The pros and cons of opening a dance studio before age 30
Edited by Nancy Wozny
Young people today have many options when it comes to entrepreneurial careers, and owning a dance studio is a popular one. Considering its physicality and long hours, it’s a career that seems to suit the young quite well. Fearlessness and technical savvy come into play as well. The following people contributed their stories, expertise, and wisdom.
Amanda Armetta-Gring, 21 (school owner at 19), Armetta’s Grand Jeté Studio of Dance, Macungie, PA
Nadia Avigliano, 30 (school owner at 25), Nadia’s Performing Arts Centre, Whitestone, NY
Melanie Brooke Campbell, 26 (school owner at 21), Orangecrest Dance Academy, Riverside, CA
Amy Leigh Hall, 28 (school owner at 21), Rhythms Dance Academy, Point Pleasant, NJ
Amber Hemmer, 28 (school owner at 25), AHA! Amber Hemmer’s Academy of Dance, Cedar Grove, NJ
Tanya Neary, 25 (school owner at 19), Stars of Tomorrow Dance Academy, Huntington, NY
Will Shover, 28 (school owner at 26), Dance Upstairs, Elkin, NC
Alicia Smith, 21 (school owner at 21), Patricia Krus School of Dance, Garrett, ID
Jaclyn Augustyn Smith, 30 (school owner at 27), CORE Academy of Movement, Mt. Laurel, NJ
DeAnna Stojan, 24 (school owner at 18), Jubilee Dance School, Wake Forest, NC
Tammy Wills, 42, and Debbie Thiel, 38 (school owners at 18 and 14, respectively), Dancin On Broadway, Brooklyn Park, MN
What are some of the advantages of being a young dance studio owner?
Amanda Armetta-Gring: I am much further in my career than the people I graduated with. I am young, upbeat, and I can relate to my students very well.
Melanie Brooke Campbell: Having a fresh take on things—more of a fire to inspire students.
Amy Leigh Hall: You begin fresh, with an open mind and the ability to take more in and learn from others. You can make and fix your mistakes earlier than others and give them time to work themselves out. The older kids feel comfortable with me because I’m not a “mom” figure.
Amber Hemmer: It enables me to relate directly with my students. I am very aware of current music, movies, and TV shows.
Tanya Neary: Having large amounts of energy and time to put into growing a studio. At 19 I was not worried about sharing my time with a husband or children. As the time nears when I will want to have a family, my studio is well on its way to being established and has the potential to be run without my daily presence.
Will Shover: At 26 I was passionate and motivated. I think I brought a new and innovative approach as well as excitement and energy to taking dance in a community that needed it. Plus I am still OK with Pasta Roni for dinner when money is tight.
Alicia Smith: I have the energy, passion, and excitement to stay encouraged when things get stressful. I also don’t have a family that has to make sacrifices because of my schedule. I am not set in my own ways yet; I try to remain open-minded, especially with my instructors.
DeAnna Stojan: When I was younger I had fewer responsibilities. I was able to attend college classes in the mornings, teach and work at the studio, and also work an additional part-time job. If I had had a husband and/or children, I would not have been able to do it all.
Tammy Wills/Debbie Thiel: The biggest advantage was that we were naive. We didn’t know what we would have to give up to make our dance studios successful.
What are some of the challenges that come with owning a school at a young age?
Nadia Avigliano: Having the parents see me as a professional, not one of the kids. I tried very hard to stick to my policies and be organized to prove that I was in control. Now I have the respect of the parents that have been with me for five years.
Amy Leigh Hall: People didn’t think I could run a good school at such a young age. I knew what I was doing and needed to stick to my guns to get where I am today.
Amber Hemmer: Drawing a distinct line between being a teacher and being a friend [to the students].
Tanya Neary: It was hard for some people to take me seriously. I had to have my mom present at meetings with potential landlords so that they would be comfortable knowing I had support, even though financially my parents had no involvement. Gaining trust took time—clients who had jobs in the business world tried to teach me how to do business, even though they knew nothing about dance. Also, it took time to assert myself as their equal in conflicts over billing or policies.
Will Shover: Being a male and owning a dance school in a small town was the first obstacle. Also, I do not look like a typical dance teacher; I look more like a football player.
Tammy Wills/Debbie Thiel: Being taken seriously by the business world. Every once in a while a family might question our ages, but once they saw us in class they became some of our biggest supporters.
Did you seek mentorship or training that helped you establish your business?
Nadia Avigliano: I started assisting and teaching at an early age. While obtaining my undergraduate degree in dance, I sought out my first teaching job, where I realized I had a knack for working with children. I walked into a wonderful environment with a studio owner who became a dear friend and mentor. I learned so much by watching her: how she handled stressful situations, spoke to parents, gave corrections to students. When a problem arises, I ask myself how she would handle it. When I decided to open my business, she helped me figure out what I would need to start. She also told me things like how high my barres should be mounted, that I had to pay music licensing fees, and all those things that you don’t think about when you’re about to jump into the water without testing it first. I am grateful every day for all that I learned from her.
Melanie Brooke Campbell: I have met many wonderful studio owners in many different settings, like Rhee Gold’s Mini-Project Motivate, Sam Beckford’s Successful Studio Strategies seminars, and Tremaine Dance Conventions. I have had many questions answered by owners who were my age or slightly older and seasoned vets.
Amber Hemmer: Roseanna Brogan-Smith, my teacher and former boss who still owns and runs her studio (she started at 16 and is now in her 70s), is still my mentor. I participated in an apprentice program at her studio where I was trained in jazz, tumbling, lyrical, tap, and ballet. I believe an important asset as an owner is my ability to teach multiple disciplines to all age groups and ability levels. My business training was through Miss Roseanna, watching the daily operations of the studio and taking on more responsibilities as I grew older. The Small Business Administration also proved a valuable resource.
