Advice on Transitioning from Dancer to Trainer: Spotlight on Katie Dettling

We recently had the pleasure of working with Katie and Grant Dettling, co-founders of Fit-Arts, a Pilates and wellness studio on the Upper West Side.  In addition to being a successful entrepreneur in the health and fitness field, Katie and her husband Grant, are former dancers.

Katie spoke with us about navigating the dancer to trainer transition and the resources she used to cultivate a successful career after dance.  She also told us about the lessons she brings from dance into the world of fitness and entrepreneurship, and what it was like working with Rachel Neville Photography to create fitness marketing images for her company and its new website:

1. What lessons from your dance career did you use to transition to a successful fitness training career?

A long career in dance instills qualities like discipline, work ethic, adaptability, strong multi-tasking capabilities and more that we have used to transition. But beyond that, a critical quality in a successful fitness trainer/wellness coach is empathy.

Between collaborating so intimately with colleagues to achieve a common goal (the performance), dealing with a wide variety of personalities, ups, downs, achievements, disappointments, pain and injury, dancers can be very empathetic. Put that together with a career that only lasts until late thirties if your lucky, and a dancer in their thirties (like us) can empathize uncommonly with client’s pain, life transitions, frustrations and stressors. These are the reasons they come to fitness and wellness. These are the issues they are trying to address. If you can’t put yourself in your client’s shoes and really see the world through their needs and pains, you won’t be able to motivate and help them.

dancer turned trainer photo by rachel neville

On the more technical side, many years of experimenting with diverse dance techniques and cross training methods have allowed us untold hours of trial and error experience in achieving a desired aesthetic from the human body. These elements combined allow us to use the anatomy and postural analysis we’ve studied to draw from multiple exercise and wellness modalities to tailor sessions (both the actual exercises and the focus of those exercises) to exactly what a client needs and responds best to. It is what we love about fitness training, it’s like a human puzzle:)

I think a combination of these skills allow us to first connect with clients and then give them the results they are looking for. There is nothing more rewarding than having people leave time with you feeling better than when they came in!


2. How does the concept of marketing change from marketing yourself as a dancer to marketing your fitness business?

Some aspects are the same, close attention to aesthetic for one. It’s difficult to market your business without marketing yourself, “walking the walk” if you will. The difference with fitness is the aesthetic tends to be aspirational but still attainable: exuding health, vibrancy, musculature, good form, ease of movement. In dance, it’s all much more extreme. This can feel inaccessible to your average client.

Another big difference is amount of control and content. As a dancer, your company often controls images. Due to the limited resources/time of non-profits, results are usually minimal dated content, and in my experience not anything I would have chosen. Additionally, social media was in it’s infancy during much of my career. So I didn’t have a whole lot of content nor anywhere to put it. In marketing our own fitness business, we can prioritize good content and control the images/branding we are putting out there. It does take time but it’s also really fun to play around with ideas and document the journey of our business!

From start to finish the experience with Rachel Neville Photography was not only incredibly results driven and effective, but fun and inspiring.

3. What was your experience like working with Rachel?

Incredible! My reaction during the shoot was, “Where have you been my whole career?” Photo shoots during our dance career were often disorganized and the results disappointing. Something like: run out of rehearsal for 1 hour, throw this costume on that doesn’t quite fit and pose yourself somehow. It wasn’t unusual to hate every shot that came out of it. The dancers or ballet master or whoever might come up with decent posing ideas, but it just never came across well on camera. Rachel explained to me that lines end up looking different in 2 dimensions, you have to know how to tweak them for the camera. And that is even MORE important nowadays, since so much media is out there in 2 dimensions. Similar to the precision I was speaking to earlier, Rachel has a very precise eye from her dance background. She will keep tweaking every detail of your position until it looks right.

From start to finish the experience with Rachel Neville Photography was not only incredibly results driven and effective, but fun and inspiring. Rachel is an incredible entrepreneur and so knowledgeable about images for marketing. She not only takes great pictures, but helps you figure out what style of images to go for.

 pilates studio photo rachel neville

4. Did anything surprise you about your photo shoot experience?

Yes. How much Rachel pushed us to get our best possible results. I can’t tell you how many times in my past I wish someone had told me to point my foot really hard or press my shoulders back in a photo. I was sore for 2 days after the shoot, and it was SO worth it.

