Noel Hanley with Sway Downtown

Noel Hanley with Sway Downtown

On this week's podcast, Marcus sits down with Noel Hanley. Noel is the owner of Sway Downtown, yoga, dance, wellness and art. Listen to this week's podcast and find out more about how Noel helps others breathe through life and become more confident in their bodies and what they can do.


Noel: I'm Noel Hanley, owner of Sway Downtown, yoga, dance, wellness and art.

Marcus: Yay. No, I'm excited to have you on the podcast, Noel. Thank you for coming to be here.

Noel: Yeah, thank you for asking me.

Marcus: Absolutely. So normally what we want to do is we want to get a little bit of information from you about who you are and where you're from? Where'd you go to high school? Did you go to college? In your case, any information that you might be able to tell us about where you've kind of studied yoga and stuff like that would be phenomenal. Married? Kids? All that stuff.

Noel: All right.

Marcus: Yeah, so just dive in.

Noel: Okay. So I'm originally from Jackson, Mississippi, or outside of Jackson. Brandon, Mississippi. Grew up there and went to the University of Alabama. And so have been at in Alabama since 2005. Danced with ... I was a dance major at the University of Alabama and then danced professionally with Alabama ballet in Birmingham. And then got engaged, moved back to Mobile, and that's kind of how I ended up in Mobile. My husband's from here.

Marcus: Okay.

Noel: Stewart Hanley. And yeah. So we moved here in 2011 and I've been here ever since. When I first moved here I was with Mobile Ballet. I danced with them, I wasn't ready to quit dancing when we moved back. So I was very thankful to have Mobile Ballet to be able to perform and dance and also teach as well. And so I was with Mobile Ballet for six years. I was the associate director of the school and the ballet mistress. Recently, before I left to do my own thing, I wanted to be downtown, so that's how I kind of ended up in Mobile. Yeah, and started doing yoga as something for movement for my body. Because when I quit dancing, I didn't really know what to do with myself. It was like I've danced all my life, I moved all the time all day every day. And then that sudden stop, it was like I don't know what to do with myself. I don't know, I don't know who I am, basically. Because without that, that was a big part of me. So yoga kind of helped me get back into feeling like myself again. To move and to be active again and stretch and not ... I don't like to necessarily work out, but so yoga's not necessarily I think of it as a workout.

Marcus: Yeah, it's not like lifting weights or something like that.

Noel: Yeah.

Marcus: But it's certainly a workout.

Noel: Yeah.

Marcus: Let me tell you. For those of you burly guys that are out there listening to this that think yoga's not a workout, I would challenge you to take a class. Because there are few things that I've done that are as hard as like a nice yoga class.

Noel: And there's lots of different forms of yoga too. So not every class is going to be a power yoga class where you're just going, going, going. Just the physical part of yoga is just one aspect of yoga that the western society has really grasped on to, is the physical part of yoga.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: So yeah.

Marcus: Yeah, no, I'm ... So confession time. Gosh, I feel like I'm ... This is Marcus' confession podcast. Thank you for tuning in. No, like I love yoga. It's something that I don't do enough of. But as a guy, it's real easy for me to go in the gym and lift a lot of weight and lose sight of mobility. And a number of years ago, a buddy of mine that I was working out with made the suggestion that we go and take a yoga class at the YMCA. And I found that I really, really enjoyed it. But it also showed me a lot of limitations. So I have a lot of issues with my wrists and my shoulders from years and years of pressing things. And also, I think my wrists are more from sitting at a computer and typing all day long. And so ... But what it's also taught me is that I need to be consistent and even just like stretching. Like if I'm feeling a pain ... Like recently I've had some issues with my shoulder where I've had a lot of shoulder pain. Well, I know now that it's more likely an issue with my pec that is transferring itself into my shoulder.

Noel: Yep.

Marcus: And I just need to spend some time stretching it out, rolling it out, cross ball, digging into it, doing whatever I need to in order to get that loosened up. But no, when I say that it's a hard workout, it's because even holding warrior pose or some of the planks and stuff like that. Unless you're doing it on a consistent basis, you know, guys think they can go in there and that they're going to be the hotshot or something like that. And it's not even the flexibility, it's just holding those poses. That really kind of shows you what your limitations are.

Noel: Yeah, and just at being still. That's the biggest part. It could be a gentle yoga class where all we do is sit on the floor the whole time and take longer stretches to try to relax and get into the poses and let your body just kind of sink and melt. And people don't like to sit still. We're so used to constant go go go go go, on our phones constantly. That ... To be able to slow down for even like two or three minutes and just be still for that, that's hard for people.

