Starting With Why
I’ve just returned from three jam-packed days at the inaugural International Dance Entrepreneurs Association (I.D.E.A.) conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I, alongside several hundred dance studio owners and administrators, listened to speakers representing a range of school types, sizes, longevity, and business approaches. I learned a great deal from these mainstage sessions.
But what I found most valuable—and many attendees said the same—were the small-group breakouts, the conversations over meals, the Q&A periods: opportunities to learn from one another, also valuable simply for the validation they offered—of knowing that the problems you encounter at the studio, with parents, with employees, aren’t unique. Of knowing that despite all the differences, you have at heart a common bond of shared experiences.
One moment particularly stood out for me, during a session about developing and communicating a studio brand. Referring to the work of author and leadership expert Simon Sinek and his 2009 book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Patty Neal, founder and CEO of Dance Spectrum in Buffalo, New York, and an I.D.E.A. Board of Advisors and conference faculty member, said that her understanding of her studio’s brand, and how to communicate it to potential customers, finally gelled when she took Sinek’s philosophy to heart: “People don’t buy what you do,” Neal quoted from a 2009 TED Talk by Sinek, “people buy why you do it.”
What you do is self-evident: you offer dance classes. But that’s what every studio does, so alone it can’t explain why your clients include these families but not those, or why your studio is more or less “successful” than the one down the street. Rather, what attracts specific clients to your school, and what determines your success, Sinek would argue, is what you believe—why you offer dance classes—and how (and whether) you communicate those beliefs. Or, as he writes in his book, “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”
So, why do you do what you do? Knowing the answer, and clearly communicating your beliefs—by word or action—might be the key not only to business success but to personal fulfillment as well. Why not ask why? —Thom Watson
DSL editor in chief Thom Watson is a San Francisco Bay Area–based aficionado of ballet, contemporary, and folk dance. He has also been an internet and social media executive and a political columnist.
Farewell to My Arabesque
Recently I realized something: my arabesque has gone the way of the dodo. Extensions to the front and side? I’ve still got ’em, sort of. To the back? Eighteen inches off the floor—maybe.
Dancers expect an unusual range of motion. When it diminishes, it can bring on an existential crisis that to non-dancers (husbands, for example) might seem overwrought. The general populace does not expect to arabesque. They never did, and they never will. What’s the big deal?
I don’t go to class out of ambition anymore. I go because I’m not myself without dance. I’m there to enjoy 90 minutes of happiness, to stretch my brain and body, to forget my troubles. My favorite teachers encourage us recreational adult students to enjoy our dancing bodies, as they are, here and today. But some days it’s hard to do myself that kindness. You’re out of shape, says the inner voice. It’s downhill from here.
As I stretched after class recently, moodily contemplating my lost arabesque, a classmate brightened my day by saying, “You always dance with such intention.” The following week, another student whispered, “It’s fun to watch you dance.” I replied, “I’m enjoying myself. I feel lucky to be here.”
That’s the truth. As a working mother of two young kids, I’m grateful to be in class one night a week, doing what I love. Often I’ll think, “Dance like you’re onstage for the last time.” And I do, with a joy and abandon I’m not sure I had when my physical abilities were at their apex.
Those kind comments from my fellow dance lovers remind me to put aside regret for what I no longer have and to treasure what I have now. My years of training still give me the freedom to dance my heart out. So what if I’ve mislaid my arabesque? In the studio, with the music playing, I can still fly.
DSL associate editor Tamsin Nutter lives in Berkeley, California. Formerly a marketing writer at MoMA in NYC, she trained at Vassar College and The Ailey School and danced with Regina Nejman & Company and others.