Dance therapy company comes away with Social Innovation Lab grand prize

Tyde-Courtney Edwards, founder of Ballet After Dark and BAD Studios (Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab)

A company that aims to help survivors of sexual violence heal using dance therapy came away from the Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab Showcase with first prize and $25,000 to put toward helping survivors both near and far.

Tyde-Courtney Edwards’s work as the founder of Ballet After Dark is no secret in Baltimore. She has been profiled by Baltimore Magazine and The Baltimore Sun for her work teaching trauma-informed dance classes with the intention of helping trauma survivors improve their relationships with their bodies. A documentary, appropriately called “Ballet After Dark,” which was produced by Queen Latifah and Procter & Gamble, was even made about Edwards’s work.

But now, the company is taking its formula online in hopes of supporting survivors worldwide, those who may otherwise be unable to attend in-person classes due to price barriers or health concerns or who simply want to take the classes in the privacy of their own homes

The product, called BAD Studios, will be a subscription service that will let survivors access online dance therapy tutorials and workshops. The product is currently in the works; Edwards has signed a production company onto the project to develop the educational materials, and the $25,000 prize from the Social Innovation Lab Showcase will go toward the creation of those materials, as well as to strengthening her venture here in Baltimore by hiring three part-time employees.

Edwards is excited to extend the reach of Ballet After Dark’s mission.

“We’re the only organization that provides this kind of intervention and trauma-informed dance therapy resource,” she said. “There is an extreme lack of prevention and recovery resources available to survivors of sexual assault, especially Black and Brown survivors. So, we’re creating this safe space for survivors that look like us, look like members of our community.”

Edwards was one of 10 participants in the 2021-2022 cohort of the Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab, a six-month accelerator program aimed at supporting early-stage start-ups with strong social missions. Other cohort members this year included companies focused on everything from ensuring access to menstrual products to recycling glass.

The cohort’s second-place winner was the Puzzling Disorder Project, an apparel company run by Nicole Stokes. Stokes, a knitter and crocheter, began selling her designs several years ago but only realized during the how much her son, who has autism, benefited from the tactile feeling of her garments. Certain stitches and fabrics served as “sensory tools,” which can provide comfort to some autistic people when they’re feeling overwhelmed by other stimuli.

She then began targeting her wares specifically towards people with autism or who could otherwise benefit from that tactile input.

“I have a scarf that I make, a perfectly fashionable scarf. But I can actually add a weighted element to it so that it’s actually heavier” and acts similarly to a weighted blanket, she said. The innocuous look of her accessories and garments means that the products don’t “draw attention” to themselves.

With the $15,000 she won in the Social Innovation Lab Showcase she plans to start creating and distributing what she calls “customizable sensory kits,” which will include both her products as well as some items made by other Baltimore entrepreneurs.

Stokes said the Social Innovation Lab program was invaluable to her journey as an entrepreneur; For years, she resisted calling herself a business owner even though she makes and sells clothes, as knitting and crocheting had long been hobbies before she turned them into a venture.

As a part of the Social Innovation Lab, she learned she had a lot of business knowledge and expertise — she simply didn’t always have the right words to describe that expertise.

“The program itself really sat me down and said, you do know what revenue streams are. You do know what your target market is because you’re selling to it,” she said. “(It) really gave me confidence in my experience.”

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