Marcus: Yeah. I would like to say that it didn't almost cause panic attacks when taking a yoga class. But the truth is, when you're somebody like me where just you're always going or you're always talking to somebody or you're always on your phone checking something on social media, like it can be a really difficult thing to just sit and be still, so you're right.

Noel: Yeah. And that's why I call yoga a practice. Because that's what it is, it's a practice. And everyday is going to be different.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: So you start one day. The first day you might come you might be a complete mess. No worries. Just come back the next time, you might find it a little bit different. It might get easier. And one day, you might feel really good. Your body will be really good, you'll feel flexible, you'll feel strong. And then next day you might have a little sniffle or a cough and your body feels achy and you feel sick. And that's just part of it and just being able to notice that and being mindful of your body and know where you are, just where your body is, and how you feel is a big part of it.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: And that's kind of what I like to tell people. Don't get frustrated with yourself. This is a practice, it's a journey. Keep going and just be aware of your body and be mindful of that. There's a lot of ... Teaching adults, I've taught kids forever. And then really started teaching adults regularly yoga to see that people are not very aware of where their bodies are in space. We know that we can put our arm up, but is your arm really where you think it is? So to really kind of focus on that and really know where you are in space helps you to not trip or sprain your ankles or little things like that. All that kind of stuff helps with balance and all that.

Marcus: Yeah, I mean you do something like tree pose. So for those of you that don't, aren't familiar, like you're standing on one leg. The other leg your foot is kind of resting on your upper part of your calf. Or if you're more flexible like your inner thigh. And you're arms could be doing any myriad of things. But standing in that pose, you're ... You can get into a squat rack and squat a couple hundred pounds or more. But you stand there on one leg and you realize all the ancillary muscles that you don't use when you're squatting that are firing off and trying to keep you balanced. And it's your foot and everything [crosstalk 00:07:35].

Noel: Yeah, your foot, your ankle, your calf-

Marcus: Your calf.

Noel: All those start moving. All your little receptors in your feet and all that kind of stuff.

Marcus: Yeah. Now, so you started Sway and own Sway.

Noel: Yes.

Marcus: And so obviously you all are a yoga studio. Is that accurate?

Noel: Yes. So we are a yoga and dance studio and also an art gallery. So there's no mirrors in the studio, you're just surrounded by art. And I did that because one, I loved art and that was kind of a part of kind of how I wanted to have a space is have a gallery, but that's kind of hard in the south. People don't buy art like they do in New York or in big cities. So it's hard to just make that your sole income. Well and plus that's not what I wanted. I didn't want that to be the whole business. But I wanted it to be a part of it. My friend, Lauren Woods, who did my logo, she was a dancer with me. She's an artist and we kind of collaborated in that. And then she has recently moved to Auburn. She got a full time professor job over there. She's in art there, so we're super excited for her. So I have a new gallery manager, Jessica Maples, who was kind of Lauren's-

Marcus: Protégée?

Noel: Yeah, protégée, I guess. So that's kind of how the art came about. And not putting mirrors on the wall, as a dancer I have stared at myself for years, just constantly critiquing, things aren't good enough, things aren't right, hating my body, being told I'm fat in the dance world. It's just hard.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: So I was like, you know what? No more mirrors. I need to be able to breathe. And people like it because people get distracted. They come in, they look at people or they look at themselves. I don't look the same as somebody doing this pose. You're not going to because everybody's built differently. You're not going to look the same as the person next to you who's six five and you're five four.

Marcus: Right.

Noel: You know, it's just not going to happen. So to be able to just focus on your breath and come in has been my huge ... Like the biggest thing about the studio that I like the most. Is that there are no mirrors, except for in the dressing room so you can change real quick. But other than that, and in the bathroom. So I'll go into the bathroom, come out and be like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I run a business like this, my hair all crazy." But I don't look at myself all day and I find that that has helped me like myself better. Because you being to like this body that can do these things that you weren't necessarily think about doing. Like I have women who are in their 60s doing backbends who haven't done a backbend since they were 12. But then they feel good about themselves. Then they're proud of their bodies and proud of what you can do with yourself.

Marcus: That's really cool.

Noel: Yeah.

Marcus: Well diving into the more the business side of things, what was your first job? Not your first yoga job, but your first like crap job. Flipping burgers or something like that. And were there any lessons that you still remember from it?

