Use summer camps to boost studio revenue and enrollment
by MaryBeth Kemp
Ah, summer! For many people, it’s the season of taking it easy. That’s certainly not the case at dance studios that fill their summer schedules with dynamic and creative camp programs.
Traditionally, studios mimicked the public school year: open September to June, closed July and August. While financial realities have pushed many studio owners to keep their doors open year round, summer camp programs can bring benefits beyond revenue: your dancers can continue to work and progress, and you can promote your studio to a new clientele. Above all, a strong summer program can lay the groundwork for a successful fall season.
Summer schedules often include intensive classes for team dancers or themed camps for little dancers—solid choices, for sure, but as you work out a schedule, don’t overlook your recreational students. Here’s a look at some important elements to consider when planning summer programs for recreational dancers ages 3 to 10.
With public schools closed for the season, many studios offer summer programs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. This time period works well for families, and four hours is just the right amount of time to present a multifaceted, innovative curriculum to students of this age.
Daytime programs work for families who can provide transportation for their children to and from the studio during the 9-to-5 workday. But what about students without daytime transportation? To create an advantageous schedule for your studio, take stock of how many of your preschool through elementary school-age students have parents who work full time during the day. Perhaps, in some cases, a friend or relative can help out, but if too many of your dancers do not have daytime transportation you may miss out on a significant amount of potential revenue.
As alternative programming, you might consider designing an evening program for this population—the curriculum could be a scaled-back version of your day program. Or consider planning all-day, all-out camp extravaganzas for several summer Saturdays. These one-day workshops may be a more interesting option for non-dance students looking for a fun summer activity, or for students who might have to travel considerable distances to your studio.
Remember that summer affords many families a break from the demanding agenda of the regular school year, and that parents will be looking for summer activities that will fit into this relaxed summer lifestyle. North Andover [MA] School of Dance director Debbie Lamontagne says her summer program schedule includes half- and full-day programs, available for purchase by the day or week. Lamontagne says that parents appreciate this flexibility—if rain ruins plans for a family outing, parents may opt for a day of dance instead. Her summer program also offers before- and after-care hours, and drop-in class options.
More than dance class
Curriculum possibilities for summer programs are endless. Start each morning with sun salutations and stretches. Continue with short but energized dance classes. If your group is large and you have multiple studio spaces, you could split the students into small groups that rotate among studios and dance styles on a set schedule. For fun, blow a lifeguard whistle when it’s time to switch classes.
Some studios fill out their programs with arts and crafts, snacks, and stories—but there is really no end to the different fun activities that could be included:
- Costume design: Students can decorate their old leotards with material scraps, buttons, bows, rhinestones, sequins—whatever extras you might have in your back room. Ask some creative parents to participate that day to help the students design their own “dance costumes.”
- Dancemaking: Working in pairs, students can put together one-minute routines using their own choreography. Introduce basic ideas of choreography by showing highlights from classic dance movies, such as Singin’ in the Rain, Swing Time, or Silk Stockings, and be sure to point out important dance figures such as Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Ginger Rogers, and Fred Astaire.
- Journaling: Students old enough to write sentences on their own can write in their dance journals during the final 15 minutes of the day. Provide prompts—students could write about their dance challenges and goals or their thoughts on healthy eating habits.
Finding teachers with the availability and skills you need is one of the most challenging aspects of planning a summer program. Summer enrollment may not be as strong or consistent as it is during your studio’s fall/winter/spring season; some studio owners compensate for this lack of revenue by cutting back on paid staff and teaching classes themselves.
If you have reliable advanced dancers, consider using them as support teaching staff. Many welcome the opportunity to volunteer, not only for the teaching experience, but also to fulfill community service requirements for high school honors programs or college applications. These dancers can help with tasks such as taking attendance, leading story times, assisting with arts and crafts projects, and providing general crowd control.
Don’t forget: you know these dancers well—they might be able to help with demonstrating, leading stretching exercises, or providing corrections. Be sure to approach them and ask what they might enjoy helping with the most.
If you are looking to expand your staff in the fall, consider using summer classes to audition teachers for the upcoming season. This can provide potential savings on summer payroll expenses, but more important, this gives you the opportunity to try out instructors who may become valuable members of your year-round team.
End on a high note
After a summer of high-energy activities in a fun environment, provide an opportunity for your summertime students to show off what they’ve learned.
The six-week Triple Threat Camp at Front & Center for Performing Arts in Springfield, New Jersey, ends with an in-studio performance showcase. For one or more weeks, participants can explore any of the three offered subjects (dance, acting, and voice). Studio owner Renee Celeste says that campers—especially those who don’t attend her regular school-year dance program—appreciate the opportunity to show off their new skills in the showcase. Parents appreciate it too.
If you don’t want the fuss and bother of choreographing and cleaning routines for a showcase, maybe something on a small scale would work better for your program, such as an informal dance demonstration. Hang the summer students’ arts-and-craft projects on your lobby wall in a makeshift “art museum” that parents can admire before the demo, and if your budget allows, serve light refreshments.
Whatever elements you include in your summer program, remember that these students’ awesome summer experience could potentially—and positively—impact your registration when fall rolls around.
MaryBeth Kemp is on staff at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A former studio owner for 20 years, Kemp is pursuing a master’s degree in effective teaching and coaching.