A professional dancer who has performed in the Lion King on Broadway has gone back to class in Leeds after re-assessing her own life.

Leonora Stapleton now runs Be Body Aware, which encourages people to use dance and exercise for their own well-being. The company, which is being supported by AD:VENTURE, a programme for new businesses in West and North Yorkshire, was started in 2019, but its roots go back much further.

Leonora was a successful contemporary dancer in New York when the 9/11 disaster happened. The tragedy, and a mugging a few weeks later, left her feeling dazed, but it was several years before she realised the full impact. Then in 2017, just a short time after her mother died, Leonora was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

“In January 2018 I decided to have a mastectomy and went through a massive sense of shame and loss. The reality struck deep in my soul,” said Leonora.

“I had to come to terms with all the layers of the deep wounds I had suppressed. In addition, I recognised the resilience I had developed. Even though my life had changed from 2001, most of the time I had remained optimistic, despite my trauma.”

The breast cancer treatment left Leonora facing feelings of shame about her body and led her to thinking about how we feel about our own bodies. This experience set the seeds for Be Body Aware, which she started in October last year.

Leonora runs classes and workshops on body image, dance and fitness for wellbeing, and body shaming. She took her work into schools across Leeds and was targeting colleges, universities and businesses before lockdown struck. She is now running dance classes on Zoom, but looking forward to returning to face-to-face work and building up her client base.

But she admits the idea may not have got off the drawing board if it was not for the support from AD:VENTURE, which helps new businesses and those under three years old.

“I came to them with literally one page of an idea and I wanted to run with that idea. But they helped me realise it is a marathon not a sprint and I needed to plan properly, starting with a business plan,” said Leonora, who has had support from an AD:VENTURE business mentor and has attended several workshops, on topics like marketing and pitching.

And despite being an experienced dancer, choreographer, speaker and a qualified teacher, who has a Masters degree in leadership and management, Leonora admits her confidence had been at rock bottom when she started the company.

“The breast cancer had really hit my self-confidence, but AD:VENTURE helped me create the foundations for the business and gave me the belief to do it,” she said.

AD:VENTURE is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and has funding and delivery partners across the Leeds City Region which include the region’s nine local authorities.

Sarah Carling AD:VENTURE programme manager, said: “Leonora’s story is an inspiration. It shows that with the right encouragement and advice entrepreneurs can find the strength and resilience to start and grow a successful business, even after difficult times.

“We know that having the right support means businesses are more likely to survive and grow, which is why particularly now in the challenging times we are all living through the help, advice and support AD:VENTURE can offer are so important.”

Leonora agrees. “Having a business adviser is like having a guide every step of the way. They are along for the ride! As an artist my brain goes everywhere, but having someone there helps me focus on what actions I need to take.

“Sometimes in business you stumble. So, it’s great knowing someone is only a phone call away as you embark on your own adventure,” she said.

For more information about Be Body Aware go to https://bebodyaware.co.uk/

To find out more about AD:VENTURE go to https://ad-venture.org.uk/