, the Marions have grown their studio, Move Dance and Fitness in Richmond, Texas, to a 7,500-square-foot facility housing 350-plus students, and their family to five: William 10, Adrianna, 8, Oliver, 6, Finley, 4, and Avery, 2.

More than dancers

Julien is also editor-in-chief of More Than Dancers, an online magazine and social community with more than 26,000 followers that provides esteem-building and age-appropriate content for teens and young dancers of all ethnicities, technical levels, and body types.

Scheduling for the Marions is far more than a to-do list. “It’s literally about the stuff that you don’t think has to be scheduled,” Mallorie says, like laundry or TV time. The schedule helps her avoid burnout cycles and protects Julien’s personal workout time. “Without a schedule, I’d get so overwhelmed—when did the house fall apart?—and just want to escape.”

Also vitally important: time for the two to just talk.

“He doesn’t express himself and I’m full of feelings, so we need to communicate if something is not working or if we are upset with each other,” Mallorie says. “That leads to a better understanding of each other’s wants and needs.”

Lest anyone (kids included!) get off track, Julien posts the daily schedule on the family room TV. To fully understand what’s going well and what might need more attention, Julien flowcharts everything that occurred during the week, from studio achievements to whether he expressed gratitude to others.

“Our life is so like this” Julien says, intertwining the fingers on both hands. “Kids, running a business, date night—you have to make sure you don’t drop the ball. I’m a visual person and graphs and pictures and colors show me I’m going in the right direction.”

The Marions never planned to own a studio.

The Marions never planned to own a studio. With two kids and a house, he had been working in college admissions and she was the director of a new studio when one New Year’s Eve, Mallorie’s bosses reduced her duties to just teaching.

For Mallorie, the creative and leadership challenges of her role had been a dream job. Hurt, she cut all ties and became a stay-at-home mom. The couple was struggling on Julien’s salary when Mallorie’s dad offered to “invest in a little studio.” They cleared space in their garage, advertised on craigslist.com, and opened in 2013 with an enrollment of four. Two were their own kids.

The studio eventually moved to a 5,000-square-foot space, but with Mallorie running the studio, teaching dance, and parenting while Julien worked, attended graduate school, and taught undergraduate courses, the business only inched forward. In 2015, they went all in: Julien quit his jobs and they sold their house. “We weren’t bringing in any money from the studio—literally nothing,” Mallorie says. They used $20,000 in equity from their house sale to pay one year of studio rent in advance. “You are going to make it because you don’t have an option,” Julien says.

That year was the turning point.

The studio—and their family—flourished, and today both nourish each other in wonderful ways.

Realizing the impracticality of creating a professional studio atmosphere with their own charges running about, the Marions doubled down on the theme of family. “The studio has a huge playroom ‘cause I needed a place to put my kids when I taught,” Mallorie says. The centerpiece of the comfortable foyer is a towering family tree of student photos. While lobby square footage “doesn’t pay bills,” Mallorie admits, the welcoming vibe (featuring dual adjoining lobbies for teens/tweens and younger students/siblings) attracts family-focused customers who can relate to the Marions.

“When you have three or four kids, you look a mess” and those parents with fewer or none “look at you weird,” Julien says. At Move Dance, no one blinks at a toddler sans shoes or a mom asleep on a lobby couch. “We want families to feel safe and be themselves.”

Free school vacation camps (three hours a day for three consecutive days) and summer camps provide a much-appreciated opportunity for studio parents to run errands, work, or just go home and take a nap. The camps are not advertised and aren’t intended as marketing initiatives. “We’ll drop our kids as well. If you are a member of this studio, we want to help you
support your family,” Julien says.

With their oldest now 10, Mallorie intends to homeschool through her children’s middle school years, which will provide flexibility to allow them to pursue activities besides dance, such as basketball or singing.

The work of learning about themselves continues.

For 2021, the couple is trying out personal accountability coaching. For an initial exercise they listed weekly tasks and activities, ranking them from favorite to least and determining time spent on each. It was eye-opening: Mallorie discovered that random studio work—writing a blog entry, creating a Canva graphic—added up to 38 hours over her scheduled 40. Now she’s making a plan for delegating such tasks to a studio staffer.

Easier said than done. Passionate owners believe they are the best person for any studio-related job—but that attitude can also hurt your business, Mallorie says. An owner struggling with overwork, anxiety, or neglected relationships won’t be her best for her business, her family, or her partner.

“If you are in burnout mode you can’t see the full landscape—you’re just constantly doing work,” Mallorie says. “Removing those hours will give us the time we need to do the work that brings the business up and allows us to have better relationships with each other and our kids.”

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