Noel: So my very first job would have to be teaching dance, teaching little ones.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: And I think that that teaches a lot of patience. Kids are ... Especially little ones, like three year olds, they're not being bad necessarily. They're being three. They have, you know, they're not ... They can't sit still, they can't ... And that's what you're teaching them.

Marcus: Right. We lose perspective of that quite a bit. Yeah.

Noel: Yeah. You're teaching them how to stay in line, how to wait their turn. There's all these ... There's etiquette in ballet. So a big part of that is teaching that at a young age. So that there's this you come in, you hold yourself a certain way, we're still, you listen to the teacher. So I think that's probably the biggest thing is patience I think I learned.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: And being also ... What's the word I'm looking for? You want to be present and be aware. You can't be kind of doing something else when you've got a room of little ones like trying to run amuck. You have to be very present and make sure that you hold their attention.

Marcus: Nice. Now do you remember the first ... I mean, did you just jump into Sway? Or did you teach anywhere else?

Noel: So I was teaching at Mobile Ballet. I was teaching some yoga classes to the girls. They would come to me at the end of the week and be like, "Ms. [inaudible 00:11:42], can we please do yoga?"

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: It was kind of like a treat for them.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: You know, their little brains go ... They ... Well one, they dance six days a week. They are ... You know, and they work hard. And they go to school, too, on top of that.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: So they need to be able to let their brains rest. Not have to go over choreography, not go over their math problems for their test tomorrows, or whatever it is. But to be able to just breathe for a second, chill out. Maybe stretch something that doesn't feel good and hold for a second. And also, just really be conscious of where they are, especially in a turned in position. For dancers, especially ballerinas, we do everything mostly in an outward rotation. So all those rotators, all the inward stabilizer muscles on dancers sometimes tend to be a little weak because they don't do things turned in. So that's a good thing for those girls too. So that was kind of a strength thing. Not only a relaxation thing for them, but also a strengthening the stabilizers in their hips too as well.

Marcus: Well do you remember the first time that you held a class or something that made you think that there might be something to this that you wanted to kind of move in that direction?

Noel: Just that they would keep coming back and asking to do it more.

Marcus: Yeah. I would imagine the positive reinforcement there.

Noel: Yeah. Just that they could ... These were kids that love to dance. They love ballet. They love to dance. They want to do it all the time. But then at the end of the week for them to keep coming back at times and be like, "Can we please do yoga? Can we please do this?" And just to see them, kind of see their bodies relax. A lot of times with dancers, you see them hold their breath. And this is something that I really wish that I would have done as a young dancer is do yoga. Because I think it would have helped my dancing more to be able to connect my movement to my breath better.

Marcus: Interesting.

Noel: We were always told to breathe, but it's like, "Okay, well I am breathing."

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: But to actually know how to breathe and use your breath to help your movement, to teach that, that's hard. We just breathe, that's ... I mean that's how we live. We just breathe. But to consciously breathe is takes a little bit of time and practice.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: But it helps with your movement and it helps your flexibility, helps your strength, all of that. So that is something, really, I wish I would have done as a young dancer, is really. Because I think I would have been a much better dancer if I would have done yoga when I was younger.

Marcus: That's funny. Well if you were talking to someone who wanted to get started in running their own business, like we were talking before we started recording, and you all just celebrated your one year anniversary. So congratulations to you on that.

Noel: Thank you.

Marcus: Because business is not easy, and staying in business is even more difficult. So if you were talking to someone who wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Noel: Just know that dealing with permits and things like that is not going to be on your time. And being able to kind of go with the flow, especially trying to open a business but still not letting those setbacks get you down, to keep going.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: There was a lot of like little ... Especially being downtown with the old buildings and with-

Marcus: Any kind of renovation that you're dealing with the city and stuff [crosstalk 00:14:52].

Noel: Yeah, and all that. There's all these little kind of roadblocks. Oh you need this, oh you gotta do this paper. But just keep going, take it day by day, and keep going. And if you really want it, you'll, you know.

Marcus: You'll get there.

Noel: You'll get there. Yeah.

Marcus: Yeah. I've had some lessons in that too and Mobile has a lot going for it in that the ... There's a lot of recognition of what's going on downtown and all the changes and the business that is kind of coming back. And there's like 180 million dollars worth of renovation happening for residential in downtown Mobile and stuff like that. But for all of that, there is still some aches and pains when it comes to the city and dealing with them. And I think ... And I've had talks with people at the city about this. I think they think that everybody just knows the process by which they need to go and operate. But the truth is, it's their job to educate the masses on what it is that they need to do. And so I'm hopeful that there will be some changes over the course of the next year or so that will help them help us as a business community.

