In the second episode of Reach.Live Creator Series, we spoke with Soraya Doherty, who has been in the fitness industry for the last 20 years. She runs her own company and also happens to be the creator of a nationally accredited barre workout practice.

For this interview, Soraya chatted with the team from her home in Westwood, Massachusetts. She had spent the morning fixing the audio, video & lighting setup in her makeshift studio at home. She has ensured the continuity of her business during the pandemic and to continue serving her community of fitness enthusiasts.  

Q: Talk about your upbringing across vastly different cultures - Lebanon and the US? What was it like when you were growing up?

It was fantastic!  I am a navy brat. My dad is an American who was in the US Navy stationed in Cyprus as a linguist, when he met my mother, who was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon.  My dad happened to attend a Christian conference in Beirut, which is where he met my mother. Because my mother had already lived in America while on scholarship, at Baylor University - she and my Father had a lot in common. They married, and traveled extensively raising five children in varying parts of the world.  This early exposure to the international community helped shape my perspective on life.  Both my parents kept the Lebanese heritage ever so present in our lives, but we also had a great appreciation and respect for all cultures. Some of my best memories were when both my parents worked at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Each year the language school would host “International Day'' -  Our family actively participated in representing Lebanon and the Lebanese traditions, alongside with the Arabic American Club of Monterey.  It was always so fun to learn about other cultures. In fact, I still love learning about other cultures and traditions.

Q: What inspired you to teach both barre & belly dancing? How and why did you land up creating RAQ THE BARRE format?

My background is in the Theatre Arts. While I love the stage and I have extensive on camera experience, I equally love fitness. So in 2000, I became a certified group fitness professional.  Since the beginning of my career, I offered a variety of fitness formats ranging from aqua, barre, muscle, and a variety of dance formats - including belly dance for fitness.  My many years of experience taught me several things: 1. What clients want from a workout 2.  Which workouts were just “trends” and which were not. 3. Where the industry seems to be moving.  Barre Fitness is a wonderful full body, low impact method, which shows no signs that it will be slowing down.   Because I know that belly dance is an intricate technique - it became clear to me that I needed to create a solution which appeals to fitness enthusiasts while honoring authentic technique. RAQ THE BARRE is a win-win solution. Our well thought out program allows me to offer my area of expertise as a modern day wellness solution. In addition, I know that clients are learning an authentic technique.

“I want the business to run like a well-oiled machine”

Q: On your website, you mentioned that you struggled with body image issues growing up? How has that impacted the RAQ THE BARRE brand?

Yes - for a very short period in my teens, I dabbled with bulimia. I regret that I was easily persuaded by the media images at the time. When I was younger, models were not represented with varying body types or ethnicities.  Fortunately, I had an incredibly strong mother who knew the right words to help me bust past my low point.  You see my mom’s trailblazing spirit was well ahead of her time and knew how to share the health and nutritional  components of the Mediterranean diet. As I was going through those challenges and images in my mind, my mom was always there to encourage me. I purposely  designed our barre program in a way to invite a broader audience. In fact, women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities seem to gravitate to our program because we strive to encourage everyone to love their bodies as healthy and fit. Size is just a number and it does not determine our identities. I genuinely believe that my job is to provide a wellness solution to keep participants healthy and fit. My hope is to help participants feel that they can become the best version of themselves.  

“In the next 5-10 years, I would like for my reach to expand from America to the international community.  It’s a big world and there is room for everyone”

Q: What do you think is the future of independent business owners like yourself and where do you see it headed in the next 5-10 years?

Business owners will definitely be seeking digital and online solutions. Well before quarantine life, I knew I wanted to provide my services online in an effort to provide a broader reach. So, I had already been filming a lot and creating content and making plans to move in this direction.  However, the quarantine has forced me (and my fellow dance and fitness colleagues) to move faster and to seek solutions to help make this happen. This is where can provide a solution. I need a platform whereby I can offer virtual sessions, choreography, and varying wellness a la RAQISA. In the next 5-10 years, I would like for my reach to expand from America to the international community.  It’s a big world and there is room for everyone. I hope to harness the right audience for me and to provide quality content. In addition, many of my students have realized during quarantine that they like the accessibility of learning and training virtually via video.

“I suggest getting comfortable working on camera, get comfortable with your content so you can deliver it in a way so that it ensures your clients are set up for success.  You need to be part educator and part entertainer. ”

Q: What does success look like for your business?

Success would be to earn steady income by providing great content - and doing what I love. In the big picture - I would love for my RAQISA training product to be in every store in America, with great digital content. I want the business to run like a well-oiled machine. mY goal is to grow the business with unique branding and find the right language to be able to sell our products and our results based workouts as a wellness solution. Success would include having an all-star team of certified RAQ THE BARRE professionals and a global appreciation of our method and its contribution to the wellness industry.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to fellow fitness instructors who are trying to set up their own independent businesses?

If you are setting your business up virtually via video, I suggest getting comfortable working on camera, get comfortable with your content so you can deliver it in a way so that it ensures your clients are set up for success. You need to be part educator and part entertainer.  And honestly, be authentic to yourself.  It’s a big world and wellness is for everyone. There is room for all of us.

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