#GirlBoss: A Sora Story

This past month, Sora’s owner, Jessica Jay Johnson, was asked to speak at a panel for Young Women Lead at EKU. 

Women Leading Women

At the panel, she spoke with young women looking to learn from women with varying achievements and careers. Jessica led her discussion on owning a small business, Sora Aerial Arts.

To learn more about Jessica and her journey with Sora, check out the Q&A below:

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a business owner?

Jessica Aerial Silks

A: Never, haha! I have always had passion for aerial acrobatics and movement, and I knew I wanted to make it my career at some point. I moved to Lexington in 2012 and I realized there were no nearby aerial studios. This started my natural progression into business ownership. By 2013, I began teaching a few classes here in Lexington in a small facility and the response from the community was unbelievable. Today, I sit with my very own studio (that’s currently going through a huge expansion phase). I founded a professional performance company and I train others interested in teaching the aerial arts!

Q: What does your typical day at work look like?

Jessica Teaches Youth Program

Jessica Teaches Youth Program

A: No day is the same as the next. As a business owner, I wear so many hats - owner, teacher, choreographer, artistic director, bookkeeper, and more. My mornings start with checking emails, getting my personal workout in, and then working on anything admin related. After that’s all done, teaching typically happens next. It’s refreshing not to have to do the same exact thing everyday! That being said, with wearing so many hats, it is important not to get too overwhelmed (which can happen) and to tackle one thing at a time. It’s truly tempting to work 12 hours a day on a regular basis to get everything done. I’ve had to learn some things the hard way. The challenge is trying to find the balance between running a business and also having a personal life.

Q: How did you set yourself apart from others who wanted the same job?

A: There are lots of gyms in Lexington and there are many aerial studios around the world. Some fail; some succeed. I had to educate myself on why some studios fail and why some succeed. I’ve learned to always ask why, always find a solution, always provide an amazing service, and to find ways to differentiate ourselves. It’s important to never compromise your vision, values, and purpose.

Q: What was your first “win” that made you confident that you were doing the right thing?

A: When I first opened the gym in 2013, I put out a Groupon and a Living Social Deal for my aerial silks classes. From these deals, I met and then maintained many clients who kept coming back for more aerial and fitness classes. I figured if people kept coming back, I was doing a good thing here. From there, word-of-mouth spread like wildfire.

Q: Can you tell us about a challenge or stumbling block that you had to overcome to get to where you are now in your career?

A: There have been extremely hard times. Times when I couldn’t pay the bills, times when I had no more energy to produce content, times when I would ask myself, “What have I gotten myself into?”. Small business, much like aerial arts, isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave, the patient, and the persistent. Most of the time you have to be the first one in, the last one out, and work the weekends.

Q: What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken?

Sora's New Location (as of June 1st)

Sora's New Location (as of June 1st)

A: The biggest risk I took, initially, was quitting my steady teaching job with benefits and a 401K to follow my passion. The risks that followed were to make sure I could instill the fire that I have for aerial arts into others, to create art that inspires, and to create an atmosphere for others to have the same opportunity. All of this was a huge risk and truly a major struggle for those first few years. I started in a small space within a gymnastics facility. Once I had a steady clientele, I took a second risk in leasing my own space to house our classes. That year was most definitely the hardest. Four years later, we are continuing to grow and are about to take our 3rd big risk of expanding into our dream space in downtown Lexington to hold our classes, performances, and outreach program.

Q: What’s one thing that you LOVE about your job?

A: This is a loaded question! I love so many things about my job. I think what I love most is seeing self-confidence blossom within a student. I love giving others opportunities to grow and to express themselves. I love providing a space for community. I love that aerial arts training pushes the idea of what is possible within “human potential.” There are measurable ways for students to see progress in both their strength and flexibility within aerial arts training, yet the challenges and possibilities are endless. The perpetual nature of this art form is quite addicting, and, still to this day, I love seeing a student catch the “aerial bug” like I did.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?

A: Do your absolute best and don’t take anything personally.

#GirlBoss | Fitness | Lexington | Aerial Arts | Business Tips


This article is written by Jessica Jay Johnson and Julia Blake.