Boss Women of Jersey City: Shimkiri of Jersey City Ballroom
Fierce. Strong. Savvy. Talented. These are all words that easily describe Shimkiri Sawian-Figar, professional latin ballroom dancer and owner of Jersey City Ballroom. Shimkiri, used to commanding the dance floor in front of audiences large and small, has always been a powerhouse who knows how to lead (even if she technically follows). Owning her Jersey City business with her husband, Werner Figar, is something she has always taken on effortlessly and with passion. However, this past summer, Shimkiri and Werner welcomed their baby girl into this world and Shimkiri had to learn what it’s like to be a business owner, wife, mother, and professional dancer.
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The Best Laid Plans
Shimkiri hadn’t always planned to be a full-time, professional dancer. In 2010, she was working as a mechanical engineer in Seattle and dancing on the side. She realized, however, that there’s only so much time that a dancer has to be able to utilize their body in a very difficult manner. She decided to leave her job to go to New York City for 3 months and explore dancing further. Shimkiri had planned to move back to her home state of California and get a different job as a mechanical engineer after her 3 months in the city.
Enter: Werner Figar. Shimkiri met Werner at a studio in NYC where they were both working and dancing. Half a month into her 3 month plan, the two realized they were quite smitten with each other and began dating. When the two first started dating, they were both dancing with separate partners at the time. However, given the amount of time one spends with their partner traveling, rehearsing, etc., the two eventually decided to embark on their dance journeys together.
To say that their professional and romantic partnerships went well would be an understatement. They married in 2012 and opened their own studio, Jersey City Ballroom, together in 2015. In addition to co-owning her studio and providing lessons to the community, Shimkiri continued to work on her professional competitive dancing career which is a highly time and energy consuming endeavor.
Timing Is Everything
For many couples, deciding when to have children can be a process. For those in careers that capitalize on the use of your body, it can be an even more in depth conversation. Shimkiri knew that not long after becoming pregnant, the changes in her body would inevitably lead her to have to retire from professional, competitive dancing. In addition to affecting her personal dance career, she also knew that as a business owner, her time off might be more challenging.
“It was a long process. Eventually we did what we needed to work toward it mentally and emotionally. Over the last few years, we had to taper off our dancing,” Shimkiri says.
They had to figure out when they had to ease off of their serious competitive dancing and figure out all of the different factors which allowed them to do what was best for the future of their baby. About 2 years out they hired a business coach to help with this process. Jersey City Ballroom has always worked hard towards having a philosophy of helping people feel like a better version of themselves. Their slogan is “Dance Makes Life Better!” Shimkiri, knowing the baby would have her taking more of a backseat role during part of her pregnancy and initial months of their child’s life, wanted to make sure there was stability in what they do and what they needed to see in their business to keep that philosophy alive.
“It was really important that the representation of our brand carried through,” Shimkiri emphasizes.
A year out, Shimkiri and Werner really started to make way for the process of starting their family and things began to fall in place for the business. Their daughter, Seraphina, was born on Father’s Day this past year.
Finding a New Rhythm
As a successful business owner, Shimkiri had always been able to plan and make decisions with confidence. After becoming a mother, Shimkiri had to quickly change her mindset about what matters, what she can take on, and what she needed to pass on to her employees.
“I am really taking it one day at a time. There are things you can’t anticipate every day and you have to re-evaluate sometimes,” she confesses.
Shimkiri, who has always been such an organized and goal oriented person, went from creating a list of 10 things she wanted to do, to understanding maybe it was too much, and focusing on 1 or 2 major goals broken into smaller benchmarks.
“You have to be more flexible and keep things more in perspective. You can’t control everything and (you) see the bigger picture and realize those small details don’t subtract or add that much.”
She also appreciates that by letting go of certain to-do lists and expectations she has for herself, she could feel much more present and enjoy that moment and that time with Seraphina. Becoming a mother has also shaped her business practices and made her more grounded. She’s learned that time is so precious and fleeting and not to take things so seriously. She’s also learned to let go of some of the control and lean on and trust her staff who have been amazing in keeping everything running.
A Group Number
For Shimkiri and Werner, going from a duo to a trio meant figuring out what work life at the studio would look like for them. As a co-owner and passionate teacher, Shimkiri knew she wanted to ease her way back into the studio life full-time at some point. There was a lot for the couple to think about in terms of whether or not they would have the baby with them at the studio, leave her with a nanny, find a daycare, etc.
They knew the logistics of incorporating an infant into studio life wasn’t going to be the easiest when it came to the schedule they were used to keeping. Before the baby, Shimkiri and Werner were normally up late at night, leaving the studio at 10 and 11pm and not going to bed until 1 in the morning. It was going to be a total shift for both of them.
However, Shimkiri also knew they were in a unique situation, as business owners, in having a choice to bring their daughter to work. Through her amazing doula, Lisa Acevedo, who owns Tapestry Birth, Shimkiri was able to find a mother’s helper which would offer her support 1-2 times a week. At first leaving Seraphina with anyone, even Werner, brought Shimkiri a lot of anxiety as she was used to being with her 24/7. Yet, by having the mother’s helper come to the studio and care for Seraphina nearby, she was able to work through these struggles as a new mom and find a way to incorporate her work at the studio back into her life little by little.
“We love that we’re able to bring her to the studio. Everybody has been curious about her. Everyone was so loving. There has been an outpouring of love and happiness and well wishes,” Shimkiri shares.
As Seraphina has gotten older, Shimkiri has been able to take on more and more teaching from wedding couples, to helping out with events, to now being able to teach many of her old group classes and even perform.
Coming Full Circle with the Community
Shimkiri credits a lot of her success as a business owner and mother to the incredible community around her. In addition to her doula, lactation consultant, Kimberleigh Weiss-Lewit, and mother’s helper, Shimkiri has also found so much incredible support through mom groups. She regularly attends Baby Yoga classes and interacts with moms through JC Bump and Baby. One of the best parts of this whole experience has been reconnecting with past students. Shimkiri has actually been able to share stories and experiences with many of the women from the couples whom she taught their wedding dance to, who now have babies around the same age as Seraphina. It has been a truly incredible and fulfilling experience as a business owner to come full circle with those students!
Choreographing a New Future
Jersey City Ballroom will celebrate its 5 year anniversary this spring with an amazing gala and dance showcases by students and staff. Shimkiri has also become inspired as a mother and dancer and has big plans for Jersey City Ballroom to start introducing more classes for younger dancers and students including possible mommy/daddy and me classes! She has definitely become committed to looking at ways to make it easier for families to come in and enjoy dancing together.
Shimkiri continues to find her balance of being a business owner of a successful and bustling dance studio while also being a mother to her beautiful daughter. As Seraphina has gotten older, Shimkiri has been able to have her be part of the studio more and more. You’ll often find her hanging out with her daddy or mother’s helper “backstage” while Shimkiri teaches a class or performs. Seraphina is always enthralled by the music, dancing, and friendly faces and is an amazing addition to the Jersey City Ballroom community.
When I asked Shimkiri what has been the best part of this new experience for her, she gushes, “Seraphina is the best part. I can’t believe she’s my baby. She’s so wonderful and amazing.”