Noel: Yeah. I agree. Yeah.

Marcus: Because we all want to do the right thing, but I think so often times you just get caught in this kind of weird place where they're not-

Noel: You have no idea what's going on.

Marcus: Yeah, they're not educating you and you don't know and there's not really a good source of information for all of that stuff. So yeah, I get that. What does a typical day look like for you?

Noel: So I start my day at the studio at 7:00. I have my first class at seven. I usually try to get there a little bit before, I'm not a morning person, so this is all ... Starting early like this is a challenge for me.

Marcus: Sure.

Noel: I'm used to teaching ... I was used to teaching in the evening and teaching, running rehearsals till 8:30 at night.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: My schedule's flip flopped, really. So I start the day at seven. I do three classes in the morning and then I have a little break before my lunchtime classes. I do two lunchtime classes. And then I have a break from one to four and that's kind of to run errands, get things done.

Marcus: Record podcasts.

Noel: Yeah, record podcasts. But and then I come back for either two or three classes in the evening.

Marcus: Very good. So you're ... I lost count. You're teaching six or seven classes a day?

Noel: Yes. I do have a ... I have a teacher who teaches for me Friday mornings at 7:00 and 8:30. Woo hoo. Sybil Nance is her name. She's awesome, she's a yoga therapist, she's originally from Vancouver and she's awesome. So if you want to check her out too. So she teaches Friday mornings at 7:00 and at 8:30 and I get to sleep in, so that's nice. And then I do have another teacher who teaches my adult jazz class on Wednesday nights. Her name is Natalie Blevens and she was a dance major too as well. And just a, she's a fun little teacher. We have a good time in our adult jazz class.

Marcus: That's cool. But I mean kudos to you for being able to do all that, because that's quite a bit. I was listening to a podcast the other day and they were ... It was the ... Well, whatever. It was just the Joe Rogan podcast and they so sober October. But every ... Or this year, they decided to have a fitness component to it where they were actually measuring the output of everything that they were doing. So they wore this armband or something that measured everything. And they were in like the top point one percent or something along those lines. And so their comments were, "Well who the heck beat us?" Because they were doing five and six hour long workouts. And well it's people like you that are living at the gym seven hours. Seven hours of yoga every day, I can imagine.

Noel: People ask me all the time, "How do you do it?" It is pretty crazy, not too many people teach seven classes a day or do seven hours of yoga or whatever. But as a professional dancer, you dance pretty much all day. You would start in the morning with a warm up class, with a just basic technique class, and then you have rehearsals throughout the day. And you'll have breaks in between there. So I kind of look at it like that.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: I kind of try to kind of base it. And I like to move all day. I like that.

Marcus: Now who is one person ... And maybe you don't have somebody that you can throw out there. But if you were to pick one person from the business world that motivates you, is there somebody that comes to mind?

Noel: My dad and my brother are both entrepreneurs. My dad has owned grocery stores. Growing up we've had grocery stores and little restaurants and so my dad's always been in that business of his own boss kind of thing.

Marcus: Right.

Noel: And my brother is following in his footsteps too as well. My brother has a screen printing business in Jackson, Mississippi. He does screen printing, embroidery, all kinds of stuff. And they go ... They're always going and there's always this push for something new. My dad's always got ideas, my brother's always got ideas. And I don't know. Something about that just ... I don't know, I look up to that. Because they're always inventing something new or doing something new to help themselves or their business. And when you work for yourselves, as I can see now ... I mean I knew, growing up, my dad worked a lot and he was tired or he was gone a lot or whatever. But to actually do it now, I get it and I respect them because-

Marcus: Yeah, all the work that goes into it.

Noel: I know that they are tired or-

Marcus: It's not just the physicality of it, but it's the mental aspect of it too, keeping-

Noel: Yeah, because you work 24/7 really.

Marcus: Yeah, pretty much. Are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward?

Noel: In this business? Is that what you're saying?

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: I have to say my husband, really. He has really-

Marcus: Come on.

Noel: No, I'm not kidding though. I really am ... I'm not. Because without him-

Marcus: All right, I'll give you that one. But then you gotta give me something. But go ahead.

Noel: Okay, well let me finish this though. Because really, because we are complete opposites.

Marcus: Sure.

Noel: He's an attorney, he's very kind of type A, he's ... He likes order, he was in the military. And then I am like this wild flower, dancer, yogi. So he's kind of helped keep me on track, I guess, and really help push me. I would say he's probably one of my biggest fans. He really is. So without him, I really could not have done this. Because he's really helped keep me going and where I need to go. Because I get very kind of ... Squirrel. You know?

