Doing what you love for a living can be amazing, but entrepreneurial highs also come with lows. For Caprice Burrell, the owner of Alter Ego Pole Fitness in northern New Jersey, the first struggle came in the form of COVID-19 forcing her to temporarily close her business. Then, just when things started looking up, a fire forced her to close her business indefinitely. However, the other side to entrepreneurship is fighting for what you love, and Burrell is giving all she has to keep her business of 10 years going strong. This is a lesson in perseverance.
Burrell’s passion for pole dancing started in 2008. She fell in love with the athleticism and the community over years of going to class and trying new challenging moves. After a few years of visiting other pole studios in the New York City area, Burrell decided it was time to open her own studio in her native New Jersey, and Alter Ego Pole Fitness was born. Anyone in the pole dancing community can tell you that many pole studios come and go—most never make it past five years in business. But for the past decade Burrell has built a community of pole dancers and instructors who feel like they have found a home at her studio.
“What sets my studio apart from others,” says Burrell, “is that we are able to accommodate people, whereas others make things difficult. When people need to get in and practice real quick or need to have a photoshoot, I give them much more reasonable rates and work with their situation.” The Jersey City native continues, “I make it easy for people to get their creativity out. A lot of other owners are very controlling, and you can’t even teach at a lot of places if you’re not a celebrity in the pole [dancing] world.”
Burrell first opened her space in Newark, New Jersey, but after a few years in business her clientele expanded and she needed more space. So she moved to a bigger studio in nearby Hoboken. Her clients and instructors from Newark followed her and kept showing up, even when Burrell decided to move her family to a town in Florida right outside Orlando.
“I knew I wanted to keep my studio in New Jersey,” says Burrell, “but I was also tired of being cold. Plus, my mom relocated to Florida, and some other family issues made me decide to relocate. I decided that I would move down here and just manage Alter Ego from here, which worked beautifully.”
Burrell was able to manage her studio long-distance and remotely by having a staff in place that she trusted. That also allowed her to take on a day job as a teacher when the opportunity presented itself. She had settled into a rhythm of flying back up to New Jersey on some weekends, but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and forced her to temporarily close Alter Ego’s doors.
What kept Burrell afloat was her income from teaching and a mini loan that allowed her to pour into her small business. She also used social media to continue brand awareness by teaching virtual classes in other disciplines (like stretching, for example), and when she was able to reopen her studio after the first round of quarantine, clients and instructors came flocking right back—masked up and ready to go. But then tragedy struck again. In December 2021, just a few days before Christmas, the building that housed her home studio and several other small businesses caught on fire.
“I found out about the fire while I was at the airport—” says Burrell, “just coming back to Florida from a visit, and I was devastated. I was numb because two people lost their lives, and all of us business owners could potentially lose everything we worked so hard for.”
The bad news kept piling on. She learned that her business didn’t sustain much water damage and that her equipment was most likely still intact, but she wasn’t allowed to go back inside. It also came out that the building’s owners were most likely going to sell the building anyway, so with or without the fire—the end was still near. Burrell had liability insurance, which only covered occupational injuries at the studio, so she set up a GoFundMe to cover relocation costs and to pay her instructors. Support began pouring in, and things started looking up.
Burrell raised the initial $15,000 she asked for and partnered with other studios to set up fundraising classes and workshops while also looking for new studio space. Since AURN’s first interview with Burrell, she has landed a new studio home and hopes to be back in business by mid-March.
“Look at God!” Burrell says, “The new space is in Jersey City, New Jersey, and it’s amazing. It’s a storefront, it’s bigger and it’s much easier to get to than my last studio. It’s a fixer-upper, but I know that our business will enhance that little neighborhood, and I’m ready to make it work.”
Alter Ego’s GoFundMe is still up and running, and her Cash App is $AlterEgoPoleFitness.