Do you feel more technically savvy because of your age?
Amanda Armetta-Gring: Yes, in high school I took all the computer and business classes. I designed my own web page, ads, brochures, business cards, and show tickets and I do all of my accounting on the computer.
Amy Leigh Hall: Some parents are still not on my e-mail lists and it drives me crazy. Some schools don’t have any online information at all, and I think those of us who do are better off. Parents like to look at things on their own time.
Alicia Smith: Computer and technical knowledge is an advantage I have over my school’s previous owner. I can do a lot of things that she had to pay someone to do.
DeAnna Stojan: We have had a website for six years. We can register students online and offer the option of receiving email newsletters and reminders. However, a dance studio needs to be only as techy as the parents are. This is the first year that we have been able to go completely online for all our communication. We have had these things available for years, but the concept has just caught on. Now parents say how great it is to get newsletters via email rather than digging through dance bags.
It takes a lot of energy to run a dance studio—is it a job for the young?
Amanda Armetta-Gring: It is a lot of work, but when I’m teaching I forget about the crazy business side of it. When it gets tough I think about how I am affecting these kids’ lives and helping them grow into tomorrow’s leaders.
Nadia Avigliano: Having energy is a definite advantage. Living with my parents and not having the responsibility of a husband or family, I could put all of my energy into the business. I didn’t feel guilty about late nights and weekends at competitions.
Melanie Brooke Campbell: Yes, but the dating department goes on a slight hiatus during the months of September to June! Having a social life is a juggle. My friends help out with shows and performances. They see how much I do, and their way of reaching out is to do the little things.
Jaclyn Augustyn Smith: Yes, I can still get down on my hands and knees for “Animal Action” and keep up with the 6-year-olds for “Skip to My Lou.” But I am also mature and confident enough to discipline and deal with the hard part of being cool enough for the tweens and teens.
Do parents ever have issues with you because of your age?
Melanie Brooke Campbell: Parents are very understanding. If they have never met me, they are shocked to see me. They always ask who the owner is or how old I am. When I tell them and give a little background about my training, they are so impressed. I present myself and dress appropriately, and I’ve never had anyone say anything negative or question my reasons.
Amy Leigh Hall: They were wary of me at first, but some of the parents who gave me a shot that first year are still with me today. It took time to become a local figure of dance arts that people were willing to take a chance on.
Amber Hemmer: I have not yet experienced a lack of trust with parents due to my age. In fact, parents question me about how to discipline their children at home because they see them respond so well in class. It’s important to be specific about expectations with both parents and students; it results in respect and order in the studio. I usually allow parents to view their student’s first class so that any doubts about my competence can be erased.
Alicia Smith: I felt my lack of experience when planning communication with the parents. I thought I could place some responsibility in their hands, but they don’t read the paperwork and need to be constantly reminded of and provided with everything.
Jaclyn Augustyn Smith: I am 100 percent honest with them. I have a strict dress code because I don’t think certain styles are appropriate. Telling parents why their little ones can’t wear the hip, belly-baring style is the reason they trust me to choose costumes for them. Being honest with them leaves me no reason to back-pedal.
What advice do you have for young people who are considering opening a studio?
Amber Hemmer: Do your homework about all aspects of your venture, especially finances. Have money saved and keep your credit clean. One of the major challenges is financing a startup; it is not always easy to get a loan or mortgage when you don’t yet own property or have collateral, or when you have never owned a business. You may need help from family members in cosigning on a loan or mortgage, so make sure you have their support. There is so much you don’t know when starting out that any feedback or information can be beneficial. I found others especially helpful in ironing out my business plan. Have others review your plan, especially an accountant. If seeking a location, be aware of other studios in the area; rather than competing with them, offer something unique or find a unique location.
Tanya Neary: Be prepared to give up Friday nights out because you have to open the studio at 9:00 on Saturday morning, spend your weekends sewing rhinestones on costumes, clean up “accidents” and bloody noses and other injuries, deal with unreliable faculty and with angry parents who take out their stresses on you. And be prepared for the fact that for some time, you’re going to have to do everything yourself.
Alicia Smith: Be prepared to feel like you work 80 hours a week and get paid for 15. Figure out quickly what you are willing to delegate and what you need to do yourself. Have someone who is willing to listen to you vent. Be sure that you have stability in your personal life and that you are over that young adult need to feel irresponsible and just have fun. Be sure you have a passion for the students, a love for dance, and a mind for business. Know that unfortunately your work will become about 80 percent business and 20 percent dance.
How do you think owning a studio rates as a career choice?
Nadia Avigliano: It opens a door for young people to make their own hours and make business decisions that one would have to have years of experience in other fields to do. However, when the business is yours, especially when you are young and trying to establish yourself, you have to oversee everything. I work more than my friends in the corporate world in Manhattan. I don’t get to take vacation days; I work almost every weekend of the year. I don’t get to sit down to dinner with my husband during the week, and I take a lot of my work home with me. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. Very few people can say they are truly passionate about their career choice; very few people younger than 30 can see their biggest dream realized.
Melanie Brooke Campbell: I originally wanted to be a registered nurse. I fell in love with teaching and my father told me to get “this dance thing” out of my system so I could pursue nursing full-time. Well, I never looked back. I feel like I am a confident and successful person. It can be intimidating to say I am a business owner, but then I look at everyone I graduated high school with and I feel better.
Tanya Neary: I can’t imagine anything else that could make me this happy and allow me the freedom of being my own boss and the pleasure of working with children and teaching something I love. I can’t think of another career that could afford me the same opportunities at this or any other point in my life.
Jacyln Augustyn Smith: You are an entrepreneur; you get to set your own hours and be in control. How many other businesses are truly open for young people?