Marcus: I hear you. But so something else, and maybe a book you read that kind of gave you some ideas on how to make the business more successful or maybe it's some organization here locally that's helped you kind of point you in the right direction or another person, maybe, that isn't a family member that's mentored you or something along those lines?

Noel: Yeah, I'd have to say Zoe Todd Lombard, or Zoe Todd. She is the associate director of the school of Mobile Ballet. And she was kind of a mentor to me. We've been through a lot over the last few years and grown really close. And when I was thinking about starting my own thing, she was always there to encourage me. Of course she was sad when I left because we had gotten so close and we worked well together. But she was always there to kind of say, you know, everything's going to be fine.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: You just do what you do and yeah. I think Zoe really kind of helped me kind of push me through this. Because I needed to know that she ... I guess I also needed to know that she was okay that I was leaving too. You know?

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: But we still talk a lot. And for a while there, when I first opened, I called ... We called each other every day to talk to each other. Every day. Whether it would be like little things with the studio, at Mobile Ballet, or things that I was going through. Because she's been running basically a school for much longer than I have. So she has a lot of knowledge there that dealing with parents, dealing with people, and things like that.

Marcus: Yeah, that's really good. Now what's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?

Noel: Organization. Organization and time [crosstalk 00:23:09].

Marcus: Especially for somebody that's a wild flower, yogi, creative type.

Noel: Yes. And time management.

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: Very much so.

Marcus: Because it'll fill up whatever time you give it.

Noel: Yeah. Yeah.

Marcus: Right?

Noel: Yes. Very much so. Just like little social media things. Like being able to really use your time wisely. Because for me, I do have a good bit of time throughout the day but I end up talking to people a lot, I don't push people out for class. I mean I have a couch. My front foyer is like a living room. So it's set up like a living room with a couch and a chair and people usually stay and hang out for a little while. So I don't ever want to push anybody out. I don't want people to feel like they're rushed out, you know, because I want them to feel comfortable. So being able to find these little snippets of time that I have to use wisely. And I'm still working on that.

Marcus: It will be a constant battle.

Noel: Yeah.

Marcus: So as a yogi, how do you like to unwind?

Noel: Oh, how do I like to unwind?

Marcus: Yeah.

Noel: I like to chill with a glass of wine outside at my house. Like just be outside and just chill and a glass of wine and relax. Usually probably not doing anything. Yeah.

Marcus: Just listening and being still?

Noel: Yeah.

Marcus: Yeah. One of the things that I'm having to remind myself is just being present and enjoying where I am versus thinking about all of the various things that are going on. I should probably pick yoga back up. It was always very good for me, but it's been six months or so since I've done anything. So I need to look into that. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast.

Noel: Yeah.

Marcus: We'll wrap up. Any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Noel: Well we always do special events too, so on my schedule you'll see like my regular classes that I have, but we also a lot of special events, like once a month type things. I find that people like to come downtown and do something, so a lot of times I do a yoga brunch that I usually gear up with another restaurant downtown and we do a yoga and then brunch. I do a family yoga, a kids yoga, mommy and me, so I try to kind of reach everybody because yoga is for everybody and I want people to know that.

Marcus: You have a big burly dude yoga class? Don't answer that.

Noel: I don't have one specifically for that. But I do ... And people always ask that. People are always like, "Do guys do yoga?" Well yoga was started by men. Men are the ones who started yoga.

Marcus: It is actually a ... Yeah.

Noel: So it's funny to ... But I do have guys that come.

Marcus: It's just been [inaudible 00:25:41] by the yoga pant wearing crowd.

Noel: Yeah, mainstream like girls in two piece doing weird poses and stuff.

Marcus: Yeah, exactly.

Noel: There's more to yoga than that.

Marcus: I actually had forgotten. So where can people can find you? Where can people find you?

Noel: Sway Downtown ... Or where the studio is?

Marcus: Where's your location? Facebook? Email? Phone number if you want to give it, all that stuff.

Noel: So we're 10 South Conception Street, so just south of Bienville Square between Dauphin and Conti. And then you can check out our Facebook page. We're Sway Downtown on there., that has all of our information about classes, pricing, our art gallery, our show that's up for the month. Our show is rotating, so every month at art walk is our opening reception for the new show.

Marcus: Cool.

Noel: And then we're also on Instagram too. Sway Downtown on there as well.

Marcus: Awesome. Well, Noel, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.

Noel: Yeah, thank you, you too.

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