I am a school owner who just hit the two-and-a-half-year mark. From the start, my school has had very few students with any previous dance experience. Now a few of them are beginning to achieve what I would call an intermediate technical level, and for me that is huge. I have taught them everything they know and I am feeling and seeing the rewards of teaching that you talk about at your seminars.
One group of about five kids is ready to try something new, so I have been contemplating putting them into a dance competition. I know they have a long way to go before they could compare to the talent that I have seen at competitions, but the exposure could spark their enthusiasm to excel. When are students ready for dance competition? Do you have advice for a teacher who wants to do competition the right way? —Meryl
Thanks for writing. You sound like a very levelheaded teacher who is appreciating the rewards of teaching, and that should always be your priority. If you maintain the enthusiasm to do it “the right way,” I predict that you will achieve all the success you desire.
I do have strong opinions on when is the right time to introduce students to dance competitions. My number-one advice to you is to take your time. Look for a competition that is coming to your area and plan to attend with your five dancers and their parents. Call the competition ahead of time to find out when the competitors in your students’ age group will be performing.
In the auditorium, sit in the middle of your group to see and hear the reaction of your students and their parents. Do they seem enthusiastic about trying it or a bit intimidated by it all? Later, ask them what they thought of the competition and pay attention to their thoughts and questions. Open the discussion of whether participating is something they would like to do. Know that some parents and students don’t want to get involved because of the time commitment or cost.
If they choose to participate, look for a competition that offers various levels for beginner, intermediate, and advanced dancers. That way you can enter your students in a category that will compare them to students with roughly the same level of experience.
Do only one entry to start with so that you and your students can focus on making that one performance the best that it can be. That will help minimize everyone’s stress level. Create choreography that has no tricks or technical feats that your dancers can’t do well. Make a dance that allows your students to feel completely confident when they hit that stage. Also do your best to come up with a unique theme or concept or music that will help your entry stand out from the crowd.
Before you head to the competition, tell your students that you are proud of them for what they have accomplished to that point and that you will be proud of them whether or not they win an award. I think it’s very important to lower students’ expectations so that they don’t make the award their priority.
Afterward, talk about the experience and your students’ feelings. Always ask them who was their favorite dancer or group because that will help them appreciate the other dancers right from the start. Also, it is important to convey that although competition will be a part of what you do, it will never be the only thing. Incorporate competing into your educational offerings, but never let it be the main focus. Wishing you all the best. —Rhee
I have owned a school with more than 400 students for 21 years. Until last summer there was a dancewear store about 10 miles away, where my students and those from many area schools purchased their dancewear. For the last few months I have been ordering my students’ shoes and dancewear from various wholesalers, and I have been making a nice profit from these sales.
Last week the space next door to my school became available for rent and the landlord offered me a very reasonable rate. The location would be perfect for a dancewear store. I figure that my students alone are a good start for the business and I hope that the other schools in the area would send their students there.
My parents have years of experience in retail and my dad is out of work, so I think he could manage the store. What advice can you offer me as I contemplate this decision? —Helene
If you decide to move forward with this venture, I advise you to completely separate the dancewear business from your school. Come up with a name that is not similar to your school, let the store have its own entrance, and be sure that the employees of the store do not try to solicit students from other schools to take classes at your school.
I suggest this for a couple of reasons. One, you want to gain the trust of the studio owners in your area that they can send their students to your store and not worry that you will try to recruit them. Two, several of the biggest names in the dancewear business will not sell their products to dance schools. By creating a separate entity, I believe you will have a better shot at carrying many of the brands that your clients would want to purchase.
I do think a base of 400 students is a good start to launch a dancewear business, but to offer your father a full-time job, cover the rent, and possibly have additional employees, you would need business from other students and dancers in your area to make it work financially. I would get on the phone to talk with the school owners to determine whether they would send their students to your store. Just like you, they might have found wholesale dancewear to fill the gap for their students. If they are making a profit on these sales, they may be less apt to send that business your way.
As a dancewear store owner in 2011, you must also understand that several reputable online dancewear retailers often sell their products at discounted rates, and some of them are offering school owners rewards for sending students to their sites. You must consider these online options as your competition.
Another point: What is your father’s experience with dancewear and fitting shoes? One of the most important aspects of owning a dancewear store is being able to properly fit a dancer for pointe shoes, which requires experience or training. You might need to hire someone qualified for this role.
Finally, it is important to investigate what the investment in inventory for your store would be. Many wholesalers have minimum-order policies that could run into thousands of dollars. In some cases you might be able to order a product for a customer, but overall it is better for customers to walk out of the store with their purchases. That is what will set you apart from the online stores.
It is not my objective to discourage you from jumping into this venture, but I have known dance teachers who have had tremendous success selling dancewear and I have also met some who have lost their shirts. This decision is one that you must investigate thoroughly to be sure it is the right move for you.
One final question to ask yourself: Will you make as much profit, if not more, by keeping your dancewear situation the way it is now, or will you clear more with all the expenses associated with owning a full-fledged store? You might discover that you are better off financially with what you have already. Good luck to you. —Rhee