5. Can you describe your primary goal for your marketing efforts?

We are just building our new business, so our goals are simple. With our marketing, we want to clearly embody our mission and name (establish our branding). They combine our artistic and fitness perspective into Fit-Arts: where every body is a work of art. We will use this image on our website, social media, targeted Facebook ads, plus limited print flyers etc to increase awareness of our business and offerings. We hope to attract a range of core clients who need our specialties including: Athletic & Dance Conditioning, Injury Rehabilitation, Women’s Health, Barre For Men, and Stress Reduction. Ultimately, the goal is to increase our client base and online presence enough to open a separate location (our studio is dedicated space within our apartment to start), as well as run workshops on special subjects and offer summer retreats/intensives.

6. Did the act of making these images change the way you thought about your marketing and your business?

Yes! Rachel had two long discussions with us to figure out where we were going with our business before we even showed up for the shoot. Her questions were the first time we had to express out loud things like: Who is your core customer and what makes you stand out from your competitors? We already knew we needed great professional images. From our previous experience managing for dance, we knew how limited marketing is without great images. Plus, with all the “do it yourself” web building and graphic design tools out there, great photos can pay off big time by going a long way towards designing great marketing for yourself. We also had ideas of a series of “artsy” body shots. But that was about it.

Rachel helped us shape a comprehensive set of images that would be of multi-purpose use for quite some time. She researched what was already out there so we were sure to stand out. She also encouraged us to think bigger and not sell ourselves short (as dancers are apt to do). Ultimately, she was even able to suggest which final images she would edit in a certain way for a website home page etc. With Rachel, it’s a whole process from ideas to implementation, much more than just the day you are in the studio shooting.

 A professional dancer needs to know where their pinkie finger is in relation to their opposite toe at all times. They constantly create subtle shifts in timing/balance/muscle recruitment, all while keeping in perfect sync … This allows us to understand exercise and anatomy at a visceral level.

7. Are there similarities between your dance career and your current career that strengthen the ways you are able to serve your clients?


Most fundamentally, the joy and habit of moving our bodies to their fullest expression and capability, a human birthright that is often denied in modern life. This is one of the reasons that dancers become dancers and why transitioning to a career in fitness is a natural one. Keeping that as our life focus and sharing it with others to improve their lives and health is why Grant and I got hooked on fitness. We’re so grateful we found a second career we are as passionate about as we were dancing. It took years, but we got there. Passion is SO important to success.


Because ballet is so precise, it instills the ability to perceive every intricate detail of the physical form. A professional dancer needs to know where their pinkie finger is in relation to their opposite toe at all times. They constantly create subtle shifts in timing/balance/muscle recruitment, all while keeping in perfect sync with either a partner or a line of 16 other dancers for example. This allows us to understand exercise and anatomy at a visceral level, and also along with years of teaching dance, to see and coach that level of specificity in others.

8. How would you characterize the transition process from dancer to trainer?

Natural, but with plenty of uncertainty, experimentation, risk taking and patience (admittedly reluctant patience more often than not). Our transition was quite roundabout (as they often are).
We moved to New York in order to keep working as freelance dancers while exploring options for our “life after performing.” We pursued Arts Management in hopes of improving situations experienced in our career and had a wonderful opportunity to co-manage a dance company here in NYC for two years, Dances Patrelle. We were able to hone our business skills and learn how to embody another role other than dancer (it’s amazing how long it takes to stop answering “dancer” when people ask you what you do).

It’s so satisfying to put all of our energy in one place, instead of pursuing 6 different career avenues at once, and to put all of that energy into something of our own making.

At the same time, we had been pursuing fitness certifications, not necessarily planning that as our long term focus. Destiny had other plans however, and we connected with some out of this world inspiring mentors in the fitness world right about the time we realized spending our days behind a desk just WASN”T for us. We also did counseling with Lauren Gordon at Career Transition For Dancers. She had us do a Myers Briggs personality test and low and behold, it suggested we would be great in things like healthcare and coaching.

SO despite the fact that it wasn’t what we would have thought a few years earlier, when I look back at it, it was meant to be! Put that together with the fact that I come from several generations of entrepreneurs (my great grandfather founded Hygenic, a 3 generation family company that produced health products and eventually invented the Theraband!!), and this is the perfect fit for us to now have a business.
It’s so satisfying to put all of our energy in one place, instead of pursuing 6 different career avenues at once, and to put all of that energy into something of our own making.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. xballerina says:

    Reblogged this on xballerina's Blog and commented:
    Thank you Rachel Neville for the amazing blog feature! Rachel shot us for our new website and does exceptional work. Read here for thoughts on dancer to trainer to marketing…plus what to look for in a great trainer or photographer!

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